The revised Australian citizenship test gets its first airing today. Its original incarnation, which ran for two years (October 2007-October 2009) was the subject of ridicule, derided primarily for the Bradman question, which remained on the DIAC website as a practice question throughout the life of the test. The Don, along with the stump-jump plough, the list of Australian Nobel Laureates and Burke and Wills has since been relegated to the non-testable section of the new test preparation booklet Australian Citizenship: Our Common Bond.

The original test preparation booklet for citizenship applicants Becoming an Australian Citizen also came in for its fair share of criticism. Of the 122 published public submissions to Dick Woolcott’s Citizenship Test Review in 2008, many came from historians affronted by the white-washed, triumphalist version of Australian history peddled by the government in what has been described as resembling more a travel brochure than an historical account. The reason that history departments get built at universities after all is that history, at its core, is contestable and it was a bold move indeed by the government to present such tosh in the first instance.

Our Common Bond, while more tempered than its predecessor, does have its problems. Again, there is significant space afforded to a (testable) definition for the “spirit of mateship” written as though no other country on earth has a system whereby people might become friends or help each other. Was it P J O’Rourke who said that you never have to argue alone in the Middle East? That someone will always weigh in with you and take up your case?

For those unclear on the concept of “mateship”, the glossary entry in Our Common Bond reads:

mateship

helping and receiving help from others, especially in difficult times

When my car broke down, the other drivers helped to push it in the spirit of mateship.

Now there’s a sentence a new Australian might like to try out on work colleagues.

The concept of a “fair go” is also testable, though, sadly, it doesn’t rate a mention in the glossary or require an example sentence for illumination. It is interesting, however, that prospective citizens are expected to understand the concept of a fair go while a significant proportion of them are not getting one. Contrast, for example, an educated Briton who spends a couple of hours reading the booklet and five minutes doing the test to get 20 out of 20 with a humanitarian visa entrant from an oral culture who, upon arrival in Australia, had never held a pen or sat at a computer, or ever made a phone call.

And then there is this, from Part 3 — Government and the law in Australia:

Australians are proud of the fact that their nation did not emerge through revolution or bloodshed, but by negotiation and referendum.

That’s a curious statement by anyone’s standards.

Kerry Ryan, Institute for Social Research, Swinburne University of Technology

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