Is the Australian Government about to introduce a bunch of questions about “clean coal” and climate change into its citizenship test?
If you’d read stories and reaction late last week, then you might have thought that it was.
But it isn’t.
High profile TV presenters, politicians and online media outlets were all sparked into indignation by a story in The Australian.
For those catching up, there’s been some political coverage in recent weeks about proposals by the Turnbull government to change the requirements for aspiring citizens, including adding a tougher English language test.
The Australian described what might be in a new language test, under the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).
The Australian said:
Questions in the IELTS General Training test seen by The Australian would require citizenship applicants to examine complex extracts dealing with diverse topics such as carbon emissions, chlorofluorocarbons, bee behaviour, the history of cinema and automation in newspaper production.
The Australian also ran a block of text, which it described as “sample questions for citizenship applicants” and then included four multiple-choice samples. One looked like this:
Compared with ordinary coal, new, ‘clean’ coals may generate power
A more cleanly and more efficiently.
B more cleanly but less efficiently.
C more cleanly but at higher cost.
D more cleanly but much more slowly.
Another went like this:
The global increase in greenhouse gases has been attributed to
A industrial pollution in developing countries.
B coal mining and electricity generation.
C reduced rainfall in many parts of the world.
D trends in population and lifestyle.
As you might imagine, the story kicked up a fair amount of coal dust. RenewEconomy suggested the questions “looked like marketing spiel from the coal industry.”
The NewDaily got reaction from Climate Council CEO Amanda McKenzie, who said the test was “beyond belief”, adding: “It is completely inaccurate and inappropriate.”
On Twitter, the eye-rolling was in full swing. Yes, it seemed the Australian government was about to include coal propaganda in its citizenship test.
Except that it’s not.
IELTS is administered by a consortium of the British Council, IDP Education and Cambridge English Language Assessment.
I asked IELTS if these pro-coal questions were actually being used in any of their tests and the answer was fairly straightforward.
“No. This is a sample task provided on the IELTS website to help test takers become familiar with the format of the test. The materials used in IELTS tests are secure and would not include questions that have already been published.”
The spokesperson added the tests were produced independently and “the selection of texts for each test is not discussed with any government agency or other organisation.”
“IELTS is a global test available in 140 countries, recognised by over 10,000 organisations, including immigration authorities in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK. Organisations that use IELTS determine the level of English language proficiency required for their needs.”
So there you go.
Given the Australian Government’s track record of defending the coal industry, you can see how some people might have thought the citizenship story wasn’t too much of a stretch.
After all, Australian government ministers have repeatedly defended the coal industry in international forums, they want to build the country’s biggest coal mine and will happily toss around lumps of the global warming fuel in parliamentary debates. The government will also go out of its way to censor UN reports on climate change and the Great Barrier Reef.
But as is so often the case when climate change and politics collide (especially if The Australian is your source), you can bet that everything may not be as it seems.