The federal government is considering adding a “values” test for those seeking permanent residency in Australia, the prime minister said.
Malcolm Turnbull confirmed remarks made by Citizenship and Multicultural Minister Alan Tudge in a speech to the Australia/UK Leadership Forum in London on July 19, in which Tudge said promoting of Australia’s core values was the key to maintaining social cohesion.
“Australia is ethnically diverse and we will remain so. We are tolerant and we are inclusive. However, the most important thing is the values which unite us,” Tudge said.
“We need muscular ongoing promotion of our values: of freedom of speech and worship, equality between sexes, democracy and the rule of law, a fair go for all, the taking of individual responsibility.”
Turnbull said on July 20 that a values test was “one of the issues” the government was considering, The Guardian reported.
“But I have to say to you we are the most successful multicultural society in the world,” he said in Tasmania.
“This is a country where 28 percent of Australians were born outside Australia, over half have a parent born outside Australia, but isn’t it remarkable that we live together in so much harmony because of the values we share?
“All of these values are vitally important and we must never, ever take them for granted and we should always ensure that we maintain them because that is what creates this extraordinary successful multicultural society that we have.”
Tudge warned in his speech that Australian society was in danger of veering towards the “European separatist multicultural model.”
“Some of the challenges to social cohesion that we are facing today are similar to ones that the United Kingdom is facing—such as ethnic segregation and liberal values being challenged,” he said.
The citizenship minister contrasted Australia’s model of “integrated multiculturalism” with that of “separatist multiculturalism” seen in many European societies.
“Our model [of] integrated multiculturalism … is not an assimilationist model, where people must leave their heritage behind,” he said. “We don’t want or expect that, but of course where there are conflicts in cultural behaviours, Australian law and values must prevail.
“But nor is it a separatist model which we have frequently seen in Europe where people have sometimes brought their entire practices, language and culture and planted them into the new land, with little expectation placed upon them to share or mix with the local community.
“A model of separatist multiculturalism is not really multiculturalism at all—it is actually monoculturalism side by side… And it is a bad formula for a nation’s social and economic cohesion. To the contrary, it can be a formula for conflict and alienation.”
He said that half of Australia’s permanent migrant intake, about 100,000 people each year, are “granted full permanent residency before ever stepping foot in Australia.”
“This is less ideal, and something that requires further consideration.”
Australia’s permanent migrant intake for the past financial year dropped to 163,000, marking the lowest level in 10 years, after a crackdown on fraudulent claims.
The annual permanent migration program has been capped at 190,000 since 2012, which is roughly divided into two-thirds skilled work visas and one-third family reunion visas. The humanitarian intake is calculated separately.
Tudge flagged that the government was considering whether to include a conversational English language requirement for migrants seeking permanent residency.
“The number and proportion of people with little or no English language capability is rising rapidly and will soon hit a million,” he said.
Currently, migrants must take a knowledge test in English when applying for citizenship, but there is no standalone language test for either permanent residency or citizenship applications.
The government offers 510 hours of free English classes to migrants with poor English, but this is not always taken up.
Last year, the Turnbull government attempted to introduce sweeping citizenship reforms, which included a tougher citizenship test, a new English language exam, and longer permanent residency requirements. The bill was defeated in the senate after opposition from Labor, the Greens, and the Nick Xenophon Team.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton previously said the government would reattempt to pass the reforms this year, suggesting it would be revised to make English test easier, SBS reported.