Aspergers, English-speaking and Senator Revenant

To supplement my post Testing for English competence? read Annabel Crabb in today’s Sun-Herald.

The policy – proposed by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton with all the mellifluity of a man who has spent nine years in the Queensland Police – is currently under consideration by the parliament…

It’s drawn immediate support from Pauline Hanson.

Asked by Channel Seven what she thought of the proposed test and its associated Australian residency requirement extension from one to four years, the Senator declared: “It’s a start in the right direction.”…

The last minor mangle is a small sample of Senator Revenant’s somewhat loose connection to the English language. What price her IELTS score, I wonder?

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Interesting: If you can’t speak English, you don’t deserve to call yourself a Senator, Pauline Hanson.

SHE wears her love of Australia like a badge of honour, but a leading speech expert says Senator Pauline Hanson should consider learning how to speak our language if she wants to inspire the nation.

Michael Kelly, a body language and speech expert gave Ms Hanson’s maiden speech in the Senate barely a pass mark of 5.5 out of 10, blaming her poor pronunciation and “clunky” delivery for creating an “amateurish” first impression.

Putting aside her controversial politics, the 30-minute oration was “not up to the standards Australians should expect of an inspiring member of the Senate,” Mr Kelly said.

Stumbling over basic words like “custody” and “integral,” Ms Hanson gave the impression she had not rehearsed the much-anticipated speech, which “lacked impact,” was “monotone” and at times was “twee” and “juvenile,” Mr Kelly claimed.

“It was like she was completely unprepared. She hadn’t worked out her phrasing, it was monotone and she struggled to read parts of it out,” he said.

“She was mispronouncing words like “custody” which she delivered as “cus-dy” and that just leaves an unprofessional impression,” he said…

The lowest point were her remarks offering to drive migrants to the airport herself, Mr Kelly said, immature and unbecoming of a senior parliamentarian….

To be uncharacteristically fair to the Revenant of Oz. I suspect that much of the trouble she has brought on her own head over the education of children with disabilities, particularly those on the autism spectrum, stems from her own intellectual and linguistic incapacity.  Rather than being taken out of context, her remarks had been typically garbled and ill-considered, but she does have a point. There should be better training and resourcing for the education of children with disabilities in the mainstream. I have a little experience here as in my last three years of teaching one of my duties was to support one-on-one some students with Aspergers. I had a couple of successes and one not so successful. At the time (2003-2005) this was all rather new to us. Glad to say one of the students concerned is now a friend on Facebook.

Many years ago — 1970 in fact — I taught at Dapto High School, south of Wollongong. In those days we had no idea at all — I do not exaggerate — when confronted, if we were, with students with such things as Aspergers/autism. Today is so different, as this excellent page from Dapto High attests. Do visit it if you want authoritative information on the subject.

I looked that up because of an item in today’s Sun-Herald by Peter FitzSimons — someone whose writing at times annoys me. But not today…

Even for Pauline Hanson, her attack this week on kids with autism – maintaining they had no place in “our” class-rooms – took the breath away. As ever, her polarising politics is divisive, driven by a mean-spiritedness that has set post-war records in Australian politics, and entirely ill-informed. In fact, the inclusion of students on the autism spectrum and wider Special Needs students has been successful across our brown and pleasant land, and some of it I have seen up close.

TFF’s brother, Andrew, is Principal at Dapto High School, where they have run a stunningly successful integration program for students on the autism spectrum for the last nine years, and they now have no fewer than 28 of them.

“These students enrich our school and this community every day,” he told me on Friday. “Students are encouraged to participate in the full range of activities: sporting, cultural, academic etc. Participation in mainstream classes is accommodated when ever possible; often playing to particular strengths; Art , Music, Engineering etc. It works. Never had a single complaint. It is inspirational and heart-warming on so many levels for so many of our Dapto students . . . and wonderful for those on the spectrum, and their families, too.”

Great to hear!

Testing for English competence?

On Facebook yesterday I posted with reference to Could you pass the proposed English test for Australian citizenship? The author of that, Misty Adoniou, is Associate Professor in Language, Literacy and TESL, University of Canberra. I was from 1990-2010 for much of the time a teacher of ESOL or ESL in a private language college, at a state high school, at an Anglican school, and as a private tutor, so I have had a professional interest. My post:

This is outrageous! If this had been the case twenty years ago my friend M, a very successful citizen indeed, would have failed, as would more successful citizens than you could poke a stick at, including quite a few Anglos born here! IELTS Band 6? A stupid suggestion — and as a retired ESL/ESOL I know that test well. “Aspiring Australian citizens will need to score a Band 6 on the general stream of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test, the same score as those seeking entry to Australia’s top university” This requirement MUST NOT pass. Stupid Dutton!

I am marginally less excited this morning, but not much…

The Australian government has been proposing among other things a strengthening of the English Language requirements for those aspiring to be Australian citizens. (That link to a PDF currently works, but typically as with any government discussion paper could disappear at any time.)

English language is essential for economic participation and social cohesion,
and there are certain standards that must be met, especially for those
who are seeking to become a permanent resident or Australian citizen.

There is strong public support to ensure aspiring citizens are fully able
to participate in Australian life, by speaking English, our national language.
Aspiring citizens are currently required to possess a level of ‘basic’ English
to meet the requirements for citizenship. This is tested when an applicant
sits the Australian citizenship test.

Aspiring citizens will be required to undertake separate upfront English
language testing with an accredited provider and achieve a minimum
level of ‘competent’.

People currently exempt from sitting the Australian citizenship test, for example
applicants over 60 years of age, or under 16 years of age at the time they
applied for citizenship or those with an enduring or permanent mental
or physical incapacity, will be exempt from English language testing.

The test most people will confront is the internationally respected  IELTS test.  I have worked with this test in the past. This SBS page summarises well:

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton also outlined in a press release that the English test that applicants will be required to pass involve will involve elements of reading, writing, listening and speaking. This is thought that it will therefore make it equivalent to IELTS level 6.

What does “competent” mean here?

Let’s see how the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is scored as a comparative benchmark to define a “competent” English level.

IELTS measures the language proficiency of people who want to study or work where English is used as a language of communication. The test assesses areas including listening, reading, writing and speaking – in less than three hours.

According to the IELTS official site, there are two types of IELTS tests: Academic and General Training.

The General Training type, which focuses on basic survival skills in broad social and workplace contexts, is normally considered easier than the Academic type, and is already a requirement for migration to Australia.

It is therefore more likely to assume that Government’s citizenship test will look at the standard of the General type….

Currently, for international students in Australia hoping to study full-time in a recognised education institution, they need need an overall IELTS score of 5.5 for Academic type.

However, most universities set their English proficiency requirement at an overall score of 6.5. For University of Sydney, many faculties and courses actually require an overall band score of 7.0 or better with a minimum score of 6.0 in each of the components.

It is therefore quite hopeful to assume that the new English requirement shall not be a significant obstacle for those young people who successfully manage to accomplish a degree, migrate and live in Australia before applying for citizenship.

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Labor is exaggerating when they say the test is “university level”, but I still feel the proposal, even if it refers to Band 6 on the General IELTS in listening, reading, writing and speaking, is setting the bar unreasonably high. As Misty Adoniou says:

I prepared students for the IELTS test when I lived and taught in Greece. They needed a score of 6 to get into Foundation courses in British universities. It wasn’t an easy test and sometimes it took them more than one try to succeed.

My students were middle class, living comfortably at home with mum and dad. They had been to school all their lives and were highly competent readers and writers in their mother tongue of Greek.

They had been learning English at school since Grade 4, and doing private English tuition after school for even longer. Essentially they had been preparing for their IELTS test for at least 8 years.

They were not 40-year-old women whose lives as refugees has meant they have never been to school, and cannot read and write in their mother tongue.

Neither were they adjusting to a new culture, trying to find affordable accommodation and a job while simultaneously dealing with post-traumatic stress and the challenge of settling their teenage children into a brand new world.

I strongly suspect that if I were to spring a battery of IELTS tests on the usual clientele at City Diggers in Wollongong a rather alarming number — all of them citizens and many born here, including “Anglos” — would fail to make Band 6 in one or more of the skill areas. Of course they are all nonetheless competent as citizens.

A curious justification for tightening English is some apparent connection to resisting terrorism:

Recent terrorist attacks around the world have justifiably caused concern
in the Australian community. The Government responds to these threats
by continuing to invest in counter-terrorism, strong borders and strong
national security. This helps to ensure that Australia remains an open,
inclusive, free and safe society.

In the face of these threats, there is no better time to reaffirm our
steadfast commitment to democracy, opportunity and our shared values.

The English Test is after all part of that package, and on those grounds alone I feel Labor has been justified in sending it back to the drawing board.

As far as I know I have not met any terrorists, but I have been up close and personal with a well-known member of  Hizb ut-Tahrir, as I recount here and here.

This goes back to 2005 and a particularly interesting if controversial event. On the day I was not there, as I had to attend a meeting of ESL teachers at Erskineville – or was it Arncliffe, one of the last such meetings for me as I retired the following year. But I did know all the participants at The Mine end, and I posted on it at the time and the following year. See Salt Mine and Islamic Students; 7.30 Report: The Mine and the Islamists; The Mine and the Islamists: cause for concern?. On Floating Life Apr 06 ~ Nov 07 there is also a major entry from April 2006.

What I found yesterday was a video on YouTube of the complete 2005 Seminar [still there at 9 Oct 2014] referred to in those entries. The controversy centred on the guest speakers, Sheik Khalid Yassin and Hizb ut-Tahrir’s Wassim Doureihi. These people would fall in one of Michael Burleigh’s inner circles (see previous entry) but not necessarily, of course, into the innermost circle. While I had concerns about the Mine students involved, I very much doubt they would have even considered the innermost circle – quite the opposite in fact. (I also refer to these students in my Cronulla 2005 posts.)

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Stills from the video.

Mine students often show initiative, of course, and these particular students were very bright indeed and participated in all aspects of school life to the full. An earlier generation some ten years before promised they would have Barry Crocker and Kamahl at their farewell assembly. We thought they were joking, but on the day, there they were! The Tamils were especially happy. So were the office ladies.

What I can say is that Wassim and company would have had no trouble passing IELTS at a very high level, so what is Mr Dutton actually doing?

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You know who…

Related: it is worth taking the challenge of this article from 2015. And also along the lines we are freaking out rather more than we should, read Londoner Stephen Liddell from 10 June 2017: Talk of Terrorism is all hype. He posts this, figures relating presumably to the UK:

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Do check my other posts tagged “terror”.

Asian-Australian sitcoms — and a reflection

Here are Benjamin Law, Australian writer, and Trystan Go who plays Benjamin in the sitcom The Family Law, now in its second season on SBS.

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The casting has been brilliant. One of the funniest things I have seen on TV lately was in Episode 2 where a drama teacher uses off-the-wall casting techniques whereby young Benjamin gets the role of Medea after a melt-down in the school toilets. Looking forward to how that plotline develops. On Trystan Go:

The actor, whose theatre credits include The King And I, plays Benjamin Law in the small screen adaptation of the best-selling memoir about life on the Sunshine Coast in 1990s Queensland…

“When I read the scripts, I could really see that I’d enjoy playing Ben,” Go recalls.

“The things he does are so wacky and weird. Ben is funny, without trying to be — a real showman. He’s intense too, a bit self-centred, but also really courageous. He’s trying to get his family back together, so he’s full of heart.”

The cast:

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On a rather serious note, Benjamin Law writes in The Good Weekend today: I’d love an Asian-Australian family on TV to be unremarkable.

…I used to think Australia was overwhelmingly white, too. I didn’t have the internet as a kid, and TV told me Australia was nearly 100 per cent Anglo. It was only when I moved to the city that I saw Australia for what it is: one of the most diverse nations on earth. According to analysis by Screen Australia based on the 2011 census, Australia was 67 per cent Anglo-Celtic, 12 per cent non-Anglo European, and the remaining fifth Asian, African, South American and Indigenous. New census data released later this year will show the latter figures have jumped.

Shouldn’t we see “past” race?

Ideally, yes. But for now, no. Only when we acknowledge how ethnically diverse Australia is, can we ask whether mostly white workplaces are meritocracies. Or whether there is an excuse for overwhelmingly white TV shows. I’d love for an Asian-Australian family on TV to be unremarkable. But it’s not. So until it is, let’s keep the conversation going.

See also ‘It’s like a turducken of mums’: Benjamin Law on fact, fiction and The Family Law.

It’s hard to watch a show like The Family Law without feeling like it was crafted with a lot of love and the cast and production team are so tight-knit that, when I ask about their motivations for the show, their answers are so similar that I briefly wonder if they have been coached. Is it possible, in the age of shows as bleak and cynical as House of Cards, or Fargo, or A Handmaid’s Tale, to create television with genuine warmth and generosity? But it’s only a moment of doubt, because it’s hard to leave The Family Law without feeling like this big, sprawling family has just claimed you as a member, too.

ABC coincidentally has been screening Ronny Chieng: International Student. It has its moments, but personally I don’t find it as good as The Family Law. Too over-the-top at times, maybe?

Here we go again…

Seems Malcolm Turnbull is these days Mr Potato Head’s glove puppet when it comes to citizenship and “Aussie Values”….

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Some say this could be our next Prime Minister and most agree Malcolm Turnbull is getting more and more desperate to hang onto leadership. The issue being dragged back into the spotlight is this: New citizenship test: Here’s what is changing. I agree wholeheartedly with Jonathan Green:

I remember a time when a key Australian value was abhorrence for the pompous, self righteous, sanctimonious expression of national values.

And haven’t we been down this track before!  Back in the day I posted: When asses rule…,  Migrants to sit English testThat idiotic citizenship “test”Government careers down path of superficial idiocy on citizenship testCitizenship and human rights and That de facto English test: scrap it, or admit what it really is! I also posted in May 2007 Ninglun’s Dinkum Aussie test, mate!

Since the sample citizenship test is such a travesty, let’s get real. The government, for a fee, may use this test any time they like. They can even employ me to generate thousands of similar questions.

1. The best blogger in Australia is

A) Ninglun
B) Thomas
C) Jim Belshaw
D) Marcel Proust

2. When you see a shark while swimming in a Blue Mountains creek you should

A) be very surprised
B) report it to the police
C) eat it
D) report yourself for environmental vandalism

3. Bushwalkers should beware of

A) politicians
B) bunyips
C) hoop snakes
D) all of the above

4. A popular Australian pastime is

A) gambling
B) getting pissed
C) horse racing
D) listening to Radio National

5. The ABC is

A) biased
B) very biased
C) very very biased
D) far too biased

6. Australia’s greatest Prime Minister is

A) John Howard
B) John Howard
C) John Howard
D) John Winston Howard

7. The Liberal Party is

A) the obvious choice to lead Australia
B) the best choice to lead Australia
C) the only choice to lead Australia
D) the party you should join tomorrow

8. Labor are

A) in thrall to the trade union movement
B) not to be trusted
C) getting too bloody cocky
D) all of the above

9. Work Choices

A) never existed
B) was a good idea at the time
C) is far better than anything in your home country
D) is a close relative of the hoop snake

10. When watching the cricket you should

A) avoid snoring
B) close your eyes and think of England
C) look for a bookie
D) wear a silly wig

Any suggested questions?

The real thing (current version) may be practised here. Apparently changes under consideration are as follows:

A new citizenship test, besides assessing their commitment to Australia, their attitudes towards gender equality and whether they have assimilated with the Australian social values, will also test their English proficiency by including a reading, writing and listening test.

If an applicant fails the test three times, they will have to wait for two years before they are allowed to attempt the test again.

Those seeking Australian citizenship will have to demonstrate that they have integrated into the Australian society by way of joining clubs, employment and enrolling their children in schools.

The new test includes questions on domestic violence, genital mutilation and child marriage but the government denies the test is targeted at the Muslim community…

The Revenant of Oz has quite rightly claimed credit.

Do read also The Lying Game: Turnbull Government Concedes Citizenship Test Can Be Coached And Fudged.

In my opinion all that is really needed is that we ensure by education that all Australian citizens take their pledge seriously. It really says it all. (Of course being descended from a family that goes back in Australia to at least the 1820s I have never been called upon to make this pledge. Obviously I would if I could…)

From this time forward
I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people,
whose democratic beliefs I share,
whose rights and liberties I respect, and
whose laws I will uphold and obey.

I can’t get too stirred up by…

That storm in a middy glass about Coopers and the Bible Society. I am simply not offended. Why should I be?

Update: Compare John Birmingham:

But having lost seven minutes of my life I’ll never get back again – thanks a lot Bible Society – I  came away thinking the outrage was misplaced. The debate was even-handed, if a little anodyne and wilfully ignorant of the real and violent passions this topic arouses, especially among Twitter eggs with 12 followers.

But WTAF were these two numpties doing shooting a promo spot for a beer company within the grounds of Parliament House? Or anywhere, for that matter?

They could have been debating which of Buffy’s boyfriends was the worst for the 20-year anniversary of the most important show on television and it would still have been bizarrely inappropriate to sit there necking the product of an industry they’re responsible for regulating.

But nobody seems to be talking about that.

Update 2: Equal Marriage advocate Rodney Croome on Facebook

I don’t understand the objections to this filmed marriage equality debate between two Liberal MPs sponsored by Cooper’s beer to commemorate the founding of the Bible Society. It promotes civility in the marriage equality debate. It shows there is a divergence of opinion in the Liberal Party (implicitly making the case for a free vote). Most of all it helps get the pro-equality message to people of faith who may not have heard that message, especially from a Liberal. Some LGBTI people may feel uncomfortable about the involvement of the Bible Society, but whether we like it or not it has stake in this debate. Some may not like the involvement of Cooper’s, but unlike the bulk of the businesses that say they support marriage equality Cooper’s is at least playing an active in the debate….

Second, much as I rejected the notorious Bill Leak cartoon as a throwback to even more racist times, I cannot find joy in putting a self-righteous boot into the now dead cartoonist. I didn’t watch #QandA last night. I rarely do these days. Apparently this happened:

“And we need to have control of those stories. I need to be able to put something out there and go, ‘That’s not all Aboriginal fathers. That’s not all Aboriginal women. That’s not all mothers.’ I am a mother first and foremost. I don’t identify as an Aboriginal mother. I’m a mother. I was mortified when I saw that particular cartoon.”

Adelaide Festival director Neil Armfield – who directed Yovich in The Secret River – said: “I knew Bill. And enjoyed his company. Respected him. I thought those cartoons in The Australian were despicable. I think that as he grew older he became more and more, for whatever reason, sort of narrowed into a corner. And I thought that he was playing into an attitude which was completely the attitude of the racist and the powerful. And that he was ignoring the inheritance of rage and pain that those social situations that he was … showing in his cartoon are the result of.”

Then the audience protests erupted, screams of: “Bill Leak is racist.”

Host Ballard moved to calm things. And then it was back to Mem Fox.

“I looked and I thought, ‘Bill, Bill, no, please, no’. And I loved Bill Leak’s cartoons. And I thought they were fabulous. But … there is another word for political correctness. And it is a simple word. It’s called politeness.”

There is politeness, and then there is politics, and then there is art. As Q&A showed once more, we are surely bound never to agree on where the boundaries of each of them are properly drawn.

Fair comments, except for the howls of the audience. I find those howls offensive and somewhat pharisaical.

Now for something that made me proud of my country. And I wouldn’t mind betting he eats halal food…

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NSW Chief Magistrate Graeme Henson (far right) with the recently sworn in Local Court Magistrates Julie Soars (left) and Imad Abdul-Karim at the Downing Centre Local Court. Photo: Kate Geraghty, Sydney Morning Herald.

He fled war-torn Lebanon aged 14 with his family and learned to speak English in an annex to Beverly Hills Girls High School.

More than a few pairs of eyes were suspiciously moist in the Local Court as former Sydney prosecutor Imad Abdul-Karim was sworn in as a magistrate…

A former Commonwealth prosecutor who oversaw high-profile terrorism cases, including Operation Pendennis which uncovered jihadist cells in Melbourne and Sydney, Mr Abdul-Karim joked that “I lost my hair working on some of these matters”…

Mr Abdul-Karim’s eyes shone with tears as he thanked his late mother Salwa, who came from a “poor and illiterate” background and went on to become a teacher, first in Lebanon and then in Australia.

His voice also cracked as he paid tribute to his wife and “best friend” Salma, an honours law graduate who made “many sacrifices” to allow him “selfishly” to pursue his legal career.

Arthur Moses, SC, the senior vice-president of the Bar Association, said it gave him “added pleasure as a child of Lebanese parents who fled their country to the safety and prosperity of this country as teenagers” to speak at Mr Abdul-Karim’s swearing-in ceremony.

“Upon arrival in Australia as a teenager Your Honour was fluent in Arabic and French – but did not speak a single word of English,” Mr Moses said…

Mr Abdul-Karim worked as a taxi driver and a kitchen hand to support his young family while he studied Science at the University of Wollongong and later at Western Sydney University Law School, where he was in the first class of graduates…