Balneus

Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Citizenship Testing Bill open for comments

Posted by Dave Bath on 2007-06-15


If you are here, you should probably go to my review of submissions to the inquiry.

After the hoo-hah about the citizenship went down, the Citizenship Testing bill has been sent to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, and you are able to make comments. You’d better be quick, because (again) the window for submissions is tiny. (Sent to committee 2007-06-13, advertised later, closes 2007-07-06).

You can get details about the bill and how to submit overleaf, and add your own comments to this post that I might consider for inclusion in my own submission.  I’ve included a few things that grabbed by attention, (and some draft thoughts for my submission), perhaps to get you started on your own.  (I’m trying to make submissions that might actually do some good rather than just bitch about the bills on blogs.)

The official name is the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Testing) Bill 2007.

You can download the bill here, browse more general info and speeches here, and get general information about the inquiry here.

Email your submission to legcon.sen@aph.gov.au, or write to
Committee Secretary
Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs
Department of the Senate
PO Box 6100
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
Australia

You can find my general notes on making parliamentary submissions here (and leave a comment if you want to let others know you’ve made a submission, and get included in my hall of fame).

OK, so here are a couple of items that immediately drew my attention:

  1. A fee may be charged for the test
  2. The minister can decide who can and who cannot sit the test
  3. You cannot make the application for citizenship until the minister is convinced you’ve passed the test
  4. The transitional arrangements suggest that any request for citizenship not yet actioned before the assent to this bill (e.g. without mention of a test) will be considered as if it were a request under the new legislation.
  5. Determinations by the minister about what is on the test and the "pass" score are not subject to the normal scrutiny of legislative instruments.

I guess we can expect a slowdown in processing existing citizenship applications – woops, the dog ate it!

Here is the information about the inquiry from the parliamentary site:

On 13 June 2007, the Senate referred the provisions of the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Testing) Bill 2007 to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee for inquiry and report by 31 July 2007.

The Bill amends the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 (the Act) to provide for the testing of prospective applicants for Australian citizenship by conferral. Specifically, the Bill will require applicants for Australian citizenship by conferral under the general eligibility provisions (subsection 21(2) of the Act) to have successfully completed a citizenship test, before making an application, in order to be eligible to become Australian citizens.

I wonder if it’s relevant to say the citizenship test should include questions on key western values, and suggest they can be based on the EU Charter for Fundamental Rights, because the hard work creating different translations for many English-as-a-second-language applicants has already been done!


Draft thoughts for inclusion in my submission

  1. Nature of the Test
    1. There is no description of content in the test and criteria for determining the degree of difficulty.
       
    2. The legislation should outline relevant content, and limit it to two subject areas:
      1. The political system:  This could include the nature of the parliament and the executive, that we are a federation of states, the electoral process and the principle of separation of powers.
         
      2. Core values: This could include an outline of freedoms and duties.  However, it is invalid to ask questions about freedoms until they are codified, (and perhaps included in the constitution), and made readily available in a form understandable by the general public, perhaps similar to Part II of the draft constitution of the European Union (Charter of Fundamental Rights)
        .
         
    3. An indication of the degree-of-difficulty should be included in the legislation.  This should not be more detailed than expected of a natural-born citizen able to vote (e.g. you should not have to be a constitutional lawyer to pass any sections on the political system, nor a professional ethicist to pass any sections about core values.)
       
  2. Ministerial Privileges
    1. There seems to be no restriction on the minister making determinations on the content, passing grades or eligibility to sit the test on an individual-by-individual basis, opening up the possibility of abuse (such as occurred a few decades ago when, for political reasons, a test was administered in gaelic or welsh to an individual rather than English.
       
    2. As a "passing grade" does not oblige the commonwealth to grant citizenship, it is unreasonable for the minister to decide who may sit the test.  It is even reasonable that non-citizens who have never entered Australia should be able to sit the test without putting in a prior application for citizenship through a consulate in another country if they are thinking about moving to or visiting Australia to get an idea of how they might fit in to our society.
       
    3. The contents of the questionnaire and the requirements for satisfactory completion should be subject to review by an administrative tribunal within an appropriate time after they have been revised by the minister.  The only valid appeal is that the ministerial directions to not conform to the scope or degree-of-difficulty outlined in the legislation.
       
  3. Special Circumstances
    1. There should be some guidance for special cases for administration of a specialized test, such as for those with dyslexia or learning difficulties.
       
    2. There does not seem to be a mechanism for a child (born in another country) to become a citizen if both parents successfully sit the test, pass, satisfy other citizenship requirements, and become citizens. I believe this should be addressed.

BTW: I know Kieran at The Dead Roo advocates making submissions, and you can also leave comments for Dead Roo readers here.


See also: an earlier post on Howard’s probable failure knowing what “western values” are, or supporting them, and the EU charter of fundamental rights as a PDF version here or the browseable HTML version here.
Andrew Norton’s thoughts on citizenship testing versus civics courses. Even though the citizenship test is a "red rag" for most lefties, I agree with him (mostly). 
Andrew Barlett’s John Howard Fails the Citizenship Test (2007-06-23)  
Michael Ellermans 2006-12-12 satirical piece

Thanks to Andrew Barlett (Dem) for getting this referred to committee.


One Response to “Citizenship Testing Bill open for comments”

  1. Dave Bath said

    My submission (ok there was a typo in the rush, but IMHO it was much more coherent than the one from Australia For Australians, which had a typo "Auatralia" and is worth reading for its …. its …. near vilification if it wasn’t under parliamentary privilege and most disconcerting).

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