Thursday, 17 September 2020

Interview with Leon Byner, 5AA Mornings

Subjects:  Australian Citizenship Test, international flight caps

LEON BYNER: Now, it was announced earlier today that from 15 November this year, there'll be an updated Australian citizenship test, with a clear focus on Australian values. I caught up with Alan Tudge, just before the show.

Alan Tudge, we have developed a new questionnaire for people wanting to be Australian citizens and some of the questions here are very interesting. But I put this to you; now, I'll give you a couple of the questions you know well. Should people tolerate one another where they find that they disagree? Now what happens if they say, no? What do you do, do they miss out or do they have to wait? Or do they come back and answer it in three weeks? How does that work?

ALAN TUDGE: Every person who applies to become a citizen of this great nation has to sit the citizenship test and that's a multiple choice questionnaire and what we are doing is going to be placing more emphasis on questions to do with Australia's values as opposed to just facts about our country and our system. And of course, if you don't pass, you can sit it again. But we expect most people to do their homework, study the guide and pass the test itself.

LEON BYNER: So, you still might get some of those questions wrong and still be able to be regarded as an Australian citizen?

ALAN TUDGE: That's right. So, there's over 200 questions that we have and you'll be randomly selected 20 questions. Now, you have to get at least three quarters of them correct to pass. But five of those questions will be based on Australia's values. What I mean by that are things like freedom of speech, equality between men and women, the fact that we're a parliamentary democracy rather than a system based by religious edicts. You must get all five of those questions correct. Otherwise, you'll have to sit the test again.

LEON BYNER: So, again, you could sit it again, what, a day later, a week later and just pay the fee and do it again?

ALAN TUDGE: You'll have to go back and do it again. It will take a little bit of time before you book in for that test again. But yes, you can sit that test again. Bear in mind that most people do take this test very seriously, Leon and they study up. There's a booklet and we've updated that booklet and most people will pass. I think from memory, the pass rate at the moment is in the 90s. But, of course, some people do need to sit it a couple of times before they do pass it.

LEON BYNER: So, when you sit for the test, you get 20 questions you've got to get?

ALAN TUDGE: That's right. It's 20 questions; you have to get at least 75 per cent, but of the values based questions, you must get 100 per cent.

LEON BYNER: Alright. And when does this start?

ALAN TUDGE: This will start in mid-November. So, we're releasing the guide today, which basically means that people who have already got their applications in, who may have already been booked in for their test, they can start preparing now, study the guide and fully understand what Australia's values and what our system is about. At the end of the day, in some respects, Leon, this is not about the test, it's about us wanting people who are desiring to become Australian citizens, to deeply understand our country. This guide, this book encourages them to study up; what is it about freedom of speech, of freedom of association, equality of opportunity between men and women, parliamentary democracy. All of these key things which make Australia quite unique compared to many other countries. We want people to understand these core values before they make that ultimate pledge to our country.

LEON BYNER: Now, we have relied previously on a lot of immigration into Australia. It's been stunning the number of people who've gone to live, particularly in the larger cities and of course, COVID has changed all that. When do you anticipate that we will seriously be able to look at these numbers again? Because this year's been a wipe-out.

ALAN TUDGE: Well, that's right and perhaps the most important thing that we did as an Australian Government to get control of the coronavirus was actually closing our borders. But, we will want to reopen those borders again at some stage, because as you point out, Leon, immigration has been critical to Australia's success - to our economic success, to our social success and of course, to our cultural success and we will want to become an immigration country again. How quickly can we do that? It's very difficult to say, Leon. If, as we expect, we'll have a vaccine available next year. If that vaccine is globally distributed, then obviously that will change the equation markedly. If there isn't a vaccine, then it's still going to be incremental progress. Now, we've already started it in a small way with some skilled migrants, some investors and we'd like to see some international students in the not too distant future. But they'll be relatively small numbers compared to what we've been used to in the past.

LEON BYNER: What's the situation with the 300 students for Adelaide? Have we circumvented that yet or is it still on hold?

ALAN TUDGE: So, that's still being worked through, that particular pilot. Obviously, we've still got Australians who are overseas desiring to come back into the country. And we're trying to ensure that they can get back. But the speed limit on all of this actually, Leon, is the number of quarantine beds that we have. That governs how many people can come into the country in any one particular week. Now, we've got 4000 beds or 4000 slots if you like, each week at the moment. Just yesterday though, we announced that we'll be boosting that to 6000. Now, ultimately, it's governed by the states and territories, but they've given some encouraging signs that we'll be able to increase that limit. And that means more people will be able to come into the country. But, we've got to be damn careful. Leon, I'm from Victoria and you know what happened in Victoria when the quarantine system failed. Now, you know, we are still under curfew, we're still in a lockdown, the businesses are all shut. We don't want other jurisdictions, other states to go through that thing. So, therefore, we have to ensure that quarantining arrangement still is strong, in place and doesn't lead to further infection.

LEON BYNER: Minister, thanks for joining us today.

ALAN TUDGE: Thanks very much, Leon.