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Citizenship test reinforces important Australian liberal democratic values

Anthony BerginAuthor: Anthony Bergin 

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wants us to come together and stand up for our values with confidence and pride. He's announced that his government will now be putting Australian values at the "heart of citizenship processes and requirements".

Migrants will face a tougher citizenship test, which will assess their commitment to Australia and their attitudes to religious freedom and gender equality.

"Membership of the Australian family is a privilege and should be afforded to those who support our values, respect our laws and want to work hard by integrating and contributing to an even better Australia," Mr Turnbull said.

The government hasn't decided exactly how it will assess Australian values in the citizenship test, saying it will consult with the public before it settles on the questions it will ask. But the Prime Minister has said that, "fundamentally, the values that bind us together are those ones of respect, the rule of law, commitment to freedom, democracy ... and our citizenship should reflect this".

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has pointed out that our country "shouldn't be embarrassed to say we want great people to call Australia home. We want people who abide by our laws and our values and we should expect nothing less".

It's a good thing that the Turnbull government is promoting liberal democratic values through new citizenship requirements.

This should now be a core component of its plan to counter extremism: to defeat extremism we shouldn't forget that our own liberal values are the greatest weapon we have to combat bigotry. Citizens who become involved in violent extremism are rejecting Australia's values: homegrown extremism underlines the importance of having inclusive values.

Domestic Islamist extremism has exposed weaknesses in some of our communities to understand Australian values. Our approach to countering local violent extremism has been largely reactive. It's focused around the idea of countering extremist narratives. But it's not clear that our counter-narrative efforts are effective in reducing the appeal of violent extremism: we're failing to make Australian values appealing for some young people in our Muslim communities.

The US exemplifies the national security benefits that a unifying national narrative around core values can bring. The US hasn't needed to adopt a strategy to boost its values in combating extremism – it already has a history of a strong national identity.

Combating extremism

It's a positive step that we're going to clarify and promote Australian values and we should see this as part of our national strategy to combat extremism.

There's been difficulty in defining what it means to be an Australian, with many of our citizens having grown up at the intersection of two or more cultures.

But Australia's recent experiences with home-grown jihadism clearly shows how a lack of connection to Australian values can have dire consequences.

The government's citizenship announcements are a positive step in a longer-term strategy to promote national values. We should be building on the traditional notion of the "fair go". Fairness is a core Australian value.

The government's citizenship announcement provides the opportunity to inject a fresh approach on what it means to be Australian. We need to be less bashful and start taking back lost ground by clearly defining and asserting Australian values in a more convincing way than we've done before.

We shouldn't shy away from a more muscular values-based approach to countering extremism. This ought not be viewed as part of a far-right agenda, an attack on any religion or a throwback to try to define Australians by those who can toss off The Don's batting average.

It's more about getting credible Australian voices, both in government and in civil society, articulating in a positive way what values are important to us and why. The new citizenship measures announced by the government are a good start.

Anthony Bergin is a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and ANU's National Security College.

Originally published: The Australian Financial Review. 26 April 2017