Citizenship test harsh, exploitative

Sydney's vicar for immigration has slammed the Government's proposed citizenship test, saying it could "exploit those who are disadvantaged", while the bishops' spokesman on migration issues, Bishop Joseph Grech says Australia's bishops are opposed to the test.

A formal citizenship test would be an "impossible burden" on many migrants, especially humanitarian entrants and elderly people, Bishop Grech said, according to a Catholic Weekly report.

Migrants seeking citizenship will need to demonstrate an understanding of English and pass a test on Australian history, culture and values under legislation to go before Federal Parliament in February.

Those aged under 18 or over 60 and people with physical and mental incapacities would not have to sit the test.

Bishop Grech said: "Citizenship is the making of a commitment to Australia, and it is important to take it seriously, but without making it impossible to acquire, particularly because of language or age.

"While we do not support the introduction of a formal citizenship test, we are open to the introduction of a compulsory untested citizenship course."

He added: "Every effort should be made to make the citizenship ceremony as significant as possible.

"Sometimes, in areas where considerable numbers of people regularly become Australian citizens, large impersonal ceremonies are held only once or twice a year.

"We suggest that there be small numbers of new citizens at each ceremony and that every effort be made to make the ceremony one that befits the importance of the occasion.

"Members of the Australian community should also be encouraged to attend to welcome and establish links with the new citizens."

Fr Dominic Ceresoli, Vicar of Immigration and Research in the Sydney archdiocese, said the proposed test could "exploit those who are disadvantaged because of a lack of English".

"It is a selective way of citizenship," he said.

"For a category of people, particularly those with a lack of knowledge about the language and culture, it is harsh."

The Government's proposed computer-based test will include 30 multiple-choice questions drawn from up to 200 possible questions, with subjects including Australian values and history.

Applicants will also be expected to understand and respond in English to oral questions when registering for the test.

They will also have to sign a statement that they understand the values of Australian society, including respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, sexual equality, freedom of religion, commitment to the rule of law, parliamentary democracy and "a spirit of egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, fair play and compassion for those in need".

Citizen test 'impossible burden' for too many (Catholic Weekly, 17/12/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Citizenship Testing Discussion Paper (DIMA - PDF)
Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs | Australian Citizen
Bishops' Committee for Migrants and Refugees, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference

Bendigo Bishop backs English test for migrants (CathNews, 21/9/06)

14 Dec 2006