Learners of English as a Second Language (ESL) in Australia appear to suffer from impoverished understandings of first and second language acquisition. In the name of accountability they are also caught up in arguable procedures for assessing literacy in classrooms widely characterised by linguistic, social and cultural diversity. Further, an alleged ‘Literacy Crisis’ exacerbates the facile model of literacy presented in policy. An examination of discourse in language and literacy policies suggests that a focus on ‘teaching the basics’ maintains existing distributions of power and knowledge within society. A regime of testing primarily aimed at accountability ultimately subjects education to market forces. Reporting the results of mass testing inevitably leads to comparison between schools, and hence enacts key doctrines of neo-liberalism: competition and individual choice. Neither of these doctrines serves indigenous Australians or immigrant and refugee families who are in the process of settling and have little voice. In such a context, is it possible to right policy wrongs and to write language rights into Australian policies that can satisfy the needs of all learners?