Sweeping changes to the Australian citizenship test were unveiled on Thursday morning by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Under the proposed changes, prospective citizens will need to demonstrate fluency in English, four years of residency, a commitment to Australian values (intended to crack down on inappropriate attitudes on issues such as violence against women, child and forced marriage and female genital mutilation), and a demonstrated capacity to integrate into Australian society.
The current system places no specific requirements on applicants’ English language skills. It only requires them to have lived as permanent residents for 12 months, and includes questions on general Australian history and government structure.
In making the announcement, Turnbull said, “We’re not defined by race or religion or culture, as many other nations are.”
“The danger is the uncertainty about what Australian values are.” – Michael Kellahan
“We’re defined by commitment to common values, political values, the rule of law, democracy, freedom, mutual respect, equality for men and women … and our citizenship process should reflect that.”
Michael Kellahan, director of religious freedom think-tank Freedom for Faith, says, “the danger is the uncertainty about what Australian values are, because each example is already captured by criminal law.
“It’s hard not to see it as partly directed against Muslim migrants and the controversies that have taken place … The government has a right to have immigration and citizenship laws done in connection with genuine security concerns. If there’s security information that connects things with Islamic State then that would of course be something relevant for citizenship. But that has to be led by intelligence, related to security and subject to the rule of law.”
Mr Turnbull conceded that practices such child marriage and female genital mutilation were already illegal in Australia. But he said the presence of questions in the new test which relate to such practices would serve to reinforce Australian values.
But Kellahan wonders if the bigger question to ask is what we mean when we say ‘Australian values’.
“If we believe that respect for women and children and saying no to violence against women and children … is an Australian value … then why should that not be made a key part, a fundamental part, a very prominent part, of our process to be an Australian citizen?” said Turnbull in his speech.
“What I want is, frankly, for people to abide by our laws, adopt our values.” – Peter Dutton
“Why should the test simply be a checklist of civic questions, all very important, about the parliament and how many senators there are from each state. These are all important things to know, no doubt, but fundamentally, the values which bind us together are those ones of respect, the rule of law, commitment to freedom [and] democracy. These are the key elements in our Australian identity and our citizenship should reflect this.”
The current test consists of 20 multiple choice questions, but the new test will include open-ended questions intended to reveal the values held by the applicant. Some of the sample “shared value” questions under discussion include:
- Does Australia’s principle of freedom of religion mean that it is permissible to force children to marry?
- In Australia’s multicultural society, under which circumstances is it permissible to cut female genitals?
- While it is illegal to use violence in public, under what circumstances can you strike your spouse in the privacy of your own home?
- Under what circumstances is it appropriate to prohibit girls from education?
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton denied that the citizenship test overhaul was sparked by Muslim migration and any growing concern about extremism driven by the terrorism of Islamic State.
Speaking to Channel Seven’s Sunrise programme, Dutton said, “What I want is, frankly, for people to abide by our laws, adopt our values. I want them to send their kids to school. If they’re of working age and have an ability to work, I want them working, not on welfare.”
Conservative Christian commentator Bill Muehlenberg told Eternity, “every country has a right to secure its own borders, to simply tighten things up a bit to prevent people getting in who could be terrorists and the like; that is fully sensible.
“The very simple truth is, in the West, while not every act of terrorism is done by Muslims, sadly, the overwhelming majority are. We don’t have Baptists blowing people up, we don’t have Presbyterians hijacking planes, we don’t have Hindus driving trucks down crowded streets.”
Implying that Dutton was playing politics in denying that these changes were about Islam, Muehlenberg said, “everybody knows that the problem we have is Islam, with Muslims who take their faith seriously.”
More than five million people have become citizens since Australian citizenship was introduced in 1949.More