The Federal Government has today introduced a Bill to institute compulsory testing for Australian citizenship aspirants. And if we believe what we read in the tabloids, we already have a sample of questions that might be asked.  

The Herald Sun and Daily Telegraph published sample questions on 18 May 2007, claiming they were “[s]ample citizenship questions devised by the Federal Government”. The Herald Sun, said it “was given an exclusive insight into the likely content of the new test, to come into effect later this year”.

Other News Limited tabloids also ran the “exclusive” sample questions. The Oz did not, and neither did the Fairfax press.

The Federal Government and DIAC were severely criticised in Crikey for the poorly drafted (and in some cases quite silly) questions. Muslim groups were also cited in the Daily Telegraph opposing the questions. Even yours truly flew out to Brunei to protest against the questions. (OK, that is a bit of an exaggeration.)

The Hez fired-up in its editorial section on 19 May:

Here’s a quiz on Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews’ 20-question citizenship test for would-be Australians: It is a) a good idea; b) xenophobic and unfair; c) a waste of time.

If you answered a) you would be correct — because there is no reason migrants who want to be citizens should not have a basic knowledge of Australian history and values.

The proposed questions, revealed in the Herald Sun, serve an important purpose.

They concentrate the minds of potential citizens on the need to know who we are and why being an Australian is a privilege.

Yet the reality is that neither the Minister nor DIAC had anything to do with the so-called “exclusive” sample questions. The Senate Standing Committee On Legal & Constitutional Affairs grilled DIAC officials in Estimates hearings on 22 May.

Indeed, on page 56 of the Hansard record, Minister for Human Services Senator Chris Ellison cites Kevin Andrews as declaring that the questions were “constructed by the newspaper … we haven’t yet even constructed the questions”. Departmental Secretary Andrew Metcalfe confirmed that DIAC’s media unit “did not talk to the media about any of those issues”, even adding that “the term ‘journalistic licence’ presumably exists for a reason”. He said further:

The information I have is that the test that was published in the newspapers was entirely invented by the media, but it is clearly based — following some research — on statements that had been made by the Minister about the topic … I think that it could all be traced back to someone sitting down and saying ‘The Minister has talked about certain things; what would a test look like?’ and it moved on from there. But as far as I know, what has appeared in the media does not represent the questions that would actually be asked in the test itself. Why do I know that? Because those questions have not yet been framed (emphasis added).

In other words, the tabloids made the whole sample test up, passed it off to unsuspecting readers as “exclusive” and “devised by the Federal Government” before getting plenty of mileage off the back of the community’s outrage to the fictional questions.