Subjects: English language
A mandatory basic English language requirement for all new permanent resident immigrants is going to be considered, they haven't done it yet, they are considering it, by the current government.
They have concerns that by 2021 more than a million people in Australia could have little or no English skills. So let's talk to the Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Minister, Alan Tudge.
Alan, thanks for joining us today. Tell us what is behind this?
G'day, Leon. In essence, it is because we have had a rapid increase in the number of people coming into the country, now residing in the country, who don't speak any English and as you mentioned in a few years' time we will have 1 million people who speak no or little English.
That's not good for the individuals concerned, who won't have the opportunity to take advantage of everything that Australia has to offer. But nor is it in the interests of society and our social cohesion, that's particularly what we are concerned about.
Consequently, Leon, we are looking at instituting a formal English language requirement before a person gets their permanent residency and before they get their citizenship.
Would you have them fill out a kind of exam?
In essence, they already do a multiple choice questionnaire before they get their citizenship and that is a citizenship test as such.
We are looking at here a conversational English language test, which would assess your ability to speak and to listen because at the end of the day, it is your speaking and listening skills which are most important to you.
Being able to interact with your neighbours, with your broader community. That is what we are looking at.
There will be some people who will kind of try and twist this another way, but I put this to you, we welcome people from all lands.
But if you don't have a working knowledge of your language, first of all it makes it much harder for you to access services that you might be entitled to.
It makes it harder when you want to apply for a job. It makes it very difficult when you want to do a whole lot of things. Is that really what is behind all this?
That is a little bit of what is behind it. I mean, from the individual migrant's perspective, you are exactly right.
If you are looking for work, your chances of getting employment as a male without English is about 40 per cent. If you have got good English it is about 80 per cent.
If you are a refugee coming into the country, you are 85 per cent likely to get a job if you have got good English, your 15 per cent likely if you have got no English. It is as stark as that, Leon.
So there is a direct interest that people have to learn at least functional English so that they can get work and of course that they can access those services and get involved in the community, to join the local sporting club or local Rotary or whatever you want to join.
But also it is important for social cohesion and what we don't want to do is go down the path of some European countries where you start to develop parallel communities, if you like.
Whereas I think the success of Australia's multicultural model has been very much that it has been founded in integration, where we blend together, where we work together, we play together regardless of where you have come from.
Given the way this is being talked about today, I would be surprised if this wasn't a bipartisan thing.
I hope it does become bipartisan, but the Labor Party has been campaigning uphill and down-dale, Leon, against any requirement for migrants to have to learn English.
I find that very disappointing. They are doing so, I think, for base political purposes, to try to spread fear into some of the migrant communities. Whereas as we have been discussing, I think, it is actually in the interests of the migrant and it is in the interests of society for there to be a common language.
What do the peak migrant groups say about this? Do they welcome this?
Yeah, many of them do. Many of them have been talking for some time about the importance of English language acquisition.
And some of them have even come out today in support of the speech which I am making at lunchtime here in Sydney.
So that is important. I have worked very closely with them in terms of developing up the concept. We will do a little bit more consultation before we put the final proposals to the parliament.
Alright. Alan, thank you for joining us. That is the Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Minister, Alan Tudge.
I have got to say that if you are familiar with the local language, you do get an advantage from that, I would have thought.
I know we live in a time, and I have said this a few times recently, that everything is now contestable, everything becomes an argument, and I don't know that we are the better for it. But I hope this is embraced by all sides.
I can, and I am sure you can too, you can see some real logic in this, that if you know the local language, or have some idea of it, then there are things that you can get from that community, as well as give back as a member of the community that are rightfully yours.