The Howard Government says people who want to be Australian citizens should sit a test. The test would cover history, symbols, values and our system of government. But how would Australians do in the same test? Did you know the national floral emblem is the golden wattle or that the national gemstone is the opal? Can you do more than mutter our national anthem? Most of us remember that "We've golden soil and wealth for toil" and that "Our home is girt by sea", but what about the mysterious second verse? I'll give you a hint, it begins "Beneath our radiant Southern Cross, We'll toil with hearts and hands". Then we get to the hard stuff. Try answering these questions:
DOES Australia have a written Constitution?
WHAT is the top court in Australia?
DOES Australia have a Bill of Rights?
WHEN did Aboriginal people get the vote?
I'll give the answers later. Many, if not most Australians, would fail a test on our history, law and government. Even when we think we know, what we do know comes from the United States: from their TV shows such as Law and Order. I see this first-hand through teaching Australia's best and brightest law students. They may get over 99 in their final school exams, but they can fail to answer some of the most basic questions. Now, to the answers.
Yes, we do have a written Constitution. This is despite a survey taken in 1987 for the Constitutional Commission that found that 47 per cent of Australians were unaware of it.
Australia's top court is the High Court. Unfortunately, a 1994 report on citizenship by the Civics Expert Group found that more than a quarter of those surveyed nominated the Supreme Court instead. This is, of course, the name of the top court in the US.
Australia does not have a Bill of Rights, yet most of us think we do. A Roy Morgan poll taken for Amnesty International last July found that 61 per cent of us thought so. If the US has one, it seems people think we do.
This survey revealed more mistakes than earlier surveys. If anything, our knowledge of ourselves is worse.
Most Australians think Aborigines got the vote in 1967 after a referendum that changed the Constitution. That referendum did delete sections of the Constitution that discriminated against indigenous people, such as one that stipulated Aboriginal natives could not be counted in the census. However, they got the vote five years before. The law was changed by the Menzies government in 1962.
If you are like many Australians, the odds are that you have done poorly on this test. And this shows why more education is needed about government and history.
One of the reasons governments fail to do their job is because people simply don't know enough to hold politicians to account. That makes it easier for our elected representatives to avoid scrutiny and deflect blame. It would be good for new citizens to know all this, but before we ask them, we should take a hard look at ourselves. New citizens should know how our systems works, but so should we. We need more investment in education so we all know how to be good Australians.
(For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Page. Email me (John Ray) here.)