Citizenship test passes Senate
The Age (Melbourne)
September 10, 2007 – 7:54PM
The Senate has approved the federal government's new Australian citizenship tests, requiring applicants to correctly answer questions on the country's history, geography, government and traditions.
On the first day of the last sitting period before the election is called, the upper house approved the citizenship exams with some minor government amendments. The bill now goes back to the lower house for final clearance.
Labor supported the legislation but the Australian Democrats and Greens opposed it, with Democrats senator Andrew Bartlett describing it as bad policy and a throwback to the “cultural cringe”.
“This citizenship test is not necessary,” Senator Bartlett said.
“At best I think it will just be a large waste of money and a bit of light entertainment every now and then for the media to run some of the test questions … against your so-called average Australian in shopping malls.
“But more dangerous is the potential for it to be used consciously, or even sub-consciously, as an exclusionary device.”
The government voted down a Democrat amendment to have the Australian Electoral Commission test the citizenship questions on a sample group of Australian-born citizens to determine if the quiz is suitable.
Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews last month published draft resource booklets to be used as the basis for the 20 test questions, of which applicants must answer 12 correctly to receive a pass mark.
Among the topics covered in the booklet are Australia's floral emblem, the national gemstone, the Aboriginal flag and the emergence of the Heidelberg School of impressionist art.
The government is keen to keep the actual test questions secret, though they will inevitably emerge once the regime is in place.
Applicants for Australian citizenship will need to possess a higher level of English language ability than was required previously.
Greens senator Kerry Nettle said it was hard to see how requiring someone to know the country's floral emblem would make them a good citizen, respect Australian values or obey the law.
“You could be a mass murderer, you could be a person with really evil intentions in this country and still happen to know what the floral emblem was,” she said.
“I don't see how knowing the first line of the national anthem or what day is Australia Day really indicates that you're going to be a valuable citizen.”
Opposition justice spokesman Joe Ludwig the citizenship test would serve its purpose if it helped migrants learn more about Australia and build a more cohesive society.
But Labor was concerned not enough effort was being put towards improving migrants' access to English language tuition.
Human Services Minister Chris Ellison denied the citizenship tests would prompt fewer people to apply to become Australians.
“I don't see any reason for there to be a reduction in the number of applications because people do not want to take the citizenship test,” he said.
The citizenship tests were expected to take effect on October 1, Senator Ellison said, with an announcement on the final makeup of the resource booklet due within the next 10 days.
The government has recast its public statements on migration this election year, promoting an emphasis on “integration” and ditching “multicultural affairs” from its official language.