Citizenship test passes first step
The Age (Melbourne)
August 8, 2007 – 9:54AM
Federal parliament's lower house has approved plans to introduce a citizenship test, despite a Liberal backbencher splitting from his party over the move.
Greek-born Victorian MP Petro Georgiou, who has previously spoken out against the government over the test and other immigration issues, said he would not support the bill.
Mr Georgiou said the government's proposal turned its back on Australia's tradition of inclusive citizenship.
“I believe it imposes a punitive test,” Mr Georgiou told parliament.
“I do not support the citizenship testing bill.
“I do not support it because there has been an utter failure to show that a new citizenship test is needed or it will operate fairly.”
Mr Georgiou said his father – who came to Australia from Greece after the war, raised and educated his family and worked two jobs most of his life – was emblematic of the problems with the test.
“He was like hundreds of thousands of post war immigrants. He and they earnestly tried to learn English, but despite their best efforts they could not achieve a standard of English that would have enabled them to pass the test this parliament is about to endorse,” he said.
Hundreds of thousands of Australians who spoke English as a first language would fail the test, he said, because many had poor literacy and knowledge of history and civics.
The test would stop many migrants committed to Australia from becoming citizens and therefore full members of the community, and “diminish us as a nation”.
But Mr Georgiou was not given a chance to cross the floor over the bill as it passed without a division being called, as Labor supports the plan.
The government earlier moved to gag debate on the bill at 1pm and rush it through the House of Representatives, despite Labor's objections.
“This government is holding this parliament in contempt,” opposition trade and regional development spokesman Simon Crean said.
“It is abusing every process known to reasonable decision making.”
Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said material that would form the basis of the 20-question computer-based test would highlight Australia's common values, history, heritage, symbols, institutions and laws.
“It will give migrants to Australia information they need to better understand what it means to be Australian, their rights as Australian citizens and what is expected of them in return,” he said.
Although Labor supported the bill many MPs, including backbencher Brendan O'Connor, said it was difficult to judge the measure when the government had not even drafted the book on which the test questions will be based.
Several Labor amendments, including one that would make sure migrants receive enough free English training to pass the test, failed along party lines.
The Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Testing) Bill 2007 goes to the Senate for debate.