Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mr Howard, the Australian Citizenship Test and the Role of Ridicule

I picked this cartoon up from Snakes on the Plane. I am not sure of the original publication.

In my introductory post on my favourite blogs I suggested that the growing power of blogs and blogging lay in part in the combination of the large number of observers combined with the speed of the transmission process. I went on to say:

Quite simply, the blogosphere will pick up and discuss things far faster than the conventional media or the indeed the political machines. This also holds true in professional areas where blogs have become a major source of information on professional topics. So while most of us individual bloggers have little influence, bloggers as a collective group do have an impact.

I am wondering whether the Australian citizenship test might not be a case in point, submerging Mr Howard's plans under a tide of ridicule.

The initial response when the Government first mooted the idea of the proposed citizenship text was the circulation by people of lists of suggested questions, many very funny indeed.

At 12 am on 18 May the on-line editions of the Australian papers (here and here for example) carried samples of the proposed questions. By then, as best I can work out, there had been more than forty blog posts about the test, most with very similar reactions. Australians are inveterate test takers, so everyone was recording their results. People were also questioning the validity of some of the questions.

In the much smaller world of my favourite blogs, in Aspiring citizens asked to pay Trivial Pursuits - in English Ninglun (Neil) posted the questions, answers and his responses at 3.01 pm on 18 May.

This was the first I had heard of it. I found some of the questions and answers trivial, a few simply wrong in historical terms.

At 12.57 am today, 20 May, Legal Eagle posted her reactions. 12.57am! Leagle Eagle, you are as bad as me, if just at the other end of the day.

As always, Legal Eagle's post is a thoughtful piece, and I commend it to all readers. By now, a blog search shows pages and pages of blog posts on the topic.

Bloggers are not representative of the general Australian population. However, the size and speed of blogger responses on the topic suggest that the Government has a problem, although one arguably reduced by the fact that the Labor opposition had previously locked itself into support for some form of test.

The first popular response to the idea of a test beyond the instinctive Australian tendency to irony was arguably positive. The idea that we should expect our new citizens to have some understanding of Australia seemed hard to argue against. Now that the details are coming out, issues of varying ideology and belief are starting to come into play, along with our continuing sense of the ridiculous.

The test is clearly in trouble. This may not be sufficient to stop it, the Government appears locked in, but the whole issue is shaping up as another problem for them.


I notice from Legal Eagle that the Government is denying that the questions were theirs.

Strewth, mate, you can't believe a bloody thing that you read in the newspapers! Two newspapers in this case. Blowed if I know. But it all smells a bit like a fly blown sheep, if you get the drift.

Speaking of fly blown sheep, here is a question for the new test. Why has PETRA gone to the dags?

Still on questions, the answer to question 1 of Neil's suggested questions is of course c, Jim Belshaw.

Still speaking of questions, I find that my eldest, Helen, has put a list up on her blog. I especially liked question 28.

Is it best to take a sick day on:

a) When the cricket's on
b) When the cricket's on
c) When the cricket's on?

Now that should appeal to John.