Subjects: Proposed changes to the citizenship test – English Language Testing; Australian Values; Integration; Speech to Menzies Research Centre
There is no doubt that Australia is one of the world's most multicultural countries. Have a listen to this - a quarter of us were born overseas, a quarter. Nearly half of us have at least one parent from overseas, and about 20 per cent speak a second language.
Using these statistics, you could argue that multiculturalism is a huge success in our country. Not so fast. Ethnic enclaves are growing; more and more of them do not seem to understand Australian values.
Meanwhile, the number of new arrivals who barely speak English has increased from 19 to nearly 25 per cent in just 10 years.
New residents are having difficult integrating with the rest of this society, which means they struggle to find jobs, and too often, too many of them end up on the public purse. It is a serious problem, and it is only getting bigger.
As you know, the Government has been trying to make changes to the Citizenship Act by emphasising Australian values and strengthening English proficiency tests. But of course, these amendments have been blocked by Labor and the Greens in the Senate.
The Minister for Citizenship, Alan Tudge, is renewing his push for these changes, and I would have thought rightly so. He will be delivering a speech at the Menzies Centre tonight on this very issue. He has agreed to talk with us this afternoon.
Alan Tudge, thank you very much for your time.
Nearly a quarter of new migrants speak little or no English. That to me is unbelievable. You would think that before they even come here, they would get a start or a head start so that they can find a job when they get here.
Certainly English language is critical to getting employment. We know that, and the data supports it.
What I am indicating in my speech tonight is that there is some early concerns that we see whereby we are not integrating people quite as well as we used to.
English language is one of those indicators where the English language capability has diminished over time, whereas we would like to see that reversed.
So what do we do now? Say someone walks into the Beijing embassy, ticks all the right boxes, gets the paperwork correctly filled out and heads to Australia. Do we, as an immigration office, say to these people, you have got to go and start learning English. What do we do now?
It depends on how you come into the country. If you come in as a skilled migrant, then you will already have to pass an English language test to get into the country, and frequently you might start out on a 457 visa and then you transfer to permanent residency.
If you come in under what is called the Family Reunion program or maybe you are the spouse of a skilled migrant, then there is no English language test upon you to come into the country.
The only time we do assess your English is when you apply for citizenship and you have to sit the citizenship test itself, which of course is in English but it only assesses your reading comprehension.
It does not assess your verbal skills, your listening skills or your writing skills.
So how do we change the system to make sure that we have better English-speaking migrants?
In essence, what we are proposing is that before you become a citizen, there should be an English language test. This doesn't have to be a university-level English language test.
It needs to be a moderate-level English language test which people would sit as a stand-alone test to test their written language, to test their speaking and listening capabilities.
We believe this is so important, because English as you know is the glue to our society. If you have got good English, you are more likely to get a good job.
If you have got more English, then you can participate in our democratic society, and of course, English is the way that people communicate together and it is hard to communicate with other people who do not have a common language.
Exactly, it is not only good for them, it is good for the rest of us.
It is good for them and it is good for society, and we are just concerned that that English language capability has diminished.
Consequently, we would like to set some higher aspirations on the new arrivals to say well, you come here, but when you are applying for citizenship and to get that lottery ticket by becoming an Aussie, then we would like you to at least have a moderate level of English language capability. And I do not think that is unreasonable.
Do we offer free English language lessons when migrants come to this country?
There is for certain categories of people. Certainly, the humanitarian intake.
If you come in as a refugee, then there are good programs in place for people who speak no English effectively to get up to speed, and there are many other training programs which are available.
But at the same time, it is incumbent also upon the new arrivals that they seek out English language training and they get themselves up to speed.
We want to set that aspiration for them so that they know when they come here, well, there is an aspiration that you have to pass an English language test in a few years' time when you are applying for citizenship.
It all makes sense to me. How are you going to get Labor and the Greens over the line this time?
I am disappointed with the Labor Party that they have opposed this, and really, I do not think their opposition is in the interest of the migrants, nor is it in the interest of Australia.
Ultimately, the success of our multicultural community has been based on integrating people phenomenally well. We have actually done that so well in this country, but you can only integrate people well if they have got some reasonable English.
I would like to see the Labor Party support it because it is in the national interest and because it is in the migrant's interest.
In addition, we will be speaking to the crossbench and having discussions with them about these proposals and hopefully getting it through the Parliament.
It might actually make a little bit of a difference to those that unfortunately come to this country and are glued to our welfare system. They might actually get off that welfare system and find themselves a career path.
Well certainly, all the evidence shows that if you have better English, the chances of you getting work are so much higher and the chances of you getting a better job are so much better as well.
It absolutely is in their interests, and we do not want people to be languishing on welfare, whether or not you are a new migrant or anybody else.
We want - and we have had many discussions about this - we want people to be off welfare and into work because it is in their interests as much as the community's.
Just one quick thing. You have said we needed these citizens to share Australian values; I wonder what sort of values are you looking at them taking up and adopting?
A couple of things here, and this is what I am proposing in this speech, is that in order to guarantee our successful multicultural country which is based on integrating people well.
a. We would like to see people have moderate-level English, b. we want a demonstration that they have made an effort to integrate into the community, and c. that they have adopted Australian values.
Just on that last point, as you are asking, that might be a commitment to the rule of law and obeying the law. It is a commitment to freedom of speech or freedom of religion and equality of the sexes, some of these fundamental values which underpin our society.
People at the moment have to make a declaration on their application for citizenship that they will abide by those, but there is no mechanism presently whereby they commit to those upfront and there is some sort of assessment that they have actually adhered to those values before they become a citizen.
In terms of enclaves, I guess if you are hateful of the Western lifestyle and hateful of the way Australians live their lives, you can easily hide when you are living in an enclave too, can't you?
I raise some of these issues in my speech in terms of saying that there are actually greater challenges today to integrate people because, of what are called the diasporas are bigger.
I.e. the number of people from a particular country might be larger - and so you can just interact with those people more readily without having to interact with others.
Second, technology actually allows you to be more internal-looking, including even just ongoing liaison back to your home country.
It is a great thing in some respects, but it means there is not quite the same requirement to interact with the broader community as we might have had a decade or a couple of decades ago.
Then, when you look at the data, you do see a higher concentration of the overseas-born in certain pockets in Sydney and Melbourne, and often that is aligned with very poor English language skills.
They are just a couple of warning signs for us, that let's be aware of these, let's put in measures to try to ensure that we have got good integration going forward, because if we do not have good integration, we won't have the successful multicultural society that we have enjoyed to date.
I appreciate your time this afternoon. Thank you.
Thanks so much, Chris.
Alright. Minister for Citizenship, Alan Tudge. He is dead right about language being the glue if you want a job.