Ethnic Groups Want Citizen Test Changed

Sydney Morning Herald, January 2, 2008

Ethnic groups have backed an overhaul of Australia’s new citizenship test after reports that one in five applicants are failing it.

Of the 10,636 people who have taken the test since it was introduced by the Howard government in October, 2,311—about 20 per cent—failed.

Candidates must take a 20-question quiz on Australian history, values and way of life, and show adequate competence in the English language.

The West Australian newspaper reported that new Immigration Minister Chris Evans would review the citizenship test in the wake of the failure rate and could make substantial changes to it.

NSW Anti-Discrimination Board president Stepan Kerkyasharian was critical of the test’s content, saying it should rely less on culture and more on practical knowledge about Australia.

“Let’s have a test that’s practical, that basically finds out whether someone knows enough about the political system,” he said.

“It shouldn’t be a test of culture but a test of knowledge.

“I’d like to see a citizenship test which is easy to administer, easy to take part in, not sort of couched in high-level English terms, and a test about the political system in Australia and what every day life in Australia is about, not about what happened 20 years ago in some cricket match.”

Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria chairman Sam Afra said his organisation had always believed the new test was discriminatory and would stop many lawful migrants from becoming Australian citizens.

“The news that 20 per cent of applicants are failing the test confirms our fears that the test would exclude people who would otherwise make a tremendous contribution to Australia,” he said.

He said prospective citizens with low levels of English, particularly refugees, should be able to take classes rather than sit the test.

This was already an option under existing law through ministerial powers, he said.

“An exemption to allow teaching rather than testing for particular applicants would ensure that Australia remains a welcoming country that does not unwittingly create a permanent underclass of non-citizens,” Mr Afra said.

Acting Victorian Premier Rob Hulls said a review of the test was appropriate.

“There has been a number of people that have been unable to answer some of the questions on that test,” he told reporters.

“The federal government has indicated that it will have a look at a review.

“Whilst that is a matter for the federal government, I think it is appropriate to have a look at it.”

Opposition immigration spokesman Chris Ellison called on the government to maintain its election pledge to keep the citizenship test.

Senator Ellison said Senator Evans had not released the number of people who had passed the citizenship test, but rather the number of tests attempted.

A person may have failed on their first attempt and passed on their second attempt, Senator Ellison said.

“It appears that Minister Evans is using misleading statistics to justify a Trojan horse-style review that could lead to wholesale changes to a test that is supported by the majority of Australians.”

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