New Test Line-Up And The Don Is Out

New test line-up and The Don is out

Sarah Smiles, Canberra
The Age
November 22, 2008

THE citizenship test will be overhauled by the Federal Government to make it less difficult for refugees and disadvantaged migrants.

Applicants will no longer be quizzed on their knowledge of Australian history, culture or sporting legends such as cricketer Sir Donald Bradman.

The new test will instead focus on the responsibilities and privileges of Australian citizenship epitomised in the “Pledge of Commitment”, where new citizens express loyalty to Australia's democratic principles and the rule of law.

A “citizenship course” will also be developed for disadvantaged migrants with low literacy levels, who would struggle with the computer test.

“We want to encourage all permanent residents to become citizens,” Immigration Minister Chris Evans said. “The changes will ensure the test does not disadvantage these people who most need our support.”

The controversial test was introduced by the Howard Government in October last year.

In April, Mr Evans appointed a seven-member committee to review the test, chaired by former diplomat Richard Woolcott.

In its report, the committee found the test to be “flawed, intimidating to some, and discriminatory”. From its extensive public consultation, it found a key concern of the test was that it represented “a particular view of Australian society and history that might not be shared by all Australians”. The English level was also considered “far too high”.

“Much of the information was considered 'trivial' by many and detracted from the importance of citizenship,” said the committee's report.

Just over 25,000 people had taken the test by March this year. Statistics show that refugees have more trouble passing the test than skilled migrants, 99% of whom pass the test on the first or second try.

The numbers of people applying for citizenship have also dropped since the test was introduced.

Senator Evans said the new test would be written in plain English. The new resource book will be divided into “testable” and “non-testable” sections, with information on Australian history, culture and sporting legends like Bradman confined to the non-testable part.

The committee has recommended the test questions hinge on Australia's democratic principles, such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion and secular government and equality between men and women. The Federal Government has accepted most of the committee's recommendations.

But it rejected a proposal to conduct the test in languages besides English or publish the test questions.

A recommendation to confer “earned citizenship” on the basis of a person's contribution to Australian society was also rejected because it would introduce classes of citizenship.

The new test will be written by educational experts who will complete the new resource book and test by August 2009.