Australia’s immigration minister has indicated he is open to tightening the country’s citizenship test to make sure applicants have the ability to integrate into society.
Peter Dutton believes that it should be more than just answering basic questions about Australia’s political structure, parliament, election and perfunctory duties of a citizen.
He told the media that he would welcome a debate on having a more specific test that looks at whether applicants have integrated with the Australian way of life and the social values as well as their willingness to learn English.
‘My view is people who don’t embrace these tangible values shouldn’t expect automatic citizenship. We need to see whether people are abiding by Australian laws, whether they are educating their children, if they are able bodied and of working age, whether or not they are engaged in work or whether they have had a long period of time on welfare,’ he said.
‘At the moment, the test is dictated essentially by questions around Australian trivia, if you like and my view is that we could look at a test that would more embrace Australian values,’ he added.
The citizenship test currently asks 20 questions, randomly drawn from a larger pool, covering matters of Australian history, system of government and the rights and responsibilities of citizens. The applicant must get 75% correct.
However, the Migration Council of Australia said it is not convinced that the test needs to be more robust and pointed out that it already has key safeguards to weed out undesirables, such as those with a criminal conviction.
The council’s chief executive Carla Wilshire pointed out that the current migration and citizenship system has a character test and two thirds of permanent migrants are skilled people who already meet language requirements and also have significant education and qualifications.
‘In this debate it is important to remember that migrants have higher labour market participation rates and access less welfare payments than Australian born citizens,’ she added.
According to Joe Caputo, chairperson of the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia, new immigrants value citizenship dearly as a symbol of belonging and acceptance.
‘FECCA would need to see the details of any proposed changes. However, we would be concerned about any changes to the citizenship test that would unfairly target some of Australia’s most vulnerable arrivals,’ Caputo explained.
However, he added that FECCA believes that, as part of the process of attaining Australian citizenship, a greater emphasis should be placed on civics and citizenship education.
However, Dutton’s point of view has support among some members of parliament. Most notably Liberal Democratic crossbench senator David Leyonhjelm said he would welcome tougher restrictions on citizenship and said permanent residents should wait a decade before being deemed eligible to sit the test.