Aussie citizenship test - it's just not cricket
By Denis Moriarty, group managing director, Our Community
Of all the benefits of being an Australian citizen, the one I appreciate the most is not having to do the Australian citizenship test.
It's not that it's difficult for a privileged Anglo-Celtic, English-speaker like me. It's just that I'd spend nearly all the allocated time scribbling all over the multiple-choice paper objecting to the questions - their reliance on rote learning, their emphasis on empty symbols such as the national coat of arms, and the way they slide over hot issues. ("Religious laws are passed by parliament" is an incorrect statement? Excuse me? Is the Religious Discrimination Bill just an elaborate practical joke, then?)
Myself, I think it'd be reasonable to begin with a question about sport, considering the emphasis we place on it.
Every Australian citizen could be expected to know enough about cricket to be able to appreciate the magic number 2.29, which is of course the batting average of John V. Saunders. In 14 test matches between 1902 and 1908, Saunders scored only 39 runs, the lowest average of any Australian bowler in history, bringing out all our legendary sympathy for the underdog. Oh, hang on, we removed a similar question from the test in 2011 - it was about Bradman, another statistical anomaly - so perhaps I'll skip that particular argument.
The basic problem is that the test misses the point. If we're looking for people who'll make valuable contributions to our continuing national story, we're not going to get them by sieving out the ones who can tell their Anzac landing from their First Fleet. What we want is people who can set us a good example by actually doing all the things we like to think we're good at.
I propose, then, that what the test should consist of is writing your own set of questions about what it means to want to be an Australian. Having a desire to serve the community is one of the first things that comes to mind. In fact, as an advocate of the community and not-for-profit sector, I'm irritated that the only mention of the sector in the test is a reminder that community service isn't actually compulsory.
Our Community's Denis Moriarty
So, here are the points I want immigrants to get their minds around. I'll leave it to you to shoehorn them into question format.
- If you don't like the questions, complain. Australians question authority at every opportunity, or at least they like to think that they do.
- Australians think of themselves as laconic and sparing of their words. You should probably get off social media altogether.
- Australians believe in the dignity of labour. Say thanks to the bus driver and don't snap at the waiter.
- Australians share the load. When you're invited to a barbecue, take a bottle - or even better, take a plate, preferably something from your own culture that will go well with pavlova.
- Australians appreciate everyday kindnesses. Give a wave to cars that let you in to the stream of traffic, and slow down to let stranded pedestrians finish crossing.
- Australians stick up for their mates. Don't be afraid to reach out at work to someone who's looking stressed and ask them whether they're all right.
- Australians have a low opinion of politicians but a high opinion of teachers. On election day, when you front up at your local school to vote, buy a democracy sausage to support its work (with extra onions).
- Australians know there are lots of things in society that need to be done but that can't be passed off to the government or to commercial enterprise. Join up and help out - sporting clubs, disability groups, community radio, churches, mosques, meals on wheels, political parties, environmental groups, whatever takes your fancy. There are 600,000 not-for-profit organisations out there to choose from.
- If you're in the country, join the firefighters and risk your life helping others for free. If you're out of the reach of bushfires, thank your lucky stars and join every community group you can think of just to try to square the ledger. We all owe them.
- This last one is a bit more complicated. I originally wrote, 'Australians don't like snobs. When you catch an Uber or a taxi, sit in the front seat and chat with the driver.' I showed this to a woman, who pointed out that she sat in the back because she felt safer that way, and wasn't all this mateship stuff a bit blokey? No problem, I said, I'll pick a national identity myth that's about women.
If I manage to find one, I'll let you know. All our national myths, it turns out, have been written by Anglo-Celtic, English-speaking males. That's what privilege means.
What Our Community thinks about other big issues
This commentary also appeared as part of a monthly column that's published in 160 rural and regional titles across Australia, from daily newspapers such as the Bendigo Advertiser and the Illwawarra Mercury, to weekly publications such as the Goulburn Post, the Cootamundra Herald and the Jimboomba Times.
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Here's a taste of some other recent commentaries as they've appeared in some of those publications, as well as our own.