Patriot shame: new citizens deserve respect, not contempt | Tasneem Chopra

Peter Dutton has introduced the citizenship bill. It’s supposed to infer loyalty to Australia but in reality means we can all be mates as long as we’re the same

Blend in or butt out. Speak up, but stop being confronting. Come forward, but only so far. By perpetually redefining the parameters of what it means to be Australian, the new citizen ideal has morphed into a farce. And now, there’s no coding of intentions; it’s clear – be part of “team Australia” or leave.

Once upon a time, the notion of attaining citizenship was a goal for immigrants who made a conscious decision to ascribe to a new national identity. For these freshly minted Australians, citizenship was a ceremonious occasion premised on a sense of acceptance; to belong conferred a state of mental, emotional and logistical safety. And once upon a time, our boundless plains to share provided a vicissitude of just that. Fast forward to 2017 though, and how far have we fallen from realising this ideal.

We talk about patriotism as loyalty to country. And presumably loyalty transcends the economic contribution gleaned from finding a job and paying taxes – towards a more value based investment. The idea that loyalty invites a sense of connectedness with country, to support your fellow citizen, respect protocol and systems, to contribute, cooperate, participate in and thrive with your community.

Yet on three counts the revamped citizenship test simultaneously fails itself in testing loyalty. Firstly, it coalesces loyalty with language proficiency. The citizenship bill introduced by immigration minister Peter Dutton on Thursday requires applicants to provide evidence of competent English language proficiency. The minister determines the circumstances of this competency.

According to reports this could require a higher than functional English “IELTS band 6” competency. How can this infer “loyalty”? Interestingly, it has been suggested that certain members of parliament might themselves fail this test given the level of grammar and comprehension tested. Even for me, despite my all Australian schooling, I too would likely struggle.

Importantly, the architects of the IELTS stated it was never intended for a general citizenship test, but rather for aspirants of particular visa categories. To wit, those born and schooled in this country who might fail to achieve this level of competency could technically be ineligible for citizenship in the country of their birth and forefathers. This immediately exposes the proposed changes for what they are: mechanisms to filter out the undesirables, namely refugees and migrants with low socio economic means who would struggle to ever reach the required level without adequate resourcing.

The second sign of failure relating to this citizenship test lies in the tone of policing that has marked the culture of its changes. This government initially fielded views from public institutions including the Refugee Council, the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils, and the Race Discrimination Commission to inform its definition of “Australian values”. However, in a move reminiscent of no-values-at-all, the Turnbull regime decided to withhold these findings from the public. Why? Presumably because the content of these submissions were ignored in preference for bloody-mindedness to enact a self serving agenda. The irony of demanding scrutiny and full disclosure of potential citizens’ views and attitudes met with a move that’s contrary to this spirit reflects contempt for the very processes they demand. How un-Australian.

Thirdly, this citizenship test has failed itself in a pitiful conflation of citizenship and national security as if the two concepts were mutually aligned. When did aspirational citizenry become a test of our mettle to memorise criminal code? Rather than demonstrate what applicants could contribute, they are interrogated about what is not acceptable. And while there can be zero tolerance of behaviours that we agree are criminal, there are existing protocols to check these vices in the vetting process to acquire refugee and visa eligibility at pre migration. Ergo, the interrogation of criminal intent on a citizenship test is moot. An opportunity to instead test an applicant’s loyalty though their shared capacity, vision, social capital and aspirations are missed.

The language, rhetoric and policy defining the establishment is becoming increasingly exclusionary. The subtext reads – everyone is welcome, and we can all be mates as long as we’re the same. Not surprisingly, this new direction with the citizenship test has been touted as a stealthier means of reinventing the White Australia policy. Calling out white privilege at this level is an uncomfortable truth, but one I get to make as a concerned citizen. I recall make a submission to the 18C hearing some months ago. Appearing before an almost all male, all white panel of majority MPs, I shared why I believed Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act should not be weakened. The sheer irony of that moment was symbolic; as a woman of colour, having to speak before a panel of public servants with full privilege, designated with the power to negotiate what I should be offended by.

Aren’t the hallmarks of a progressive democracy to ensure even the most vulnerable and marginalised are protected? One would assume that would include protection from persecution and dislocation. But it would appear that privilege only extends as far as integration does not rupture the status quo. Authoritarian privilege needs to be called out and its flag bearers step aside from the platforms where they dissect, debate and legislate against the very people they exclude from speaking. This country was built on migration. New citizens deserve respect, not contempt.

To the garden variety bigot and law enforcer, let me be clear: If in the name of patriotism to Australia you are marginalising, muting, bullying, insulting or attacking any individual because they look, speak or believe differently to you – you have failed as a citizen.


Tasneem Chopra

The GuardianTramp

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