Thursday, 17 September 2020

Interview with Basil Zempilas and Steve Mills, 6PR Breakfast

Topics: Australian citizenship test

BASIL ZEMPILAS: As firing Aussies, we've heard this before, Steve, we'll have to study for a citizenship test, but it's a new 20 question citizenship test. And whenever this story pops up, we always find ourselves, those who don't have to study for a citizenship test because we are citizens, we always find ourselves asking the question of each other, how would you have gone in that?

STEVE MILLS: Exactly. And who decides on what really makes an Australian by actually knowing this stuff?

BASIL ZEMPILAS: Yeah. Well, it might be Tudgey himself, Steve.

STEVE MILLS: I mean, can't you just learn it by rote?

BASIL ZEMPILAS: He might be the great man, he might be the bloke who says: you know what, I know and I know, everyone else should have to know that themselves.

STEVE MILLS: Right. So, when we say good morning to Alan Tudge - he's the Acting Immigration Minister - will he go: g'day?

BASIL ZEMPILAS: I, probably. I don't know if, and that's why I called him Tudgey …


BASIL ZEMPILAS: Because one of the questions should be: if a person's surname is this, how will you automatically refer to them after the very first time that you discuss them?

STEVE MILLS: Add a Y, or shorten it.

BASIL ZEMPILAS: Exactly. So, let's say good morning to Tudgey.

STEVE MILLS: Alan Tudge, good morning.

ALAN TUDGE: Good morning gents.

STEVE MILLS: Now, are we typically on target here to get the right test to identify what we think makes an Australian?

ALAN TUDGE: I think you're all over that, right from the start, you've got to shorten people's names or add a Y to their surname. I've been known as Tudgey since, probably, I was five, and still referred to it today, even from the Prime Minister.


BASIL ZEMPILAS: So, the questions that people will have to answer. Won't people just tip them off and say, here are the questions, here's the answers, good luck?

ALAN TUDGE: Yeah. So we have about 200 questions in a locked box, and when you sit the test you'll get 20 random questions out of that 200 odd questions, so you won't be able to get a copy of all of them and learn them as such. What you will get is a booklet which goes through the different aspects about Australian life and about our values, and we ask people to study up on that book, and it's from that book that the questions are drawn.

BASIL ZEMPILAS: Well, some of them are a little, Tudgey, if you don't mind me saying, a little obvious I would have thought. I mean, for example, one of the sample questions that we've seen is: should people tolerate one another where they find that they disagree?

ALAN TUDGE: Yeah, we're placing a greater emphasis on values based questions, that's the big change which we're making today. Ad in part, because we've got so many people today from, arriving from countries whose values are very different to what we have in Australia. For example, in some countries, religious laws may be paramount, where of course in Australia, you've got parliamentary laws which override any religious edicts. In other countries you might not have equality between men and women, whereas of course in Australia we do. And so, it's really just emphasising those core, fundamental values in Australia, which make us who we are. In some respects, make us such an attractive destination for people when they come here.

BASIL ZEMPILAS: So, Alan, they've replaced questions like: what do we remember on Anzac Day? With: should people in Australia make an effort to learn English? I mean, if you're going to make an effort to become an Australian citizen, who would say, no, no, I don't think I'll bother?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, that won't be the precise question. So, that's been interpreted by the journalists in relation to that. But you might get a question in relation to, for example, if there's a conflict between a parliamentary law and a religious edict, which one trumps? Now, in some countries, they're governed by religious laws; in our country, of course, we're not. You might get a question in relation to the age of consent, which is obviously, incredibly important in Australia and again, is different to other countries. So, the types of important values based questions which we want to be asking about. But in some respects, the test is an indicator of what we hope will be a person making a serious effort to deeply understand our Australian system and our Australian values before, they fully commit to our great nation.

BASIL ZEMPILAS: And Minister, this all makes good sense. I like it and for example, another question of that nature is; in Australia, is it acceptable for a husband to be violent towards his wife if she has disobeyed or disrespected him? Every Australian citizen knows the right answer to that question or at least we would hope they would. So, I understand the type of values that you're trying to instil. But, I think there would be many Australians listening to us this morning, who would still like some of the old style questions in the test i.e. what do we celebrate on January 26? I mean, that is still a legitimate question, is it not? And will some of those, what we might call more basic questions or more fundamental questions, still be asked?

ALAN TUDGE: Yes, they will be. So, about three quarters of the test will be some of those fundamental questions, about the structure of our parliamentary system, about exactly what does that date represent et cetera. What's our national language, fundamental questions, but about a quarter of the questions, which is new, will be on these values based questions which we've been discussing.

STEVE MILLS: We'd like to suggest a question, just before you finish up. One question, we all think should be in there is; which state in Australia has largely carried our country through these difficult times and is responsible for much of the riches that our country enjoys nationally? We feel a question like that would not be inappropriate, Minister.

ALAN TUDGE: And which period of time would you be referring to?

BASIL ZEMPILAS: Since Federation.

ALAN TUDGE: Since Federation, I'd probably want to go back and have a look at those numbers, I'm a proud Victorian.


BASIL ZEMPILAS: Go back and have a proper look, Alan. You'll see that it's right. Now, just one other thing, you've got to get 75 per cent or more to actually pass it. I was amazed by a record 204,817 people became Aussie citizens last year, in the past financial year. That would have to decrease, does it, this year because of pandemic and the lack of gatherings or will it be on target with that?

ALAN TUDGE: No, we won't get to 200,000 this year. But, people have to be in the country for about four years before they've become a citizen. So, this is in some respects, a consequence of high migration from several years ago. This year we'll probably see more in the vicinity of 100,000 to maybe 150,000 I would expect. But we made a big effort over the last financial year, and even using online citizenship ceremonies for the first time ever, which is obviously because we couldn't have been physical ceremonies, were still has a mechanism which people could declare their loyalty and allegiance to Australia.

BASIL ZEMPILAS: We got invited to lunch with a couple that had just become Australian citizens, probably about six months ago and they were so excited. I mean, they were so excited to be considered to be Australians and it makes you feel proud that there is a methodology for life, for people to adopt our country, our lucky country, as their home. And we appreciate your time this morning, Alan or Tudgey and we look forward to talking to you again soon.

ALAN TUDGE: Thanks very much guys.

BASIL ZEMPILAS: Good on you. Alan Tudge there, Acting Immigration Minister.