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The Hon Peter Dutton MP
Minister for Immigration and Border Protection
GPO Box 241
Melbourne VIC 3001
[email protected]
Australian Multicultural Council Submission – 29 May 2017
The Australian Multicultural Council (the Council) is pleased to take this opportunity to provide some
brief comments on the discussion paper Strengthening the Test for Australian Citizenship.
The Council is a ministerially-appointed body which provides advice to the Australian
Government on multicultural affairs policy and programs, with a particular focus on:
harnessing the economic and social benefits of Australia’s culturally diverse population
celebrating diversity, promoting social acceptance and fostering engagement with
Australian values, identity and citizenship, within the framework of Australian law
building stronger and more cohesive communities and addressing barriers to
participation, including racism and discrimination
promoting greater intercultural and interfaith understanding and dialogue, and
empowering civil society through partnerships with the business sector and harnessing
the experience of established communities in developing the capacity of newer
Strengthening citizenship and integration requirements
In relation to the Government's announcement of 20 April 2017, the Australian Multicultural Council
is broadly supportive of the principle of strengthening citizenship requirements to improve
Australia's social and economic outcomes and national security.
It is important for Australia's long term social cohesion that aspiring citizens demonstrate their
commitment to live in accordance with Australian values and a willingness to integrate into, and
contribute to, the Australian community.
Website: Email: [email protected]
c/- Secretariat – Australian Multicultural Council, Multicultural and Communities Branch, Department of Social Services,
Sirius Building, Worgan Street, PHILLIP ACT 2606
GPO Box 9820, CANBERRA ACT 2601.
Council therefore supports strengthening the Australian values statement, consistent with the
shared values and shared rights and responsibilities already articulated in the Australian
Government's new multicultural statement Multicultural Australia: united, strong, successful.
However, the development of clear guidelines around values, citizenship education and integration
requirements will be essential.
The OECD Indicators of Immigrant Integration 2015 report showed that Australia has one of the
highest rates of citizenship acquisition, with just over 80 per cent of eligible migrants becoming
Citizenship has therefore always been a positive vehicle for inclusion. The Council is concerned that
the new requirements, including increased costs, increased administrative burdens and longer
timeframes, should not lead to reduced take-up rates for Australian citizenship. This would create a
growing pool of long-term permanent residents and potentially undermine the high levels of social
cohesion we currently enjoy.
English language testing
The Council notes that successful integration depends on the efforts of the Australian community
and government, as much as the migrant. A two-way integration and mutual obligation approach
requires that Government takes more responsibility to remove obstacles to integration, particularly
as they relate to employment, English language acquisition and robust access and equity policies.
The tougher English language requirements are likely to prove highly problematic for vulnerable
sections of the migrant and refugee populations. It is worth noting that the IELTS Level 6 standard,
or equivalent, which has been set as the required English language proficiency level, is considered by
most universities as being acceptable for undergraduate study in English. It is also worth noting that
many newspapers still aim only to publish in language that can be read by a twelve year old, for
consumption by the general population.
The proposed changes will make it much harder for people, particularly those who may have had a
fragmented educational background, to become citizens. As it stands, the Government's Adult
Migrant English Program, (AMEP) only helps new arrivals learn basic English skills, which are
nonetheless currently deemed sufficient to assist them to successfully settle and confidently
participate socially and economically in Australia.
The timeframes associated with eligibility for, and completion of, the AMEP course also do not
inevitably fit the needs of its clients, as newly arrived migrants are initially most concerned about
employment, settlement, and education for their children as a priority rather than English language
proficiency for themselves.
To build English language skills to (the now requisite) university level will require a significantly
greater investment, of both time and money, on the part of governments and migrants.
The citizenship test
Council remains unconvinced of the merits of a citizenship test to make a determination about a
person's "understanding of and commitment to" shared values. A much truer test of a person's
values lies in their actions, not in their ability to pass a multiple choice test, (which can be
compromised by inadequate English language skills). Council supports the new requirement that an
applicant must demonstrate their integration into the community, provided sensible guidelines and
supports are developed to ensure the new requirements are not onerous to the point of becoming a
deterrent. Most applicants for citizenship, including refugees, would welcome the opportunity to
demonstrate their commitment to Australia.
Council would also encourage the Government to consider how the existing Strong and Resilient
Communities and Volunteer grants programs could be leveraged to support mainstream volunteer
organisations to extend their reach into new and emerging migrant communities to ensure their
volunteer workforces reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.
The Council also notes that successful integration depends on the efforts of the Australian
community and government, as much as the migrant. A welcoming community that respects
diversity and provides equal opportunities for all enhances the sense of belonging that migrants feel
and their ability to participate.
Part of any integration policy should be a reinvigorated approach to the Government's
implementation of the multicultural access and equity policy which provides a framework through
which the Government can ensure that all Australians are provided equal opportunities – regardless
of their cultural or linguistic background, or even year of arrival or date of citizenship acquisition.
Under the policy, government departments and agencies are responsible for ensuring their
programmes and services (including those relating to employment and education) are accessible to
Australians of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. The Council recommends that the
Government reinvigorate this policy, as a way of providing ongoing support to all Australians to
integrate and demonstrating the Government's ongoing commitment to a fair Australia.
Australia has always welcomed those who have travelled here to be a part of our wonderfully
free and open society, to build better lives for themselves and their children and to contribute
to this nation. It is important therefore that Australia, as a nation, not lose the opportunities
that this openness allows, in its search to maintain national security.
Yours sincerely
Dr Sev Ozdowski AM FAICD
29 May 2017