A proxy debate on the citizenship test

Last week the Senate referred the legislation for the citizenship test to an inquiry, with submissions to be received by 31 July. This legislation has had the soft left excited for months, and this inquiry will set off another round of criticism. Though welcoming an opportunity for people to have their say, Australian Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett issued a media release saying:

“I am concerned that the government is planning to spend over $100 million on a citizenship test that runs the risk of reducing an important unifying concept to little more than a game of Trivial Pursuit.

“Citizenship is a common bond that the government has seen fit to turn into a wedge to foster community division.

This debate has become heated partly because it combines (or appears to combine) two things which excite the left: race/ethnicity and John Howard. An article by Katharine Betts and Bob Birrell in the most recent issue of People and Place quotes many remarks along the lines of those in Senator Bartlett’s media release, some going so far as to suggest a citizenship test takes a step back in the direction of the White Australia Policy.

Sometimes a way of securing a more rational discussion of an issue is to put it to one side and discuss a proxy issue – one which raises similar considerations but lacks the same emotive political context. As it happens, we have a possible proxy issue in Australia’s recent past, the teaching of civics in schools.
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