Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Citizenship changes make a new enemy of the migrant



If I were applying for Australian citizenship today I would fail the test, since I don't subscribe to Australian values — at least those espoused by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (the inhumane treatment of refugees, the refusal to legalise gay marriage, the deviousness of dog whistle politics).

Migrant familyOur discord on what constitutes Australian values is irrelevant, of course, since I am the sort of migrant Turnbull would approve of: white, English-speaking, hard-working, law-abiding, adaptable and of Christian heritage.

But if we forget for a moment my skin colour, mother tongue and religious heritage, we are left with the attributes that the vast majority of migrants, by their very nature, possess: a willingness to work hard, to abide by their adopted country's laws and to adapt to their new circumstances.

It's these very characteristics that have helped to build Australia — a nation of migrants — into the powerhouse it is today. And it's those attributes we don't necessarily share — race, ethnicity, culture, language and religion — that have transmuted Australia from a country colonised by whites into a multicultural melange.

Australia has long had a successful migration program, and the country's economic success is proof of this. So when Turnbull calls a press conference to impart the news that 'membership of the Australian family is a privilege and should be afforded to those who support our values, respect our laws and want to work hard by integrating and contributing to an even better Australia', he is making a redundant point. The vast majority of migrants and new citizens already do this.

Moreover, his newly announced citizenship test is not going to improve the calibre of migrants, for Australia already ensures its migrant intake is largely well-educated, skilled and experienced. Nor is it going to weed out those with nefarious tendencies — after all, who would admit in a citizenship test that they don't hold Australian values dear?

Of course the real purpose of this policy change is to reassure right wing voters that the government has the power to refuse citizenship to people feared by them: Muslims, refugees, Sudanese gang members.

But there's another sinister message implicit in this statement: migrants will be held to higher standards than Australian-born citizens. They must be skilled and fluent in English and willing to work on school P&Cs and other volunteer positions to prove their commitment to their new country.


"If migrants must submit to a citizenship test designed to 'contribute still further to our social cohesion', they should expect in turn that their prime minister and his immigration minister demonstrate their own contribution to this ideal."


They must maintain flawless police records and so should their children. They will be barred from practising their profession in metropolitan areas if their profession — such as medicine — is overrepresented there, but will be encouraged to fill roles in remote areas where Australians refuse to practice. Moreover, they should not take jobs away from Australians.

Turnbull wants to have his cake and eat it, to cherry-pick migrants and then dictate to them special terms of citizenship that are not applicable to regular Australians. But if migrants are good enough to help build the Australian economy — and to do low-paid dirty work like cleaning offices and toilets and slaughtering animals in abattoirs — then they are good enough to receive the same benefits, rights, respect and autonomy as Australian-born citizens.

Moreover, if migrants must submit to a citizenship test designed to 'contribute still further to our social cohesion', they should expect in turn that their prime minister and his immigration minister demonstrate their own contribution to this ideal.

Instead, these leaders do the very opposite, creating social tension and unease by perpetuating the 'us-and-them' mythology and so playing right into Pauline Hanson's bigoted hands. Turnbull, ever disingenuous, conjures Australia as a crime-free, sexism-free, racism-free, egalitarian, religiously tolerant paradise at risk from migrants. Dutton is more strident, demanding that migrants 'abide by the law and if you're not going to abide by the law, or you're not going to work if you've got a capacity to work, if you're going to spend your time on welfare, or your kids are involved in Apex gangs in Victoria, for instance, then really we need to question whether that person is the best possible citizen'.

These words are an insult not just to the people singled out by Turnbull and Dutton (welfare recipients, parents of gang members who are apparently responsible for their children's offences) and those targeted implicitly by them (Muslims), but to all migrants, who are rigorously assessed in the first place for residency and citizenship. We must pay large sums of money to have our applications and qualifications assessed, provide police clearance certificates proving we are not criminals, undertake English proficiency exams, subject ourselves to tests for diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis and our children to scrutiny for potential developmental problems, uproot our families and start over in a foreign country that is not always as accommodating as it believes itself to be.

If, after undergoing all this in order to make a better life for ourselves and our children, we do by some slim chance commit a crime, then we shall be dealt with in precisely the same manner as regular Australian citizens: before the courts. Until then, let us be wary of politicians sowing seeds of discord and fear by making a new enemy of the migrant.


Catherine MarshallCatherine Marshall is a Sydney-based journalist and travel writer. Originally from South Africa, she has lived in Australia for 15 years and has been a citizen since 2005.

Topic tags: Catherine Marshall, citizenship, immigration



submit a comment

Existing comments


Rodrigo Marino | 24 April 2017  

I don't subscribe to the values of Turnbull and Dutton either. I couldn't sleep at night if I sent desperate asylum seekers to off-shore hell-holes and left them there for years. Thanks Catherine for a really appropriate article!

Grant Allen | 25 April 2017  

“….and of Christian heritage.” All you need to be of Christian heritage is to once upon a time have been a Christian. All the atheists and agnostics coming out of thirteen years of Catholic schooling have Christian heritage. How about taking out the weasel to word desirable immigrants as those ‘of Christian conviction’, large numbers of whom would be coming from some of the most un-white regions of the world such as the Middle East and Africa?

Roy Chen Yee | 25 April 2017  

Well said. Thank you for putting the issue so clearly.

Jim Yongman | 26 April 2017  

Yup... What she said.

Val | 26 April 2017  

Well said. Totally agree.

Dalma Dixon | 26 April 2017  

It must be true that citizenship testing to choose an immigrant is seriously flawed apart from the need to communicate competently in the spoken language, something essential for the immigrant's capacity to live comfortably and cooperatively in the community. The only valid test of citizenship, it seems to me, is the immigrant's performance as a citizen in this country. Perhaps the best test is, say, 5 years residency in this country. If in that time the immigrant clearly does not fit into or intend to fit into this society or introduces unwanted activities such as terrorism , organised crime and gang warfare/crime as we see with some Muslims and gangs of Sudanese, then citizenship might be denied and dealt with by deportation. But wait ! Would such a scheme simply open up a whole new branch for social justice specialisation?

john frawley | 26 April 2017  

There is a children's old song that goes: "I don’t want to play in your yard, I don't want to be your friend.... If you can’t be good to me". It applies both ways. WE often think we are good to migrants if we allow them to do what we (or our forebears) did. i.e. arrive here unannounced, uninvited, and unwelcomed. Then we expect them to drop their cultural and tribal customs and adopt ours, while we maintain ours, as if they represent God-given manners and ways of seeing and doing things. Both sides need to recognise and respect each other's point of view and with some give and take, settle on an agreed compromise. It can sometimes be awkward, but with understanding and good-will, both will benefit.

Robert Liddy | 26 April 2017  

Well said, Catherine. And I'm just waiting for the next step - Class B citizenship! Once you become a citizen, you will still be liable to deportation under certain circumstances. Your crimes will be held against your children as well as your parents, when they try to apply for citizenship. Class A citizenship will be held only by those who can prove three generations of birth in Australia, all those ancestors being pure and crime-free. Of course this is my paranoid fantasy, but come back in fifty years and see what citizenship looks like then! Australian values my left foot!

Joan Seymour | 26 April 2017  

I doubt I could pass the citizenship test especially if there are questions regarding sport. Will Tipperary the place my great grandparents left in the 1850s accept me back - and what about my grandchildren?

Margaret McDonald | 27 April 2017  

I think that you've missed the point Roy. Catherine was saying that a person 'of Christian heritage' - all the people you describe - is the sort of person of whom Turnbull (and presumably Abbott, Dutton, Bernadi and all the other right-wing politicians 'of Christian heritage') would approve. And frankly, is there any sign that our politicians 'of Christian heritage' have any higher values than those without that heritage?

Ginger Meggs | 27 April 2017  

Has anyone paused to consider how African women feel about having a question about the treatment of their genitals on a citizenship test? What that issue has to do with someone's suitability for citizenship is beyond me. And the sad reality is that these women probably won't object to having such a question on the test out of fear of being seen to defend the practice and thought of as barbaric mutilators. How about a question on male genital mutilation?

AURELIUS | 28 April 2017  

The migrant's english might not be great but they do get berated about it. The problem is the ILETS test. You need to score well to get into Australia to study or work here. However it's one of the easiest tests to cheat. I have studied with people who couldn't hold a 5 minute conversation in English who have scored perfectly in it. However there are people who try to improve their spoken English who get shut down by biggots who make fun of them while they talk and you wonder why they try to stay with their social clique and speak in their mother tongue. As for hard working i believe most migrants are harder working than some Australians. I have worked and studied with people who work and study full time from migrant backgrounds while i have studied with Australians who study 10 hours face to face and claim welfare because its to hard to work and study at the same time

Arief Foss | 28 April 2017  

John Frawley's denouement, "But wait ! Would such a scheme simply open up a whole new branch for social justice specialisation?" betrays a singular misunderstanding of Catholic Social Teaching, taught to my brothers and myself from our earliest years at our Jesuit college, and which unequivocally states that the goods of the Earth are God's Alone to give and which are therefore available to all. It beggars belief then that he should so regularly and predictably object to a Jesuit publication taking sides with those who stand up for the downtrodden.

Dr Michael Furtado | 29 April 2017  

Mr Turnbull, Since I was a lad about 70 years ago, new migrants, we then called them new Australians, had the right after two years permanent residence, to apply for citizenship. They answered simple questions and as they had been previously vetted for previous crim inal and politiclal lundesirable records, were generally approved and then attended a ceremony with a few or many other applicants in the near future. Could you please tell me what was wrong with that system? Those people, with very few exceptions are good Australians and have contributed greatly to the country that we all enjoy. Our Immigration Minister is morew concerned with protecting our borders against the entry of Asylum seekers, who,according to our accession to the UN Convention on Refugees have a legal right to apply for resettlement in this country as refugees. The great majority of those asylum seekers have satisfied the requirement for resettlement as refugees and have gone on to gain citizenship and make valuable contributions to OUR country.

Peter Lee | 11 June 2017  

Dear Catherine I would endorse a lot of what you say, but I think it is imperative that there be a program for refugees to learn English and be able to get a job. As for Muslims it is not rocket science that over 90% of terrorism in the world is Islamic Terrorism. Any citizen of a country should abide by the laws of that country and not Sharia Law or something else. They should not have 4 wives as allowed by Sharia Law, but only one as Australian Law dictates. I have done an enormous amount of research into Islam over the last few years. I won't get into that here, but will simply say that if we don't think that Fundamentalist Islam is a threat to our way of life, then be prepared to live under Sharia Law in the future. You won't see it in the left-wing media but there are many areas of the UK, Europe, and the US where Muslim Enclaves have formed and even the police are reluctant to enter. A number of the terrorists in the Paris attacks lived in a certain area of Brussels.

Mike Sherman | 14 June 2017  

Similar Articles

Unis share blame for profit motive funding model

  • Binoy Kampmark
  • 03 May 2017

For various reasons, 'free' education in Australia has been qualified by HECS, which actually serves to wedge the liquid incentive of government and educational institutions on the one hand with the need for students to obtain affordable education on the other. Even that balance is now under threat, with a pre-budget announcement suggesting cuts to university funding and increasing costs to student degrees are in the offing. Universities are far from blameless in the present distorted funding model.


East Timorese heroes of Australian wars

  • Susan Connelly
  • 24 April 2017

Fearful of the southward thrust of the Japanese, the Australian government entered East Timor against the wishes of its Portuguese colonisers. The move was not to protect the Timorese, but to thwart possible attacks on Australia. A band of intrepid Australian soldiers, never numbering more than 700, successfully held off thousands of Japanese in Timor, but only because they had the support of the local people. Between 40,000 and 60,000 Timorese died as a result of Japanese reprisals.