Test For Migrants Slated For Overhaul

Test for migrants slated for overhaul

Paul Maley
The Australian
August 29, 2008

JOHN Howard's citizenship test for new migrants, long lampooned for its emphasis on testing arcane historical facts, is flawed, discriminatory and set for a major overhaul.

The chairman of the committee set up to review the test, Richard Woolcott, told The Australian a report delivered to Immigration Minister Chris Evans recommended substantial reform of the test, which was introduced in 2006.

The former diplomat declined to go into detail about the report's contents, saying it would be inappropriate as it was still being considered by Senator Evans. However, he said: “The standout recommendation would be that the present test is flawed and seen by some as intimidatory and by others as discriminatory and needs a substantial reform.”

The citizenship test has been the subject of fierce criticism from migrant advocacy groups, who say its English language requirement is too onerous and its emphasis on historical information too great.

The test famously made reference to relatively obscure sporting figures, such as 1930s billiards champion Walter Lindrum.

At the time of its inception, Mr Howard defended the test, saying it was important new migrants had a working understanding of the English language.

“It is designed not as some kind of Trivial Pursuit, but … to ensure that people do understand and have a working capacity in the national language, which is English,” Mr Howard said in 2006.

Mr Woolcott said the English language requirement was too exacting and had led to numerous complaints that the test was discriminatory.

“Many of the submissions thought that the standard of English required was too high and discriminated against non-English speaking migrants, of which there are of course an increasing number,” Mr Woolcott said.

He said the committee's report contained 32 recommendations, informed by more than 170 written submissions from members of the public.

All recommendations were unanimously endorsed by the committee's eight members, Mr Woolcott said.

Kevin Rudd has committed to retaining the test, but his Government has flagged a need to reform it.

A spokeswoman for Senator Evans yesterday declined to comment on the contents of thereport.

“The minister has received the report and is considering it,” the spokeswoman said.

According to the Immigration Department, 48,713 people sat the test between October last year and June 20, of whom 80 per cent passed on their first attempt and another 15 per cent passed on the second attempt.

The highest failure rates were recorded by people from Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan.

Applicants are able to sit the test as many times as they want.

Despite the high pass rate, the Government provided $3.4 million in grants for special assistance to refugees to help them prepare for the test.

The test poses 20 computer-generated questions, including a mandatory question on rights and responsibilities that applicants must answer correctly.