Proposed citizenship test: a new White Australia policy

Proposed citizenship test simply a pathway to a new White Australia policy – Ramesh Fernandez
24 April 2017

The announcement of a new citizenship test by the Australian Government clearly discriminates against people coming from non-English speaking backgrounds. It is also a direct attack on refugee community groups. With this announcement, the government is saying “if you can’t speak English, go back to where you came from”.

This move also pushes people from vulnerable communities into deeper trouble, and leaves them in a state of limbo.

The existing citizenship test is already pointless, tricky and a big mess: it has made many refugees’ lives more traumatic and has decreased their mobility and safety. This is a strategy by the government to add more barriers to these people becoming citizens, clearly targeting people of colour with Hanson-style rhetoric.

When we talk about “Australian values”, have we forgotten that we live on occupied territory, and that refugees are permanently discriminated against? When the PM uses the phrase “Australian values”, he is unofficially re-introducing the White Australia policy, and continuing to undermine Indigenous sovereignty. There have been a number of refugees waiting on their citizenship test for over four years, as well as some who passed the test but were simply never invited for their citizenship ceremony.

Learning a new language is not something that happens overnight – especially for those from older generations who seek protection in Australia. This sort of anti-migrant rhetoric will add more layers to the trauma of refugees and asylum seekers who already come from persecuted backgrounds.

Saying you must speak English in order to become a citizen makes clear who you are prioritising as being worthy of becoming Australian citizens: white people and people privileged enough to have learned English. This violates one of the universal declarations of human rights that prohibits discrimination against people based on the language they speak.

Turnbull clearly takes cues from Donald Trump and Pauline Hanson – this is a direct attack on people of colour. We should not forget that the current government is trying to introduce a life-time ban on refugees coming by boat. This type of anti-migrant strategy no doubt will soon become a ban on Muslims coming and refugees settling here, similar to the US.

After British colonisation, migrants were brought to so-called Australia as indentured labour and like the Indigenous peoples of the land, many of them could not speak English or any other European language. It suited the white colonial strategy of that time. The same people, or others alike, now living in this society have suddenly become a problem for them.

Who is working in your restaurants? Who is doing the labour on your farms? Who runs your cafés? Who are your second generation migrant children working in your hospitals and law firms that were brought up by non–English speaking parents? Will you refuse their labour on the basis that they don’t speak English? Is it acceptable to exclude these people from society?

Furthermore, the Prime minister’s statement that the citizenship test would include questions on domestic violence trivialises a deep rooted problem that pervades through all communities in this country. You cannot eradicate domestic violence with multiple choice questions on a test. This area needs systemic change and funding. Conflation of the issue of domestic violence with a citizenship process that causes further exclusion of people of colour, is racist and completely deflects from the government’s own failure in eradicating domestic violence. According to our PM Malcolm Turnbull, domestic violence is an introduced species.

Australia wants to breed a white-only society under the guise of so called “multiculturalism” and it is clear that the strategy of our government is to limit and restrict people of colour in settling in Australia.

Link to the article

RISE is the FIRST refugee org governed entirely by Refugees, Asylum seekers & Ex-detainees in Australia.
They are a grassroots organisation, operating at the grassroots level.

Refugee Survivors and Ex-detainees
level 1, Ross House 247 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, Victoria 3000
T : (03) 9639 8623     F: (03) 9650 3689    Web :

RISE acknowledges that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the original owners and custodians of the land that we live and work on.

RISE is a unique organisation governed by refugees, asylum seekers, and ex-detainees to enable refugees to build new lives by providing advice, engaging in community development, enhancing opportunity, and campaigning for refugee rights.

Your donation will assist our dedicated volunteers to provide services directly to refugees children, adults and entire families. We encourage you to get involved with our organisation and if you believe in community development and the power of people, then you understand the way we work. You understand how lives can be enriched and you know how they can be changed for the better. With your help, we can build a better and stronger future for all.

To donate to RISE visit: –

Senate Report: Serious allegations

Serious allegations of abuse, self-harm and neglect of asylum seekers in relation to the Nauru Regional Processing Centre, and any like allegations in relation to the Manus Regional Processing Centre

21 April 2017

© Commonwealth of Australia 2017
ISBN 978-1-76010-563-1

A substantial part of this report is devoted to recording the high number of incident reports made public through the publication of ‘the Nauru files’,1 and supported by evidence from submitters to this inquiry.

View the report here –

Churches Taskforce calls for evacuation of Manus

April 15th 2017: The Australian Churches’ Refugee Taskforce has condemned the violence that erupted on Manus Island on the evening of Good Friday, and calls for the camp to be evacuated.

Taskforce Chair, the Very Rev’d Dr Peter Catt:
“It is with deep sadness that on the evening of Good Friday, marking the Cross of Christ, we hear of the violence and fear that has erupted on Manus Island, PNG including gun shots being fired into the centre.  We pause on this day, between the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ in the Christian tradition, to mourn the fear of those attacked and to hold the anger and hatred that came from the violence itself.

The darkness of betrayal and abandonment that we are familiar with, in the Jesus story, is being felt keenly by those on Manus Island this weekend.  As the Australian churches turn towards the theme of resurrection on Sunday, the context of our offshore processing can be ignored no more”.

The Australian Churches’ Refugee Taskforce has worked collaboratively with other agencies across Australia for four years to call for the closure of offshore detention.  For the latest outbreak of violence to occur on Good Friday, an important part of the Christian calendar, there can be no ignoring the synergy of suffering.

Stuart McMillan President of Uniting Church in Australia stated in his Easter message this week that “Easter is a time for new beginnings… It is also an opportunity for our nation to compassionately reframe and renew policy approaches for those in need.”

The Australian Refugee Churches Taskforce calls on the Government this Easter, to act with compassion.  To lift the veil of re-traumatisation and fear for refugees and asylum seekers, and to evacuate the camps on Manus and Nauru.

The Very Rev’d Dr Peter Catt:
“Even if the arrangement with the United States continues, we must act to create safety and security for those who have languished in offshore detention for too long.  By bringing people to Australia, the US deal may continue.  More importantly, the healing of those who have been damaged by our nation’s policy can begin”.

Media inquiries may be directed to:

The Very Rev’d Dr, Peter Catt
Chair of the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce

Caz Coleman
Acting Executive Officer

A copy of this media release here

AHRC Report: Asylum seekers, refugees and human rights

Asylum seekers, refugees and human rights
Australian Human Rights Commission • 2017

The second edition of this Report provides an update on legal and policy developments related to refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia since 2013. The Report is not intended to address all the issues facing refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia. Instead, it focuses on developments which place Australia at risk of breaching its international human rights obligations

President’s introduction 

Executive Summary 


  • Global and domestic context
  • Australia’s international human rights obligations

Immigration detention and community alternatives 

  • Detention facilities in Australia
  • Arbitrary detention
  • Detention of children
  • Conditions of detention
  • Detention resulting from security and character assessments
  • Impacts of detention on mental health
  • Alternatives to detention

Protection against refoulement 

  • Screening of asylum claims
  • Refugee status determination

Third country processing 

  • Non-refoulement
  • Arbitrary detention
  • Living conditions and safety concerns
  • Impacts of third country processing on physical and mental health
  • Resettlement arrangements
  • Independent monitoring

Discrimination based on mode of arrival 

  • Temporary protection
  • Support services and entitlements
  • Family reunion


  • Appendix 1: Summary of progress since last Snapshot Report
  • Appendix 2: Timeline of key developments since the introduction of mandatory immigration detention in Australia 
  • Appendix 3: Acronyms used in this report 

Read the full report here

Amnesty Report: Companies Profit from Abuse of Refugees on Nauru

Amnesty International Australia Report


  • ANNEX 

Read full report here

Injustices and the Art of Realpolitik

Injustices and the Art of Realpolitik
by  – 27 March 2017

The latest installment of Australia’s Pacific Solution has been an exercise in state-sanctioned cruelty.

Hardly a week goes by without new revelations about the mistreatment of refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island and in Nauru. According to a group of legal experts, the “harrowing practices of the Australian state and corporations towards asylum seekers” might amount to crimes against humanity. In a submission coordinated by Stanford’s International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic, last month seventeen international lawyers (including Melbourne University’s Anne Orford) have petitioned the International Criminal Court to open an investigation.

There are now indications that the refugee swap agreed between the Australian government and the Obama administration might go ahead after all, despite misgivings by Donald Trump. But not all refugees on Manus and in Nauru would benefit from the deal, and as the Turnbull government has categorically ruled out resettling anybody from Manus or Nauru in Australia, the best outcome possible under the current policy would be a reduction in the number of refugees and asylum seekers banished to Nauru and Manus.

This is where a proposal by Frank Brennan, Tim Costello, Robert Manne and John Menadue comes in. It is premised on the idea that the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees on Manus and in Nauru is the main problem – or at least the only problem that is of immediate concern to “us” as Australians. In opinion pieces published in August last year and in February, and detailed in a longer piece by Robert Manne in the March edition of the Monthly, they have demanded that the facilities in Nauru and on Manus Island be closed down, and that the punitive measures against tens of thousands of asylum seekers living in Australia be discontinued. It’s hard to argue with that.

According to Brennan, Costello, Manne and Menadue, refugee advocates such as the Refugee Council of Australia are largely to blame for the current impasse, because they are committed to “political point scoring” and “purist disengagement”. Instead advocates ought to accept that the abolition of the Pacific Solution needs to have a price: the acknowledgment that the government’s policy of “stopping the boats” is both effective and necessary.

Brennan, Costello, Manne and Menadue are right in saying that the interception of boats on the high seas, rather than the incarceration of asylum seekers in offshore camps, has been responsible for the fact that in more than three years, hardly any asylum seekers have been able to reach Australia by boat. They are wrong in assuming that boats could be turned back “safely, transparently and legally”, and in any case provide no suggestions as to how this could be done. They remain silent about the boats that have been turned back not to Indonesia, but to Sri Lanka – after a perfunctory refugee status determination on the high seas.

Let’s assume – for a moment – that it were possible to turn back boats “safely, transparently and legally”. That would do nothing to address more significant systemic problems that are not on Brennan, Costello, Manne and Menadue’s radar: forcible displacement (and whatever factors are responsible for such displacement), and the discriminatory treatment of non-citizen others in countries that are not committed to upholding international human rights law and international refugee law.

If these problems were seen as key issues, then the question may have to be: what could Australia do to address them? Australia could, for example, recognise that it has the capacity to grant protection to a sizeable number of forcibly displaced people, be it only temporarily, and that it therefore ought to act accordingly. Australia could recognise that it would be able to influence some of its neighbours (many of whom, much like Australia, currently do not treat non-citizens fairly, decently, legally or transparently) to do likewise. Australia might also want to recognise that it has the moral responsibility to do far more than it is doing at the moment – either because it has been a beneficiary in a global system marked by inequality or because it has been engaged in actions that have led directly or indirectly to forced displacement.

“We Australians have a clear moral obligation to the refugees on Manus Island and Nauru”, Brennan and his co-authors write. The Australian government clearly does have such an obligation, and in turn “we” have that obligation because we have not done enough to stop the government from pursuing its policies. But as global citizens we have moral obligations that go further. I am open to the argument that some moral obligations are weaker than others because of different levels of proximity, but they are moral obligations nevertheless. And even if we used proximity as the criterion according to which we ought to focus on some moral obligations more so than on others, it would be difficult to argue that we don’t have strong moral obligations towards refugees stranded in Indonesia.

Why do Brennan, Costello, Manne and Menadue focus exclusively on the government’s treatment of people who have sought Australia’s protection? I suspect they are concerned about the reputational damage these policies do to Australia and Australians. Australians, they would like to believe, are essentially decent people. Their proposal is trying to rectify a perceived anomaly. The government’s offshore processing and detention regime has cast aspersions on Australia’s national character (which is supposedly distinguished by a commitment to fairness and mateship). The proposal is an attempt to come up with a plan for how, to use Robert Manne’s words, “our present shame might be relieved”. Are bigger issues perhaps of little concern because the government’s inaction does not impinge on Australians’ ability to identify as citizens of a fair and decent society? Might the proposal ultimately be driven by the perceived damage done to Australians, more so than the harm done to refugees and asylum seekers?

Brennan, Costello, Manne and Menadue demand that refugee advocates acknowledge – if not respect – that most Australians are staunchly opposed to the accommodation of “boat people”. There are of course other examples of majorities favouring policies that are harmful, unjust or immoral (capital punishment comes to mind). The fact that an unjust approach is supported by a majority shouldn’t stop politicians (and respected public figures, such as Tim Costello) from pursuing – and arguing for – different policies. Rather than blaming refugee advocates for being principled, Brennan, Costello, Manne and Menadue may want to try convincing Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten that they and their parliamentary colleagues ought to stop pandering to irrational fears.

One last observation about the attributes of the path envisaged by Brennan, Costello, Manne and Menadue. They say that an alternative policy, which would involve the turning back of boats carrying people seeking Australia’s protection, must be decent, fair, transparent, safe and legal. They do not mention the one attribute that I would have thought should guide Australia’s response more than any other, namely: just.

Justice is more than a state of affairs in which relationships are governed by laws (in which some people can, for example, become “proven refugees”). Whether a particular policy or practice is legal might provide clues about whether or not it is also just – depending on the laws that decide whether something is legal or not – but the legality of a practice is no evidence of its justness.