Migrants will need to understand the concept of the "Aussie fair go" before being granted citizenship under beefed-up immigration laws planned by the Howard Government. Newcomers will also need basic English skills and will have to wait at least four years to become citizens. However, while the Government says its proposals are now up for debate it is likely that some knowledge of Australian history, culture, national symbols, and the democratic system will become mandatory.
Parliamentary secretary Andrew Robb launched a discussion paper at a Melbourne citizenship ceremony yesterday, warning that certificates would no longer be handed out "like confetti". Mr Robb said the 100,000 new migrants who sought to become citizens each year would in future need to understand common Australian values, including what he described as the "spirit of the fair go". "These values include our respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, support for democracy, our commitment to the rule of law, the equality of men and women, the spirit of the fair go, of mutual respect and compassion for those in need," he said.
Failing the test would not hurt a person's current visa status and they could repeat, but failures would be denied the privileges of citizenship, including an Australian passport, right to vote and opportunity to work in the public service. Mr Robb said terrorism and globalisation warranted a revised approach to qualifying for citizenship. "There are a whole lot of issues that are making the broader community feel that those that come and join our community should fully understand and have the skills to quickly and effectively become part of our community," he said. "What I think we are looking at is a level of English skill which would allow people to hold down a job, to converse with their workmates, to read a safety sign, to fill out some forms."
Migrants' groups have warned many new Australians will be intimidated by the test. Victorian Minister Assisting the Premier on Multicultural Affairs, John Pandazopoulos, said the discussion paper was creating "second-class citizens". "On the one hand they are saying we want people to become good Aussies, to settle quickly, but now they are saying they want more barriers," he said. "It contradicts campaigns they have been running for a few years now encouraging people to take out citizenship." Canada, Britain, the US and the Netherlands all have a language and citizenship knowledge test. Australia is considering exemptions, including for those under 18 or over 60.
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