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About Ingeborg van Teeseling

After migrating from Holland ten years ago and being warned by the Immigration Department against doing her job as a journalist, Ingeborg van Teeseling became a historian instead. She endeavours to explain Australia to migrants new and old at her website www.australia-explained.com.au, and runs www.lifebooks.com.au, telling people's life stories.

The proposed changes do nothing but subject potential Australians to unnecessary financial hardship and a series of uniform tests to prove something unique as their “value”.

 

 

 

Over the last couple of weeks, Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton have been preparing us for changes to Australian citizenship. As far as we know now, they include some curious new rules. First of all, there is the fact that people will have to remain permanent residents for four years instead of one. Then, “when they can prove good character”, they can apply for citizenship. In order to get this, they have to demonstrate “competent English,” and that they have “integrated into and engaged with” the Australian community. When that has all been ticked off on, they have to sit and pass an “Australian values test”. And at the end of it all, it will be Dutton himself who will have the ultimate power to decide who is in and who is out.

As you know by now, I am a migrant myself. I have been teaching Australian history and culture for years. I also run a website that tries to explain Australia to migrants. So I should know what Australian values are, and how they differ from Danish values, or those of Madagascar. Often I am told they’ve got something to do with a “fair go” and giving everybody equal opportunities. In that, as we know, the Danes are very different. They hate fairness and go out of their way to make sure that their society is as unbalanced as possible. The Malagasy don’t even have a word for evenhandedness and children there are taught to disrespect their peers as much as possible. The same goes for freedom, democracy, mateship, tolerance and respect for the rule of law: only in Australia do these values exist, as we know from the horrible practices in Belgium, Italy and Japan.

I always thought that in a society where the rule of law is important (Australian values again), the burden of proof never lies with the suspect, but always with the person or institution doubting him or her.

When I came here as a migrant in 2006, I had been accepted by my Australian university to do a PhD. I had just finished a BA with honours in English language and literature. Nevertheless, I had to do an English language test, which included interesting questions on colourblind monkeys and the science of underwater plants. It took three hours and out of the people in the room with me, I was the only one who passed. The others, you need to know, were mostly Indians and Pakistani, for whom English was their first language. Curious, isn’t it? So when the Minister suggests that a) migrants are not competent in English and b) there never was a test, I wonder how well his bureaucrats have informed him. Because that is the issue with Australians, I have found over time: they pretend to know about us, but have really no idea. And because they consider most of us not worthy to wipe their shoes on, they never take the trouble to ask. With proposals like the current one as a logical consequence.

Let me briefly say something about the other two components – the longer residency and the fact we need to prove our character and integration in future. The residency first. I know from expensive experience that the longer your residency lasts (and it isn’t one year now, more like two or three; the department is very slow), the more money it costs the migrant. Every six months their paperwork needs updating and although migrants do the work for that, they still need to pay the Minister’s pen-pushers. So I suspect that when Dutton advocates a longer residency period, he is mainly motivated by fattening the coffers, on the back of people who usually don’t have a lot of spare cash to begin with. What was that again about the quintessentially Australian value of the fair go?

The other issue is the fact that migrants will have to prove they are of good character and that they have integrated into the Australian community. First of all, I always thought that in a society where the rule of law is important (Australian values again), the burden of proof never lies with the suspect, but always with the person or institution doubting him or her. Secondly, I remember when I was finally invited to swear my allegiance to the Australian people and receive a cutting of the wattle tree. I was teaching Australian history and culture at the time and sent a letter to the Minister, asking him if I could bring my students, so they could see multiculturalism at work. In my mind, this was me proving that I was engaging with Australia, that I was interested and busy integrating. For weeks I heard nothing. Then I got a terse letter back, saying that the ceremony was not about me, or my students, or multiculturalism, and that instead of trying to hijack the event I should be grateful to be offered anything at all. Apparently, integration and good character means sitting still and keeping quiet. Another Australian value, clearly.

 

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