News National PM: New Australians must pass English test, commit to ‘our values’
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PM: New Australians must pass English test, commit to ‘our values’

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Australia Day celebrations are traditionally held on January 26. Photo: AAP Photo: AAP
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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced sweeping changes to Australia’s citizenship laws he says will underline so-called “Australian values”.

Prospective Australian citizens will need to pass a standalone English test, demonstrate a commitment to Australia and have been a permanent resident for four years, under changes announced Thursday.

Days after the government unveiled a new “Australians first” overhaul of the 457 visa program, Mr Turnbull said the government was “strengthening our multicultural society and strengthening our commitment to Australian values”.

“This will be good for the applicants, good for the nation, underlining our Australian values at the very heart of Australian citizenship,” he said.

“Australian citizenship is the foundation of our democracy.”

The changes mean prospective citizens must have lived in Australia as a permanent resident for four years, rather than one as the current laws state.

They will also now be required to demonstrate fluency in English by passing a new test involving reading, writing, listening and speaking.

Mr Turnbull said that would encourage more people to learn the language, which was the “single best thing” a new migrant could do.

“I mean, does anybody doubt that if you want to succeed, if you want to even have a chance of succeeding in Australia, you need to be able to speak English,” he said.

The citizenship test, essentially a civics quiz that was introduced by John Howard, will also be changed to include questions that evaluate the applicant’s commitment to Australian values.

Applicants will be barred from applying for citizenship for two years if they fail the new test three times.

Specific changes to the test will be open to public consultation.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said prospective citizens would be required to show they had integrated into Australian society by showing they were employed and were sending their children to school.

He also suggested people would be asked about their attitudes to issues such as domestic violence.

“A perpetrator of domestic violence, my view is that that person shouldn’t shouldn’t become an Australian citizen,” he said. 

Asked why anyone would admit to supporting domestic violence while taking the test, Mr Dutton conceded that some people would lie.

That is not an argument for us to do nothing in this space,” he said.

Earlier, Labor’s shadow foreign affairs minister Penny Wong questioned the need for changes to citizenship requirements.

“If English grammar is the test, there might be a few members of Parliament that might struggle,” she said.

Senator Wong said it would be odd to ask whether people agreed with specific laws because new citizens commit to obeying all Australian laws when they make the citizenship pledge.

“I have to say it seems a little odd to me that you would actually ask people whether or not they’re going to obey when they have already to pledged to obey the law,” she said.

“I think everybody knows this is all about Tony Abbott, this is all about One Nation.”

Citizenship changes:

  • Prospective citizens must pass a standalone English test, involving reading, writing, listening and speaking.
  • Must have lived in Australia permanent resident for at least four years, rather than 12 months.
  • Citizenship test to assess an applicant’s commitment to Australian values and responsibilities.
  • Applicants must show the steps they have taken to integrate into and contribute to the Australian community, such as employment, membership of community groups, children’s school enrolment.
  • Prospective citizens may only fail the citizenship test three times before they are barred from taking it again.

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