Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Our Official Values

According to the DIAC booklet Becoming an Australian Citizen, these are the main values that matter in Australia. The ones that matter enough to be included in the Citizenship test that was introduced earlier this year by He Who Is Occasionally Giving Brendan Nelson Friendly Advice on How to Run the Liberal Party:
Values which are important in modern Australia include:
  • respect for the equal worth, dignity and freedom of the individual

  • freedom of speech

  • freedom of religion and secular government

  • freedom of association

  • support for parliamentary democracy and the rule of law

  • equality under the law

  • equality of men and women

  • equality of opportunity

  • peacefulness

  • tolerance, mutual respect and compassion for those in need.

It's no great mental exercise to run through the list, take a look at the previous Government's actions and a lot of the attitudes expressed in posts and comments on blogs and conclude that none of these ten values is particularly important in Australia at all. I could easily get a quick post about the rank hypocrisy of testing would-be citizens for a willingness to uphold these lofty values when the government routinely flouts them and a lot of the existing citizenry treat them with disdain.

It's more interesting - and more in the new spirit of "slow politics" to take a look at where this declaration of our official values came from. Let's start with the Australian Citizenship Act 2007, which created the citizenship test:

Application and eligibility for citizenship

General eligibility

(2) A person is eligible to become an Australian citizen if the Minister is satisfied that the person:


(d) understands the nature of an application under subsection (1); and

(e) possesses a basic knowledge of the English language; and

(f) has an adequate knowledge of Australia and of the responsibilities and privileges of Australian citizenship; and


(2A) Paragraphs (2)(d), (e) and (f) are taken to be satisfied if and only if the Minister is satisfied that the person has, before making the application:

(a) sat a test approved in a determination under section 23A; and

(b) successfully completed that test (worked out in accordance with that determination).



Citizenship test

(1) The Minister must, by written determination, approve a test for the purposes of subsection 21(2A) (about general eligibility for citizenship).

Note: The test must be related to the eligibility criteria referred to in paragraphs 21(2)(d), (e) and (f).

Successful completion of the test

(2) A determination under subsection (1) must specify what amounts to successful completion of the test.
In short, it is up to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship to decide what goes into the citizenship test, and what rates as a passing score. So DIAC's list of official Aussie values originated from the desk of Kevin Andrews. Obviously, Andrews didn't compile the list, or devise the test himself - that's what flunkies and bureaucrats are for - but it was his signed approval that made the test legally valid.

So our official Australian values are what the last Minister for Immigration and Citizenship decided they should be; but, interestingly enough, there's nothing in the Australian Citizenship Act 2007, to prevent the current Minister, Christopher Evans (no doubt at the behest of Kevin Rudd) from getting his flunkies, and the bureaucrats who devised the Andrews test, to come up with a new test, more in line with the ideology of the Australian Riff-Raff Party.

It gives a whole new meaning to the saying "when you change the government, you change the country" doesn't it? The obviously sensible solution to this problem - and if you don't think it's a problem, you've got talc between your ears - is to reform the 2007 Act. Alternatively, we could roll things back to its predecessor - the Citizenship Act 1948, while we all have a good long think about whether we want a set of official Aussie values in the first place, and how to get them expressed in law if we do.

(Cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo in Exile)

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