As the Australian government prepares to overahaul the country’s citizenship regulations there have been calls an English language test to be obligatory.
Currently, people wanting to become citizens are asked 20 questions about Australia’s beliefs, values, its law system and Australian people. Questions are multiple choice and require a basic knowledge of English and Australian laws to pass it.
But Liberal MP Sharman Stone says this is not rigorous enough. She is highlighting a suggestion in a government discussion paper released last week that would require new citizens to sit an English exam before they can become Australians.
The paper also suggests standardising English language requirements to ensure citizens have adequate language ability, taking into account particular circumstances such as age.
Stone believes that it is not a benefit to the individual, nor for Australia, if people cannot speak English in Australia. She revealed that she has seen from citizenship ceremonies in her Victorian constituency of Murray that a number of new citizens cannot read, write or speak basic English.
She points out that knowing the basics of the English language is imperative for people to be able to participate in the Australian society, including voting, jury duty or understanding Australian responsibilities.
The Government is also considering residency requirements for determining citizenship eligibility. Currently, a person must be lawfully in Australia for four years, including minimum periods of permanent residence, before applying for citizenship.
The Australian Citizenship Act 2007 requires applicants in certain circumstances to successfully complete a citizenship test to be eligible for citizenship. The test is used to assess English language knowledge; understanding of the application process; and knowledge of Australia, its core values, and the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship.
All people aged 16 years or over acquiring Australian citizenship by conferral must also make the Pledge of Commitment set out in Schedule 1 of the Australian Citizenship Act 2007.
Under consideration at present are including questions about allegiance and more questions about the rule of law, values and democratic rights and responsibilities in the citizenship test.
The paper also suggests limiting the number of times a person can sit the citizenship test before their application may be refused and introducing appropriate penalties for cheating on the citizenship test.
There could be a clause clarifying that Australian-born citizens, and those who have citizenship by descent, are bound by the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship as set out in the Preamble and requiring a signed undertaking to abide by the Pledge if approved for citizenship.