Row Looms On (Australian) Test For Citizenship

Row looms on test for citizenship
The Age
Jewel Topsfield, Canberra
July 13, 2006

VICTORIA is on a collision course with the Federal Government over a proposed compulsory citizenship test, which would test migrants' English skills and knowledge of Australian values.

Andrew Robb, the parliamentary secretary to the Immigration Minister, has pledged to have a “serious look” at introducing a compulsory citizenship test.

He said in April it was essential new citizens learned English and made a commitment to “common values” in order to integrate into “our Australian family”.

But state Multicultural Affairs Minister John Pandazopoulos is expected to voice the Victorian Government's “complete opposition” to a compulsory test at a meeting with Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone and state and territory ministers in New Zealand tomorrow.

The Age believes Mr Pandazopoulos will raise concerns that a compulsory test would create a discriminatory, two-tiered system in Australia, where those who did not speak fluent English were seen as less worthy of being an Australian citizen than those born here.

Mr Pandazopoulos will stress to the Ministerial Council on Immigration and Multicultural Affairs in Wellington tomorrow that Australia is a multicultural society and the ability to speak fluent English should not predicate citizenship.

He is likely to point out that not all migrants who come to Australia are young and educated, and many refugees can barely read and write in their own language.

The Age believes the Victorian Government has expressed concerns that many countries that have tried to introduce citizenship tests have had problems.

The German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg sparked national controversy early this year when it introduced a citizenship test that included questions about a person's view on homosexuality, forced marriage and women's rights. It was branded the “Muslim Test”. Critics claimed it was aimed at the state's large Turkish community.

The meeting, to be attended by Senator Vanstone, the multicultural affairs ministers in each state and territory and several New Zealand ministers, will also discuss ways to stamp out religious extremism.

A multimillion-dollar national action plan is likely to include the establishment of an Institute of Islamic Studies within a prominent Australian University, programs to encourage Muslim youths to play mainstream sports and a jobs scheme for unemployed Muslims.

Earlier this year Mr Robb said one of the ways of preventing fanaticism getting a toehold was to aim employment programs at young Muslims.

“Fifty per cent of the 300,000 Muslims in Australia are 24 years and younger and there are big pockets of unemployment, and that leads to frustration and anger and aimlessness,” he said at the time.

“We have to have a prime focus on getting young Muslims educated and ready for jobs and into real jobs, good jobs.”

But The Age believes the Victorian Government is opposed to any strategy that targets one religion. It is expected to argue that singling out Muslims only serves to perpetuate the myth that Muslims are the only people responsible for extremism.

The Victorian Government will also call for a national review of the use by police of ethnic descriptions such as “of Middle Eastern appearance”.