28 April 2006

Australian Minister considers culture test for citizens

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Migrants who want to become citizens could face compulsory tests of their ability to speak English and of their knowledge of Australian history, customs and values.

The Australian newspaper is reporting that at a speech to the Sydney Institute last night, Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Andrew Robb said he would consider introducing a compulsory citizenship test.

Mr. Robb said that for future new citizens to quickly and effectively integrate into the 'Australian family' and to fully realise their potential and ambitions, it is essential that they learn the national language of English and learn something about Australian history and heritage.

Mr. Robb said he is prepared to have a serious look over the next couple of months at the merits of introducing a compulsory citizenship test.

Mr. Robb’s comments come two months after Peter Costello lambasted 'mushy multiculturalism'and called for the introduction of a US-style citizenship oath that demanded loyalty to the Australian 'compact'.

Mr Robb said the modern threat of terrorism had driven the need for a more successfully integrated community. He noted that the twin challenges of global terrorism and the ageing population requires us to surpass the country’s current effort.

But Voula Messimeri, chair of the Federation of Ethnic Community Councils Australia, said pinpointing Australian values would be difficult.

Certainly, there are some core values we should all be in tune with - the rule of law, a fair go, equal before the law and social justice - but there are many other values that we wouldn't all necessarily agree about that are still up for discussion said Mrs. Messimeri. Citizenship should be something that gets embraced by people willingly rather than something that is about passing a test she said.

Labor's citizenship spokeswoman, Annette Hurley, said yesterday she supported the principal of a citizenship test. She said that was certainly some merit in introducing some test of people's understanding of Australian laws and history and there’s there is a lot of merit in asking all Australians about Australian laws and history.

Ms Hurley said she looked forward to seeing more details on the proposed process for determining exactly what Australian values were.

Recently, the United Kingdom introduced a 'Britishness Test' for new citizens, while Canada has tested potential new citizens for decades. America’s long standing tradition of pledging allegiance to the flag has been held up as a model by some for developing a sense of loyalty to their new country.

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