Australian Prime Minister Howard plans to force new citizens to pass an English-language test and questions on Australian values

Howard says citizenship law needed as parts of Australia ‘tribalised’ – 12 Dec 2006 – World News

CANBERRA – Australian Prime Minister John Howard on Tuesday defended plans to force new citizens to pass an English-language test and questions on Australian values such as “mateship”, saying pockets of the country had become tribalised.

Some government lawmakers oppose the test, while the opposition Australian Greens accuse Howard of sowing political divisions ahead of national elections due in late 2007.

Howard said the English test would not be a return to the kind of tests used until the 1950s that excluded mainly-Asian migrants under the “White Australia” policy.

Howard’s conservative government this week officially unveiled the new citizenship tests and lifted to four years from three the wait for immigrants to become an Australian.

But he denied any racist overtones in the new policy, first flagged in September.

“I think it is eminently reasonable to say to people four years on: ‘you want to become an Australian citizen, we ask you have a working knowledge of English and you answer a couple of questions about the nature of the country that you are embracing’,” Howard told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.

The test will require citizenship hopefuls to answer 30 random questions ranging over Australia’s constitution, the history of indigenous and white settlement, sporting traditions, and national values such as “mateship” and “having a go”.

“We need to emphasise the uniting things, the things that bind us together, the common values we have, whether we are of an Anglo-Celtic background or of a Chinese background or an Italian background,” Howard said.

Australia is a nation of immigrants, with nearly one in four of the country’s 20 million people born overseas. Almost six million people have settled in the country since 1945 and Australia plans to accept about 144,000 new immigrants in 2006-07.

But the government is concerned the rapid transformation could fuel tensions and is determined to make sure new arrivals leave divisive national, religious and ethnic allegiances behind.

Race riots between young Muslims and mainly-white surfers flared in Sydney’s southern beach suburbs in December 2005.

Howard said some ethnic minorities in Australia had become tribalised and he was concerned by policies of “zealous multiculturalism” followed by past governments.

“If it means that you emphasise diversity rather than unity, then I do have a problem with it,” he said.

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