http://www.dailytelegraph.news.com.au/story/0,20281,18956185-5001028,00.htmlETHNIC and religious groups have expressed concern that a proposal for compulsory English and citizenship tests for new Australians will unfairly discriminate against some would-be immigrants.
Andrew Robb, parliamentary secretary to Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone, yesterday said he would consider introducing a compulsory citizenship test for prospective immigrants requiring them to demonstrate their English language skills and knowledge of Australia's values, customs, laws and history.
"From my point of view, successful integration is overwhelmingly in the interests of migrants and the broader community," he said in a speech to the Sydney Institute last night.
"For this reason, I am prepared to have a serious look, over the next couple of months, at the merits of introducing a compulsory citizenship test."
Currently, aspiring citizens must speak and understand basic English and attend an interview where they are asked about responsibilities and privileges of being Australian.
Labor has backed the proposal, subject to a discussion of what constitutes Australian values.
"We would need to look at who is going to decide what would be in the test, what consultation there would be and how the test would be assessed," Labor immigration spokeswoman Annette Hurley said today.
Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia chair Voula Messimeri said citizenship should not be a matter of passing or failing a test.
"Australia has a very long and very proud tradition of accepting people from all around the world and that, by necessity, means that there will be people that arrive, and arrive to the door now, that speak no English now," she told ABC radio.
In particular, many coming from Africa would be unable speak English, she said, adding that the government should put resources into language teaching.
"But to say that that will become the threshold for passing or failing a test is not really the way for us to embrace new arrivals," she said.
"My thinking is, and certainly the view of FECCA is, that citizenship is something that should be embraced willingly by people ... ."
Sikh Council of Australia secretary Bawa Singh Jagdev said the Sikh community would oppose a compulsory English test.
"What happens in their own countries where the English is not the first language? It would be difficult for them to pass the English test," he told ABC radio.
Dr Ameer Ali, president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, said he too had concerns.
"We have a peculiar democracy, a peculiar sense of equality, every body is like every body else. So that is the value that is appreciated, that is commendable, this typical unique Australia," he told ABC radio.