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Wednesday, 30 May 2007
Page: 4


Mr ANDREWS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) (9:22 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I have the honour to present the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Testing) Bill 2007. This bill amends the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 and provides for the introduction of an Australian citizenship test.

Citizenship has been a formal requirement in Australia since 1949. Before that, there was a provision, first adopted in the various colonies, whereby a person was naturalised.

The Australian Citizenship Act 2007 states in its preamble:

The Parliament recognises that Australian citizenship represents full and formal membership of the community of the Commonwealth of Australia, and Australian citizenship is a common bond, involving reciprocal rights and obligations, uniting all Australians, while respecting their diversity.

Migrants have come to Australia from more than 200 countries around the world. They include people from cultures and systems of government from the western, liberal democratic tradition like Australia—and people from other cultures and traditions.

Australia is a multicultural society. Our diversity is part of the rich tapestry of Australia today. While people are not expected to leave their own traditions behind, we do expect them to embrace our values and integrate into the Australian society. In becoming a citizen, they pledge their loyalty to Australia.

The core of being an Australian is at the heart of becoming a citizen of this country, no matter where people have come from.

Our great achievement in Australia has been to balance diversity and integration. Diversity is celebrated in Australia. But so too should we support the shared values that bind us together as one people.

For generations, Australia has successfully combined people into one community based on a common set of values.

These values include our respect for the freedom and the dignity of the individual, support for democracy, our commitment to the rule of law, the equality of men and women, respect for all races and cultures, the spirit of a ‘fair go’, mutual respect, compassion for those in need, and promoting the interests of the community as a whole.

It is important that Australian citizens understand the values that guide us and how our society works.

Australia is not simply an offshoot of the civilisation of Europe; it is a part of the West, those prosperous democratic countries that include the nations of Europe and the parts of the New World settled by Europeans: the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

From 1788 the British settlers of Australia brought with them the Anglo-Celtic principles and traditions of Christianity, the scientific revolution and the enlightenment. They built a society governed according to the new principles of liberalism and democracy, but in their own way. They were determined that in some respects Australia should not be like Europe—there should be no privilege, and opportunity should be open to all.

For over 150 years the majority of the new settlers came from Britain and Ireland, but there were significant numbers from China and other parts of the world. In the last 60 years people from every country, creed and race have settled here, initially from Europe, and then from Asia and elsewhere, and they have found a land of opportunity.

People living in Australia enjoy many rights, including equality before the law, and freedom of religion and expression. Australian citizens also have the right to vote and stand for parliament and local councils. We also have responsibilities. We must obey Australia’s laws, accept the common values and respect the rights and freedoms of others. We are also encouraged to become involved in the community, to help make Australia an even better place.

The material which will form the basis of the citizenship test will highlight the common values we share, as well as something of our history and our background. It is currently being drafted and will be released once completed.

The booklet will give migrants to Australia the information they need to better understand what it means to be an Australian, what Australia will do for them, and what they are expected to do in return, for this country. It will give a brief summary of our history, our heritage, our symbols, our institutions and our laws, as well as what migrants need to do to apply for citizenship.

The Australian Citizenship Act 2007 requires that applicants for citizenship understand the nature of their application, possess a basic knowledge of the English language, and have an adequate knowledge of the responsibilities and privileges of Australian citizenship. This bill provides that these applicants must have successfully completed a test, before making an application for citizenship, to demonstrate that they meet these requirements.

These requirements are the same as the current criteria with the addition of the requirement that applicants have an adequate knowledge of Australia. It is important to emphasise that the test is for citizenship, not settlement. Migrants who come to Australia in the future, whether under the skilled, the family reunion or humanitarian programs, will not be required to pass the test prior to or upon their arrival in this country. They will only need to pass it when wishing to take up citizenship of Australia, which will usually be some four or more years later.

The government recognises that it would be unnecessary and unfair for some people to comply with these requirements. Consequently, people under the age of 18 or over the age of 60, and those with a permanent physical or mental incapacity which prevents them from understanding the nature of the application, will not be required to sit the test.

The test will encourage prospective citizens to obtain the knowledge they need to support successful integration into Australian society. The citizenship test will provide them with the opportunity to demonstrate in an objective way that they have the required knowledge of Australia, including the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship, and a basic knowledge and comprehension of English.

One of the main reasons people come to Australia is that they see this as a land of opportunity.

Part of our responsibility to them is to ensure that they have the knowledge to make the most of what our country offers and to help them develop a sense of belonging. Citizenship is at the heart of our national identity, giving us a strong sense of who we are and our place in the world.

Becoming a citizen is a profound step requiring the individual to pledge their loyalty to Australia and its people. It involves a commitment to a shared future and core values. It means understanding the privileges that come with citizenship, but also being able to fulfil the responsibilities. We need to make sure that people are not only familiar with Australia and our values, but also able to understand and appreciate the commitment they are required to make.

The community also needs to be assured that migrants are able to integrate into Australian society. Maintaining broad community support for our migration and humanitarian program is critical. The ability to pass a formal citizenship test sends a clear signal to the broader community that new citizens know enough about our way of life and commit to it.

This is evident by the support from the community for the introduction of a citizenship test. More than 1,600 responses were received to a discussion paper released on 17 September 2006 seeking community views on the merits of introducing a formal citizenship test. Sixty per cent of respondents supported the introduction of the citizenship test.

It is worth noting that many of the world’s major migrant receiving countries have had formal citizenship tests in place for some time. They include Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

A test must be approved by written determination. The bill provides that the ministerial power to make a written determination cannot be delegated.

Matters to be included in the determination will include eligibility criteria to sit a test. Only permanent residents who are able to be satisfactorily identified and provide a photograph of themselves, or allow an officer to take a photo, will be able to sit a citizenship test.

The test is expected to be computer based and consist of 20 multiple-choice questions drawn randomly from a large pool of confidential questions. Each test is expected to include three questions on the responsibilities and privileges of Australian citizenship. The pass mark is expected to be 60 per cent including answering the three mandatory questions correctly. A person will be able to take the test as many times as required in order to pass.

The test questions will assess knowledge of Australian history, culture and values based on information contained in a citizenship test resource book. It will cover the sorts of things that people learn in their primary and secondary years at school.

There will not be a separate English language test. A person’s English language skills will be assessed on their ability to successfully complete the test in English.

It is expected that most people will have the literacy skills necessary to complete the citizenship test unassisted. However, the government recognises that there will be some people who do not and may never have the literacy skills required. In these special cases, it is proposed that the test administrator read out the test questions and possible answers to the person. The bill also provides the flexibility to approve more than one test should different arrangements need to be made in the future for certain prospective citizens.

Australia can be proud of its history and have confidence in its future as one of the world’s most stable democracies, where men and women are treated equally and the rule of law is paramount. A citizenship test will ensure a level of commitment to these values and way of life from all Australians, regardless of where they may originally come from.

By having the knowledge and more importantly an appreciation of the events that have shaped this country and the institutions that have been established as a result will help foster a nation of people with a common purpose.

Many Australians would agree that citizenship is a privilege, not a right. This, more than anything, is why the introduction of a citizenship test is not only supported by many Australians, but also acknowledged as being a key part of maintaining our national identity.

It is our sense of reciprocal obligations and a vision of a common destiny that has been foundational to Australia’s success.

The words of Henry Parkes, the father of Federation, first said at Tenterfield in 1889, remain true today: we are ‘one people, with one destiny’.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Burke) adjourned.