Bendigo Bishop backs English test for migrants

Citizenship is not just a passport, Sandhurst diocese Bishop Joe Grech said this week, and he has "no problem" with proposed new requirements including an English test and a four-year wait to obtain citizenship.

Responding to a Federal Government discussion on new requirements for migrants seeking Australian citizenship, Bishop Grech, who chairs the Bishops' Committee for Migrants and Refugees, said the proposals were a "good idea", the Catholic Weekly reports.

The proposed new laws announced last week would require that migrants wait four years instead of the current three before becoming eligible for Australian citizenship.

Migrants will also be required to pass an English test and a quiz on Australian history, customs and values.

The proposal has upset the Muslim community whose leaders have described the government's moves as "the new Tampa", referring to the Government's use of wedge politics over refugee boat arrivals during the 2001 federal election.

Prime Minister John Howard frequently single out Muslims for criticism, saying last month that they must subscribe to Australian values.

But Bishop Grech thinks that it is important for prospective citizens to "really think seriously about it (citizenship), because it is a commitment to our way of life and our way of thinking," said Bishop Grech.

"Citizenship is not just about getting an Australian passport, I think it is much more than that."

It is a commitment, he said, "to our country, to our language and to what we stand for as a nation".

The bishop says he is not concerned about the proposal for migrants to pass an English test before being eligible for citizenship.

He said: "Particularly for young and middle-aged people in Australia, being able to speak English is really important. What happens in an emergency if someone cannot speak English?"

Bishop Grech thinks the changes will achieve cohesion among Australians.

"It will eventually help our country I think," he said. "It will make sure that there will be people with the same attitude here. There will be cohesion."

Citizenship proposals 'a good idea' (Catholic Weekly, 21/9/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Bishops' Committee for Migrants and Refugees, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs | Australian Citizen

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21 Sep 2006