The new changes to the Australian citizenship test, will be designed to test potential new citizens in their English proficiency and their understanding of Australian values. It will be aimed to assimilate new citizens into Australian society. However, there have also been many opponents to such extreme means of testing and the shared similarities to the former White Australian policy. With this in mind, this blog will discuss some of the modifications posed by the new Australian citizenship test and how it reflects the old White Australian Policy and post-colonial ideology of national identity.
The current proposed changes to the Australian English language competency requirement, for those requiring Australian citizenship, have come under immense scrutiny and criticism in the public arena, Members of Parliament and academics alike. Associate professor in language and literacy, Misty Adoniu notes (2017), the new changes will further test Australian values with the aim of new citizens to integrate into Australian ideals. Those critical of the new proposition assert, that the new changes can prove to be extremely difficult in proving your ability to write, read and speak at the competent level of English. Overall the test is comprised of twenty questions which are selected from a random pool. To pass the test effectively the participant must answer 75 per cent correctly.
One of the requirements of the test is to complete a writing task in twenty minutes. For example, you have to complete a letter of 150 words that describes a scenario, explains the problem, why is it difficult and the participant is meant to provide some kind of solution. Effectively, the participant is marked on cohesion, grammar and vocabulary (IELTS 2017). To demonstrate the difficulty of the writing test. This is an example of a participant who failed the expected score requirement to pass, ‘Dear Sir/Madam, I am writing to express my dissatisfaction with my room-mate. As you know we share one room, I can not study in the room at all any more if I still stay there’ (IELTS n.d).
In the reading requirement the potential citizen must read a minimum of four text within sixty minutes. Each text approximately consist of 250 words. The participant then must answer four comprehension questions. Correct spelling and gramma is also assessed in the test. This is an exampled document of the comprehensive expectation necessary (IELTS n.d).
Senator Penny Wong and the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) have been critical of such expectation the new citizenship proposes. Senator Wong asserts, ‘Frankly if English grammar is the test there might be a few members of parliament who might struggle’ (Benson & Baxendale 2017). The AHRC are of the opinion, that the standard achievement to pass the new test, aspires to the equivalent of Band 6 of the International Language Testing System. The proposed changes would significantly increase on the present standard and put forward the argument that many citizens born in Australia are unable to possess this written or spoken requirement to this standard. To demonstrate, the present undergraduate standard to most universities band sits at 5.5 and 6.5. It has been analysed in Adult Migrant English Program that between 30,000 and 40,000 new migrants per year are extremely improbable that they will succeed to meet the proposed English proficiency standards, being proposed by the new Australian citizenship test in their first decade of settlement in Australia. The AHRC put forward the recommendation, the Government could regard strengthening English language assistance rather than introducing a higher English language necessity, as a prerequisite for citizenship (AHRC 2017).
Marshall observes, that such new policy changes to the citizenship test, by the Turnbull government, will not improve the calibre of new migrants. This is due to, Australia already ensures well educated and skilled migrants. Nor will it deter any nefarious disposition, as who would admit they do not recognize Australian values. Furthermor, notes that the real purpose behind such means of testing is to reinsure right-wing constituates, that the government has the power to refuse immigrants such as Muslims, Sudaneses gang members and refugees, therefore, it could be argued reminiscent of the former White Australian Policy (Marshall 2017, p. 49).
Under the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 s 3(a), which defined the basis for the White Australia Policy, it allowed for the prohibition immigrants who failed the dictation writing test requested by an officer. This would include a signed dictated passage of fifty words in any European language directed by the allocated officer. If one was to fail the text, it will result in an automatic prohibition to immigration status will suffice prevented under landing 8. Resistance to comply with such demand, the perpetrator of an offence and will incur a punishment of imprisonment up to one month and then be automatically deported (Robertson 2005, p. 243).
The aim of the old White Australian Policy was to encourage national identity and social cohesion amongst Australians. Historically, the policy ensured cultural homogeneous with citizens sourced from United Kingdom and Europene countries. Historians note, that the policy aimed to reflect British race patriotism which was central to Australian identity (Windschuttle 2017, pp. 129-30). Effectively, the White Australia Policy was dismantled in 1966, under the Holt government (Australian Government n.d). Nevertheless, Australia has seen continuing trend when the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Testing) Act 2007 was passed under the Howard government. To become an Australian citizen, participants were required to study the citizen resource booklet titled Becoming an Australian Citizen. Those acquiring citizenship status were then required to pass the test that were derived from the booklet. The test scrutinised Australian history, geography, sports, people and Australian system of government with a focus on British colonisation. It was argued, that such means of testing sent the message to those who who did not recognised the values subscribed in the booklet they were not welcomed here (Fozdarm & Spittles, 2009, pp. 504-05, 11).
Such means of extreme testing of Australian values and what it means to be a true blue Australian, ascribe to racial and cultural superiority which reflect Gramsci’s post-colonialism work on the construction of subalternity and the politics of exclusion. Gramsci notes, that the subaltern groups are of other classes, races, other cultural groups or other religion outside the dominant groups. For Gramsci, the attention on identity and otherness gives rise to the issue of constructing categories of identity. This fundamentally lends to the exclusion of particular groups from participating in dominant political organizations and effectively are marginalised from other hegemonic institutes. Therefore, Gramsci proposes that constructed categories of identity are a key contributor that underpin the relations of inequality and exclusion and in turn produced the subaltern as the marginalised ‘Other’ (Green 2011).
This echoes Parsons and Harding’s observations (2011, p. 4), how through the culmination and reflection of historical texts, through our understanding of other cultures, privileges and how we construct certain knowledge we are sustaining the myth of an inferior worlds, inferior races and inferior ways of existing.
Spivak notes, in postcolonial terms, that the ‘subaltern is just not a classy word for the oppressed, for somebody who’s not getting a piece of the pie’. Spivak points out, that everything with limitation or with the inability to access cultural imperialism can be considered subaltern. However, she observes that many people and oppressed groups want to claim subalternity they don't need the word 'subaltern' ( De, Kock 1992, p. 45).
Undoubtedly, the new changes to the Australian citizenship test, are aimed to assimilate new potential Australian citizens and test their English competency. However, on the down side it also shares a strong similarity to the former White Australia Policy and it could be argued it is entrenched with post-colonalism convictions. Opponents to such extreme of testing have put forward the argument that such extreme means of testing, will see high numbers of applicants fail, therefore, reminiscent of such coercive policy as the White Australia Policy. Hence, such a policy is aimed to encourage a nationalistic identity and patriotism that are central to British imperialism. This in turn, does not lend to the multicultural Australia we have come to love today.
Australian Government n.d, Fact sheet – Abolition of the 'White Australia' Policy, Australian Government, viewed 15 September 2017, https://www.border.gov.au/about/corporate/information/fact-sheets/08abolition
Australian Human Rights Commission 2017, Submission on the proposed changes to the test for Australian citizenship (2017), Australian Human Rights Commission, viewed 13 September 2017, https://www.humanrights.gov.au/submissions/submission-proposed-changes-test-australian-citizenship-2017
Adoniu, M 2017, Could you pass the proposed English test for Australian citizenship?, The Conversation, viewed 11September 2017, https://theconversation.com/could-you-pass-the-proposed-english-test-for-australian-citizenship-79269
Benson & Baxendale 2017, Citizenship changes revealed: Fluent English, four years of residency, Australian values, The Australian, viewed 13 September 2017,
De, Kock, L 1992, 'Interview with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: New Nation Writers Conference in South Africa', Ariel, vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 29-47, http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~sj6/Spivak%20Interview%20DeKock.pdf
IELTS Essential 2017, IELTS General Training Writing Practice Tests, IELTS Australia, viewed 11 September 2017, https://www.ieltsessentials.com/global/prepare/freepracticetests/generaltrainingwritingpractice
IELTS n.d, Sample Candidate Writing Scripts and Examiner Comments, IELTS, viewed 11 September 2017,
IELTS n.d, General Training Reading sample task – Sentence completion, IELTS, viewed 11 September 2017, https://www.ielts.org/-/media/pdfs/115025_general_training_reading_sample_task_-_sentence_completion.ashx?la=en
Fozdar, F & Spittles, B 2009, 'The Australian Citizenship Test: Process and Rhetoric', Australian Journal of Politics & History, vol. 55, no. 4, pp. 496-512.
Green, M 2011, 'Rethinking the subaltern and the question of censorship in Gramsci's Prison Notebooks', Postcolonial Studies, vol. 14, no. 4, pp. 387-404.
Marshall, C 2017, 'Citizenship changes make a new enemy of the migrant', Eureka Street, vol. 27, no. 8, pp. 49-51.
Parsons, J & Harding, K 2011, 'Post-Colonial Theory and Action Research', Turkish Online Journal of Qualitative Inquiry, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 1-6.