Tuesday, December 12, 2006

John Howard wedge politics - Citizenship/English language tests "a slap in the face"

December 12, 2006 - Migrants forced to sit internet English exams, told to "defend the nation".

"Citizenship test nothing more than cynical wedge politics... a slap in the face"

Prime Minister John Howard has announced that new migrants will be forced to sit English and Citizenship exams under a new citizenship test being introduced by the Federal Government. Mr Howard said that the tests would apply to all new migrants who applied to become citizens. He said the tests, would require migrants to not only speak English but also be aware of Australian values.

"It is not designed in any way to keep some people out," Mr Howard said. "It is designed not as some kind of Trivial Pursuit," he said. The Prime Minister says the test is designed to make newcomers integrate.

The radical new test has sparked a furore among many Australians...

Liberal, Labor, Greens and Democrats alike are critical of the move. The Government announced the idea of compulsory English examinations earlier this year, drawing criticism from many ethnic groups - who branded them discriminatory. Legislation for the new tests is expected to be introduced to parliament early next year, which means they could be in place before the 2007 federal election.

"The weird part of all of this is a 30-question trivia quiz that the Government's wanting to impose," Labor's citizenship spokesperson, Tony Burke said "I'm more interested in whether or not someone's going to be a loyal, hardworking Australian citizen than how useful they'd be at a trivia night."

Mr Burke is sceptical about one of the values being promoted. "The final value that's been referred to there is fair play and compassion in need," he said. "And I think it's great if everyone becoming an Australian citizen believes in that, I just wish we had a Government which practiced that."

The test is also opposed by many prominent Australians including former governor-general Sir William Deane and former prime minister Malcolm Fraser. Sir William recently argued that while values and principles should be discussed, they should not be the subject of tests.

Australian Multicultural Foundation executive director Hass Dellal said many migrants needed time to adjust to life in Australia, with their main priorities being finding somewhere to live and work. "We need to allow for flexibility and diversity so they can adapt to the conditions and then access services like English language classes and orientation programs so they can learn in a comfortable amount of time," Mr Dellal said.

Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett says the Government's motives are questionable. "I think it's just the Government doing it for some easy political points and ignoring the details," Senator Bartlett said. "The Government thinks this is a clever political move and it's the way they were always determined to go. But really the big question isn't so much what tests we should have put in place for people to be citizens, it should be what sort of assistance we provide to people to help them integrate with the Australian community."

Greens Senator Kerry Nettle fears it is designed to keep some migrants out. "There's no other reason why you would have a test," Senator Nettle said. Senator Nettle says if the Government was serious about migrants learning English they would provide more funding for language programs.

Mr Rudd says he is not opposed to the idea of an assessment for citizenship but wants to see copies of the tests people would have to sit. "I want to see what the Government has in mind specifically and I think we'd like to examine that in some detail."

Andrew Robb said migrants could sit the tests as many times as they needed to, but anyone found to be illiterate would be assessed in different ways. The new rules will mean prospective Australian citizens will have to sit an internet-based test to demonstrate their knowledge of the English language and Australia. They will also be made to sign a statement saying they are aware of and understand Australian social values including freedom of religion, equality of men and women, a commitment to obeying local laws and a respect for individual freedom.

The test will include an oral component and a computer-based test of 30 questions randomly drawn from a pool of 200 questions on English comprehension, Australian history, values and way of life.

The test also calls for prospective citizens to accept responsibility for "defending Australia should the need arise". "This is about cohesion and integration," Mr Howard said.

However, there is dissent in Howard's flock. Liberal MP Petro Georgiou is concerned that the toughening of the requirements would "create unreasonable barriers to the acquisition of citizenship." He said the new tests will prevent people who would make a wonderful contribution to Australia from becoming citizens. "The upshot may very well be that the successful settlement of immigrants is undermined rather than enhanced," Mr Georgio said.

Fellow Liberal MP Russell Broadbent said, "the questions could be very difficult for many current Australians. In fact, half of Gippsland might not be able to pass the test," he said.

Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce said: "We're trying to stop people who have militant ideas who want to destroy our nation - I've got no problem with that whatsoever," Senator Joyce said. "What has to be proven is whether an English test is going to do it - most wackos are very well-educated."

Greens Senator Kerry Nettle has criticised the new citizenship testing regime as 'nothing more than cynical wedge politics.' "If the Australian value of celebrating multiculturalism were part of this new test I think John Howard would fail it," Senator Nettle said. "These tests will prove nothing, and achieve nothing beyond wedging the Labor Party in a cynical use of race politics. She said the Prime Minister has "utterly failed to justify the need for these tests or show how they will make Australians better off."

"The Prime Minister is deliberately trying to create the false impression that there is a problem with the quality of migrants we are getting into Australia, when the reality is quite the opposite." said Senator Nettle. She said the tests are "a slap in the face for all the new migrants who have worked so hard to learn English and settle down so successfully in Australia."

The proposed test follows the release in September of a discussion paper by Parlimantary Secratary Andrew Robb. "Australian citizenship is a privilege, not a right," Mr Robb said. "This citizenship test is an important extension of the Government's broader philosophy of mutual obligation."

Over 100,000 people were granted Australian citizenship in 2005-06.

The Australian - PM faces revolt on test for migrants
SMH - How the English test will work
News Ltd - PM defends citizenship, English tests
SBS - Migrants must sit English exam
The Age - Citizen test stirs up Lib rebels
ABC - Democrats, Greens question motives behind citizenship test
Citizenship Testing Discussion Paper - DIMA

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