MUNGO MacCALLUM. We are in dreadful peril.

Jun 27, 2017

You might not have known it, but Australia is in deadly peril. National security is endangered on all fronts, the most obvious indicator the imminent arrival of fleets of boats poised to descend on our sacred shores, ready to wreak havoc and despair among the populace. Terrorism is just the start of it; who can tell what horrors to which the lucky country will be subjugated.  

And it is not all the fault of Bill Shorten – or, more precisely, his treacherous party’s refusal to vote for amendments to the Citizenship Act which, through the inculcation of university English standards, a lengthy waiting period and the minister’s ability to overthrow the rule of law, would have instilled patriotic fervour and kept us all safe.

Some bleeding heart latte sippers fail to see the iron logic in the iron fist, but be reassured: our Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Generalissimo (in waiting) Peter Dutton has figured it out in ear-splitting decibels during the last week of the parliamentary session.

Labor remains unconvinced – well, we all know about Labor. But it might be worth noting that the old system seems to have worked pretty well – Malcolm Turnbull is constantly extolling the most successful multicultural society on earth – and asking just what, apart from a particularly shrill dog whistle, is to be achieved by the so called “reform.”

For starters, the extension of the need for permanent residence from one to four years. Presumably ASIO, the Australian Police, and even Dutton’s gorgeously uniformed minions at Border Protection will have to do their checks before residence is permitted. Once that has been done, the horse has bolted: waiting an extra three years for the values test is not going to alter their security clearances.

And in the meantime, the insistence that all involved learn high-level English is more of a handicap than advantage of older migrants. Teach the kids, by all means, as we already do. But demanding that frequently unschooled new arrivals with all the other problems they face on the ground must also become proficient in a new language to prove their Ockerdom is both cruel and unrealistic.

But there is a precedent. In 1934 Egon Kisch, a German communist and anti-Nazi campaigner, was invited to speak in Melbourne. The conservative government of Joe Lyons attempted to stop him, and when the courts ruled against them they resorted to a rule (primarily designed to enforce White Australia) that arrivals must undertake dictation test in a European language.

Dutton’s predecessors nominated Scottish Gaelic, which Kisch predictably failed. In the end the courts intervened again, and Kisch ran a highly successful speaking tour before agreeing to leave to avoid further legal wrangles. The dictation test was eventually abolished in 1958.

Some 60 years later, Dutton is seeking to revive it as yet another pointless authoritarian measure to enhance his (and his far right faction’s) need for a political wedge. Gaining Australian citizenship may well be a privilege, as Turnbull repeatedly tells us. But that does not – or at least should not – mean that it must be made unnecessarily stringent and complex, a minefield strewn with landmines for the unwary applicant.

This applies especially when the minister involved is a serial detonator of improvised explosive devices, more than one of which has blown up in his face. In time he will either blow up the whole government, or turn it into his own image. In which latter case we will really need to bring back Egon Kisch.

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