Australia reveals tougher immigration plans, denies Muslims targeted
Posted: 17 September 2006 1625 hrs
SYDNEY : Australia announced plans to toughen its citizenship policies but denied that new demands requiring immigrants to pledge allegiance to Australian values were aimed at Muslims.
Immigrants will have to sit a 45-minute test covering their competency in English and issues such as democracy, the rule of law and the equality of men and women, under the government blueprint.
The time immigrants have to live in Australia before they can become citizens will be doubled to four years if the proposals become law.
The blueprint comes after repeated complaints by Prime Minister John Howard that some members of Australia’s 300,000-strong Muslim community refused to fully integrate into society.
Howard has also expressed the fear that Australia could be subject to a terrorist attack launched by its own citizens, similar to the London bombings in July last year.
But Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration Andrew Robb, who released the government “discussion paper” on Sunday, denied Muslims were a specific target.
“This initiative for a citizenship test is not designed to deal with any particular segment of our community, it’s not an initiative which grew out of issues to do with the Muslim community,” he told reporters.
He also said it was not specifically aimed at combating terrorism.
“This is not an anti-terrorism initiative. This will help, I think, any unified society can deal more fully with terrorism.”
The propsals were aimed at giving comfort to Australians who felt their sense of identity threatened by the growing movement of people around the world and increasing immigration from “non-traditional source countries”, he said.
On Saturday Robb urged Australia’s Islamic leaders to preach in English, said they could not ignore the “vile acts” committed in the name of their faith and must do more to denounce extremism.
He told a gathering of more than 100 imams that while many in the Muslim community had spoken up “too many are silent”.
Howard said Friday that people who genuinely wanted to fit in would have no problem with the government’s blueprint.
“Certainly we are going to lift the waiting period to four years, there will be a fairly firm English language requirement and the paper itself will contain quite a number of issues,” he said.
“It won’t become more difficult if you’re fair dinkum (genuine), and most people who come to this country are fair dinkum about becoming part of the community.”
Howard’s use of Australian slang highlights some of the pitfalls immigrants might face in taking the “Australian values” test, and newspaper satirists have had a field day with the concept.
A cartoon in The Sydney Morning Herald showed immigration officials timing how long it took prospective settlers to down a six-pack of beers, with worried looking Muslim men and women waiting in line.
The paper also reported that Howard had not ruled out the possibility of his major sporting passion, cricket, being included in the test.
Under the headline “Cricket is NOT an insect. Go Home”, the paper quoted Howard as saying that to understand Australia’s history it might be necessary to have some knowledge of the arcane game.
Robb said he believed the required level of English should be struck at a point were people can successfully hold down a job and talk to their workmates.
From Sunday night, a government advertising campaign will flood television, newspapers and the Internet, encouraging those who are eligible to take up citizenship. - AFP/de