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Transcript of joint press conference with Mr Andrew Robb: Phillip Street, Sydney: 11 December 2006: Australian citizenship test; New South Wales lotteries.



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PRIME MINISTER

11 December 2006

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE WITH MR ANDREW ROBB, PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE MINISTER FOR

IMMIGRATION AND MULTICULTURAL AFFAIRS, PHILLIP STREET, SYDNEY

Subjects: Australian citizenship test; New South Wales lotteries.

EO&E…………………………………………………………………………………

PRIME MINISTER:

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Robb and I have called this news conference to announce that Cabinet has approved the introduction of legislation to provide for a citizenship test for all new applicants for Australian citizenship. This test will involve a working knowledge of the English language. It will also involve a formal test which will require people to have an understanding of basic aspects of Australian society, our culture, and our values and certainly some understanding of our history. Bearing in mind the reaction of people to very extensive consultation carried out by Mr Robb over recent months, it’s quite clear to me and to the Government that there is very strong support in the Australian community for the introduction of a citizenship test. It is designed, not as some kind of trivial pursuit, but is designed to ensure that people do understand and have a working capacity in the national language, which is English. It will be similar in, I guess, design, although not in detail, to the citizenship test of many other countries - there’s nothing strange about a country having a citizenship test - many other countries have done the same. And we should not, as a society, be the least bit reluctant about asking those who seek to enjoy both the privileges and opportunities of Australian citizenship in the future, to participate in this test. It naturally will not apply to any existing Australian citizens, but it will apply to all new applicants. Now there are some further details of the proposal, which Mr Robb will outline. I’d like to thank him very warmly for the work that he’s done in a very conscientious manner on this matter over the past few months, and I’ll invite Mr Robb to add to my remarks and then we’ll be happy to answer a few questions.

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MR ROBB:

Thanks Prime Minister. As the Prime Minister indicated there’s been extensive consultation. We released a discussion paper on the 17th of September and it closed three weeks ago, the discussion paper response period. During that time I also had consultations in every capital city around the country and met with over 130 different community organisations. We’ve had over 1600 responses to the discussion paper and overwhelming support for the concept of a test, which looked at ensuring that people who took the pledge, who take the pledge of citizenship, have the English language skills and a basic knowledge of Australian life so that they can fully understand the pledge that they are committing to and that they have got the skills to make the most of the opportunities that are here in Australia. Now the details, the test, there’s still….the course material and all the rest of the material to be worked up, but it will be a computer-based test with a body of 200 questions, confidential questions, from which will be drawn 30 questions at random as people take the test and it will seek to examine their English language comprehension and just their general understanding of Australia’s history, and values and way of life. It will be also an opportunity for those who haven’t….who have got literacy problems, there’ll be an alternate stream for those, but overwhelmingly people will take the computer-based test.

In addition to the notion of a test, there are three other components that I’d like to refer to that were canvassed in the discussion paper. Firstly, once people have passed a test and have applied, are applying for citizenship, they will be required to sign a commitment, a commitment to Australia’s values and to Australia’s laws and all the rest, to Australia’s way of life. So that will be part of, as well as taking the pledges they do now.

As well for permanent residents coming to Australia, those that have applied to be permanent residents, those new migrants, they will be issued with material before they leave their country of origin and they will be required to inform themselves about Australia, about our values, our laws and to again, before they get issued with a visa, a permanent resident visa, they will be required to confirm that they have read or been informed about the material and that they will as permanent residents respect and understand our values and way of life and our laws and that they will commit to complying with our laws.

The final component is those temporary residents who come here for a longer period of time, in excess of 12 months. For those we will also be looking for them within their electronic visa to understand or to read and be alerted to the values and the laws in Australia and to make a commitment to respect and to abide by the laws of the country and to respect the values while they visit and spend time in Australia. They’re the principal components.

PRIME MINISTER:

Any questions?

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, how do you think this new testing regime will change the profile of migration coming into Australia?

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PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t think it will change it very much at all because it’s not designed in any way to keep some people out and encourage others to come in, that’s not the purpose of it. This is not a negative discriminatory test, this is a test that affirms the desirability of more fully integrating newcomers into the mainstream of Australian society. This is about cohesion and integration, it’s not about discrimination and exclusion. Nothing unites a country more than its common language, because from a language comes a history and a culture, but people being required to understand English to fully participate in the Australian community is not in any way to suggest that they should disavow the preservation of the language of the land of their birth. I think one of the rich things about Australian society is that people, so many of us, of other Australians, I’m not one of them, I don’t have that facility, are not only fluent in English but are very fluent in another language. So it’s not about keeping people out, it’s about bringing people together after they’ve come here and that’s what the country wants. The country wants a unifying commitment to the values and the future of this society.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, what are Australian values?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Australian values will be I guess debated by many people, but I think we all agree that democracy, we all agree that a belief in a free media, the equality of men and women, the concept of mateship, the concept of having a go and the concept of looking after the very vulnerable in our community. I think they are common Australian values on which most of us can agree.

MR ROBB:

Can I just add to that? We did flag those values within the discussion paper and in all of the consultations I’ve had all over the country and they are again repeated in some of the material, that values, these core values and there was overwhelming support, in fact there was 95 per cent support from the respondees to the discussion paper for the need and the commonsense of having English language skills to be an Australian citizen and there was 93 per cent support for these core values as being an essential part of being able to fully participate and make the most of the opportunities within this country.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, wouldn’t logic suggest that if you have an English test that there must be some sort of change in terms of likelihood of people who will come here because it will involve people who previously did not have to take such a test and on English should not have got in, and who now might not unless they can pass the test?

PRIME MINISTER:

You’re talking about people who will sit this test a number of years after they’ve come to the country, what four years under the new laws. So sure, a lot of people will still come here without

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much knowledge of English and we welcome that but after a four-year period, it’s not unreasonable to expect that those people will have developed quite a facility in the English language. And when you look at the source countries for Australia, migrants now, they come from all around the world. Some of them come from countries that don’t, as much as we do, respect the equality of men and women for example. They come from some countries where the levels of democracy are not as high as they are in this country so there’s all the more reason why it’s important that we emphasise these things, because they are things that it’s commonly accepted bind the Australian community together.

MR ROBB:

Could I just add to that the English language, we as a Government and as a community spend each year now $285 million helping to train new arrivals in English language skills. Now that is double the average that was spent each year throughout the 90s. Double what was spent just seven, eight years ago. So there is a very strong commitment from the Government and the community I think to ensure that those that come here from many parts of the world can quickly and effectively get the skills and the knowledge of the country so that they can make the most of the opportunity, they don’t end up isolated, alienated, removed and feeling not part of our community. It’s a really important commitment that I think we have made as a community to teach them the language skills and we have increased that funding dramatically in the last few years.

JOURNALIST:

You’ll have to excuse me Prime Minister if I drew a blank, but what happens if the migrant does not pass the English test after the four years? What happens then?

MR ROBB:

Is they don’t pass the test, they can sit the test as often as they choose to, but at any point in time, including before they take the test, the first test, if they feel that they haven’t got the literacy skills and will not have the literacy skills to pass the test, an expert will make a judgement about that. They can apply to be assessed and they can go an alternate route. We do have refugees and others who come here who are not literate in their own language and we have to make provision for people in that circumstance. But all others will sit the test and it’s one in, all in. Everyone who comes and seeks citizenship, no matter whether it’s from the UK or anywhere else, everyone will sit the test.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, you met with Peter Debnam this morning?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

JOURNALIST:

Are you supportive of his move to sell off the New South Wales lotteries?

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PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I am. I think the trade of government ownership of lotteries and investment of up to a billion dollars in water recycling and water projects in this state is a very good trade indeed. I think it is an imaginative policy and it has my very strong support and endorsement. One more and then we must go.

JOURNALIST:

For workers coming in under 457 Visas, will they be exempt, migrant workers (inaudible)?

MR ROBB:

Well for any temporary, any person coming in on a temporary visa, and of course there are lots of different temporary visas, where they expect to stay beyond 12 months, there will be a requirement in their visa application where they will undertake to respect the values that are important in Australia and that they will abide by the laws of the country. So they will indicate that within their visa form. So it’s an important, again, requirement I think that people are aware of the important values in our country, and the laws and the need to respect those.

PRIME MINISTER:

But 457 visa-holders are not people that automatically end up applying for citizenship. This is a test that comes when you apply to become a citizen, and many people will come in under those visas who don’t end up doing that. Many of them will. And if they do, well they will go through the process that Mr Robb described.

Thank you.

[ends]