Dan Tehan and Peter Dutton
Citizenship test pass rates began falling when Dan Tehan (l) and Peter Dutton were in government. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS

Coalition’s citizenship test claim misleads

William Summers February 7, 2024

The Australian citizenship test pass rate has fallen from 80 per cent under the last coalition government to 65 per cent under Labor.


Misleading. The pass rate fell under 70 per cent after the coalition changed the citizenship test in 2020 and has remained at a similar level under Labor.

Senior opposition politicians say a fall in pass rates on Australia’s citizenship test is the fault of the Albanese government because it has failed to champion Australian values.

The claim is misleading. The big drop in pass rates happened after the former Morrison government added a section on Australian values to the citizenship test in November 2020.

The pass rate since Labor took office in May 2022 is almost identical to the pass rate during the coalition’s final months in office.

The claim was made in a coalition media release by opposition immigration spokesman Dan Tehan on January 10, 2024.

The media release said the citizenship test pass rate averaged 79.3 per cent for the last five years of the coalition government (2017 to 2021 inclusive) and fell to 65 per cent in the first 15 months of Anthony Albanese’s Labor government (June 2022 to August 2023). 

Peter Dutton and  Jacinta Nampijinpa Price
 Peter Dutton and Jacinta Nampijinpa Price also made the claim in an Australia Day opinion piece. 

Mr Tehan claimed the fall happened because Labor was “not investing in Australian values and Australian citizenship and this is the result… pass rates for the citizenship test are falling”. 

Media reports of the claim are here, here, here and here.

Coalition leader Peter Dutton and opposition Indigenous affairs spokeswoman Jacinta Nampijinpa Price repeated the line in a joint opinion piece published on Australia Day 2024.

“With the Government ashamed of our national day and doing little to teach Australian values, it is no wonder that our citizenship test pass rate has fallen from about 80 per cent under the Coalition to 65 per cent under Labor,” they wrote.

But the opposition frontbenchers failed to mention that pass rates had already fallen below 70 per cent by the time the coalition left office. 

Department of Home Affairs data shows the number of tests attempted and passed each calendar year from 2017 to 2023 (up to the end of August 2023).

The figures show the annual pass rate was 80 per cent or higher during 2017-2019 but fell to 68 per cent in 2021, the coalition's final full year in government. 

The drop in the pass rate corresponds with the coalition government's decision to update the test in 2020 with new questions on "Australian values".

Before the update, applicants had to score at least 75 per cent across 20 multiple-choice questions in order to pass the test.

The updated version, which took effect on November 15, 2020, included five questions about Australian values as part of the test.

Applicants must correctly answer all five Australian values questions and score at least 75 per cent overall to pass.

The Department of Home Affairs also published a breakdown of citizenship tests attempted and passed in each month from May 2022 to August 2023.

Using the monthly and annual data, AAP FactCheck calculated pass rates before and after the May 2022 election.

Despite the coalition's claims, the data shows the pass rate was very similar on either side of the election. 

Around 66 per cent of test attempts were successful in the final 17 months of the Morrison government, compared with a 65 per cent pass rate across the first 15 months of the Albanese government, according to the AAP FactCheck analysis.

AAP FactCheck also analysed Home Affairs data for the pass rate on either side of the Morrison government's test changes in November 2020.

When comparing the 12-month periods immediately before and after the update, the data confirms the pass rate fell significantly, from 80.5 per cent before, to 68.8 per cent after.

All of the above data refers to the test attempts. 

Applicants who fail to pass the test can retake it multiple times, meaning the pass rate for individuals is higher than the pass rate for test attempts. 

The Department of Home Affairs told AAP FactCheck that applicants can attend up to three test appointments and make a maximum of three attempts at each appointment, time permitting.

The overall test pass rate was 95.8 per cent in the 2023 calendar year, a Home Affairs spokeswoman told AAP FactCheck in an email, while the overall proportion of applicants who ultimately pass the test has stayed around 95 per cent over the past six years. 

People who fail to pass the test after three appointments may have their application refused, the Department of Home Affairs website says.

The Department of Home Affairs' 2019-20 annual report (page 79) offers several possible reasons why people may fail the test on multiple occasions, including being illiterate in their first language, not having a basic knowledge of English, not being competent with the test software or not adequately studying the resource booklet.

AAP FactCheck contacted Mr Tehan's office and Mr Dutton's office to ask if they stood by the claim but did not receive any response.

The Verdict

The claim that citizenship test pass rates have fallen from 80 per cent under the coalition to 65 per cent under Labor is misleading. 

Government data shows the pass rate dropped significantly after the coalition added an 'Australia values' section to the test in November 2020. 

The pass rate in the first 15 months of the Labor government is almost identical to the pass rate during the last 17 months of the coalition government.

Misleading – The claim is accurate in parts but information has also been presented incorrectly, out of context or omitted.

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