In April last year the Turnbull Government announced it was toughing up Australian citizenship requirements which included having prospective citizens sit an English language exam, an Australian values test, the wait to become an Australian citizen after obtaining permanent residency be extended from one year to four years and a new visa class called a provisional visa to restrict migrants access to welfare.
The resulting legislation the Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill 2017 died in the Senate after being opposed by Labor, the Greens and the Nick Xenophon Team. However, the legislation was revived again by One Nation leader Pauline Hanson. As part of the consideration process, it went to the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs legislation committee.
The committee sought public opinion on the legislation as is common in the democratic process. However what was bizarre in this case is that to gauge public opinion the committee used the private online data collection and survey platform SurveyMonkey. Respondents only needed to provide a name and email address and simply had to vote yes-no vote on whether they supported the legislation.
The results of the survey were 89.8% of respondents voted against and only 10.2% were in favour. Pauline Hanson was not impressed with the way the committee conducted this survey and has alleged foreign interference has led to such a skewed finding. On April 27 Hanson wrote to the committee claiming that some organisations – including international groups were “campaigned heavily to promote the no vote” online and on social media.
Hanson also claimed people could have easily voted multiple times and as a result she would “strongly urge the committee to disregard this poll, whatever the outcome, because clearly it cannot be considered a reflection of the opinion of Australian citizens alone,” and “If the intention of this poll was to gauge the sentiment of the Australian public towards my citizenship reforms, it has clearly failed”.
The committee chairman Liberal National Ian McDonald has now responded and defended the committee’s method of conducting the survey. He argued that there were enough safeguards in place to prevent people voting twice but was not able to determine how many respondents were foreign nationals so in future the committee might also ask respondents for their residental address. McDonald also claimed the survey was used because the committee had previously received too many submissions of over 14,000, many of which were form letters.
The committee still won’t table its final report until December this year but if it includes this survey which was so easily able to be manipulated then its findings will have less creditability. Opinion polls have shown that Australians are overwhelmingly concerned about high levels of immigration and easy access to citizenship. Let us hope this experiment with SurveyMonkey democracy is not extended to other important public policy issues.