Changes to Australia's citizenship test

Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs Alan Tudge, last week announced that the government has decided to revamp the Australian citizenship test, adding questions that address “national values”.

Candidates will be required to pass all the questions on national values.

It is the first upgrade to the test in more than a decade.

He also touched upon temporary visa holders, student visas, community liaison officers, Hong Kong visa changes.

Multicultural press conference Transcript

ALAN TUDGE: Today I just wanted to inform you that we have announced that we’re making changes to the Australian Citizenship Test and this will come into effect from the 15th of November. As all of you no doubt are aware, the citizenship test is something that every citizenship applicant has to do and pass in order for them to become an Australian citizen. It’s one of the last things they do.

The last time the test was updated was well over a decade ago and we’re updating it again and announcing that today. The main change which we are making is that there’ll be a new focus on Australian values. What I mean by that is that there’ll be a dedicated section in the booklet and there’ll be a dedicated section in the test, which is purely geared around Australian values, and those are the core democratic values which underpin the success of our country. So, the parliamentary democracy, the rule of law, equality between men and women, freedom of speech and of religion of association and the like. Things which all of you around this table know well and things which for most Australians are everyday things that many would take for granted.

So this will be a dedicated section of the test. Five of the questions will be on that, out of 20, will be on Australian values. And we’re going to be asking applicants to get all five correct to pass the test. But the pass mark overall will still be 75 per cent, so needing to get at least 15 of the 20 questions overall correct. As you might be aware, they’re multiple choice questions. For most people that have been in the country for a few years, they’re very straightforward, they seem quite straightforward.

We have this test, not because we want to put up hurdles as such, but because we want people to study and to deeply understand what Australia’s system of government is about and what our core values are. Because as you know, these days, many people coming from around the world, some come from countries whose value systems are quite different to

Australia’s. We just want to re-emphasise those core Australian values and make sure that people deeply understand those values before they make that ultimate commitment to Australia.

Of course it’s also a good time to be reminding people to be thinking about applying for citizenship as well, for those who aren’t a citizen already. We know that we’ve got many hundreds of thousands of permanent residents who haven’t started that journey yet. We’re encouraging those people to think about that and get themselves prepared so that in 2021, which will hopefully be a better year than 2020, and then people might become an Australian citizen in that process as well. So it’s not only updating the test but also a reminder for people to perhaps use this opportunity to get themselves prepared, get your application in because it takes a little while to process. Start to study the guide and then of course to be able to sit the test and have a ceremony and become an Aussie like everybody else.

I don’t think I need to say anything more at the get go but that’s the main announcement for today and I’m happy to answer questions on this or any other topic which you may have.

I’ll just mention actually, just one thing.

You’ll be perhaps familiar with this guide which citizen applicants use. Now this is on the Internet. It’s a fairly lengthy booklet, all up with the glossary and everything, it’s almost 90 pages, but it’s the key guide that we ask people who become a citizen to study and it’s upon this guide that the questions are based. And so you’ll see this in the new guide, there’s a dedicated section on Australian values. There’s a whole section on Australian values and it talks very clearly about our values and as you’ll see, it starts with a commitment to the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion. And it goes on, equality of all people under the law, mutual respect and tolerance for one another, making a contribution, et cetera. But as I said, to those who have been in Australia for some time they will come, hopefully, as very common sense things and it won’t be a problem in terms of being able to satisfy the questions.

So I’ll leave it there.

QUESTION: Do you think the tense relationship between China and Australia will affect Chinese immigrants applying for Australian citizenship?

ALAN TUDGE: No, I don’t. The Chinese immigrants who are applying for citizenship as such, by definition, will already be in Australia. You have to have been in Australia for about three years before you can apply. It won’t impact them at all. If you’re already permanent residents of Australia, you have an equal opportunity, like anybody else, to become a citizen of this country as long as you pass this new test, do the normal health and security checks and then you’re away, and hopefully become an Australian citizen. We certainly encourage all Chinese people who are permanent residents in Australia to think about becoming a

citizen. We want people to become citizens of this great nation so that they declare their loyalty to Australia and become part of the Australian fabric like everybody else.

QUESTION: The current scenario which we have, with thousands of temporary visa holders, they’re stuck overseas and they’re saying they never expected that kind of ignorance from the government when they compare them Australia to New Zealand or Canada, the way they’re handling their temporary visa holders. Do you think this might affect the reputation we have within the migration communities?

ALAN TUDGE: I don’t and I still think that Australia will be a magnet for millions of people to want to immigrate to. You’ve referred specifically to the temporary visa holders who may be overseas and unable to get back into Australia, as opposed to those who are in Australia and may have different challenges. The ones who are overseas, I mean we would – it depends on what visa they are on of course. A significant number of those, well over – from memory – 100,000 are international students who are enrolled in Australian universities. They may have actually started here in Australia, have gone back, particularly to places like China and India, which are our two biggest sources and now unable to get back into Australia.

Now, in some respects, we want them back into Australia to continue their studies. The issue of course is the quarantining arrangements and the limitations that we have at the borders to only let a certain number of people in each week so that we don’t get a virus outbreak once again. In my home state of Victoria, there’s not a single person who’s flying into Melbourne from overseas because the quarantining system has been shut down ever since the failures which have occurred in the past and which have led to the catastrophe that we now face in Victoria. I think other jurisdictions are being very careful about their own quarantining arrangements too, to have relatively small numbers so that they don’t repeat what Victoria has suffered. Having said that, we’ve just announced that that will increase from 4000 per week to 6000 per week, Amrinder. Maybe, in the not too distant future that will increase again, then that will enable more people to come back in.

QUESTION: In your PC last time when we had in Melbourne face-to-face, you mentioned offshore student visa will be focusing on our universities rather than on the vocational sector as well, but the vocational sector also got a lot of job opportunities. Thousands of people connected to the vocational provider, those who are [indistinct]. Do you have any plan in this crisis to give them a boost as well?

ALAN TUDGE: So this is for the vocational sector, to give them…

QUESTION: Yeah. [Indistinct] course providers basically, for international students.

ALAN TUDGE: For international students, a boost similar to – what’s your reference point?

QUESTION: Because at the moment, the rumour in the community is basically the student visa from offshore is only going to get approved for the universities not for the vocational

[indistinct] providers. So similarly, they hold thousands of jobs in Australian market. So, any plan to give them a boost or they can also market their courses back in their countries?

ALAN TUDGE: Yeah, we’re taking a look at that. Many of those courses are – they’re shorter courses than the university courses. And the main ones for the university – one of the main changes did for the university students who are still abroad is ensuring that if they enroll online now, they won’t be disadvantaged in terms of their post-study work rights down the track because they’ve been unable to get into the country. Because, as you may know, in order to get those post-study work rights, you have to have been in Australia for 16 out of the previous 24 months, or 16 out of your course length. And many of those courses that you’re referring to, Amrinder, aren’t that long or don’t have necessarily those post-study work rights attached to them. So, it is a slightly different situation. We are trying to be as flexible as possible from a visa perspective for those who are either in Australia or indeed stuck overseas, because we want to – obviously, we’re trying to maintain our international student market because it’s been so good for Australia economically, as well as socially and a great source of great people. But there’s different issues, I think, associated with different segments.

QUESTION: Last time you mentioned that the Government will promise more dual language community liaison officers and including a boost in Chinese, and Arabic, and Vietnamese speakers. Would you please give us more details about your plan please, because at the moment I cannot see up any updated information from the government website about this area? Thank you. For example, how many people would you like to recruit or when will they start? Where would they work?

ALAN TUDGE: Yeah, thanks Brian. It’s a good question. In fact, we’ve already started the recruitment process. I announced this as part of my National Press Club speech two or three weeks ago now. It’s part of a suite of initiatives, one of which is to supplement our community engagement officers that we have within the Immigration Department and Home Affairs. And we probably have already – what’s the number now – maybe we’ve already got 30 or 40 community engagement officers, based largely in our capital cities. And their role is to stay connected with the various multicultural communities, and particularly the leaders of all of those communities. We would have about 2000, more than 2000 organisations on our database and we maintain constant communication with them. That way we can understand better the issues which are on people’s minds and can respond more rapidly. One of the gaps that we identified was that we were short of some people, particularly from our larger communities who have language skills. We’re specifically recruiting people who’ve got Mandarin, who have got Cantonese, Arabic, or Vietnamese. And I think we’re adding, from memory – I can’t recall the exact figure, Brian – but it’s probably eight to 10 people with those language skills. Ads have already been placed. I don’t believe any people have been selected yet, and typically there’s a bit of a process obviously.

But I’d certainly encourage you to look out for those ads. And if you know of good people who want to apply, point them in the right direction.

QUESTION: My question to you is about the waitlist. The pandemic has basically taken the number from 126,000 in May to 159,000 til 21 August. And you earlier mentioned that the numbers will go down by the end of this year. How do you see that happening?

ALAN TUDGE: This is of citizenship waitlists?

QUESTION: Yes, that’s right.

ALAN TUDGE: So, there’s two things going on here with citizenship. One being, there was a waitlist of people who had, in essence, gone through every hoop, passed the test, had been given the approval, and we’re just waiting for a ceremony to occur. And that’s the group that we’ve spent a lot of time and effort on over the last 12 months to try to ensure that they can become Australian citizens. To the extent we’ve had, last financial year, 200,000 people became a citizen. And by the end of this year, everybody will have had that opportunity to become a citizen who wanted to become one this calendar year. I think there’s something like 20,000 who might still be remaining who are in that category. And then the second category I think, Mosiqi, that you’re talking about, is the category of people who are just partway through the application process. Now, that itself has been slowed down a little bit because of COVID. Even in relation to the citizenship test, for example, our testing centres were down in many jurisdictions for a long period time. They’re still down Melbourne, which is of course, our second biggest city and you know where a lot of migrants come. So that is pushing the processing time overall, from application to ceremony out, and that’s what the figures that you’re referring to there. Now, once all that’s back to normal again, I think we’ll be able to very quickly just go through all of the ceremonies once more, as we have been doing, and so that people can quickly and rapidly do the ceremony, get their certificate and become full Australians.

QUESTION: What are you doing about the citizenship test waiting times?

ALAN TUDGE: To be honest, there’s not that much that we can do. In Victoria, there’s nothing we can do, right? So Victoria would probably have, I would say 30 to 40 per cent of all migrants come to Victoria. Maybe say 30 per cent. They’re all closed down and the state government – I mean every business is closed down just about. I can’t remember where you’re based, Mosiqi. Are you based here in Melbourne?

QUESTION: I am, yes.

ALAN TUDGE: Well, everything’s shut as you know, and including the testing centres. For those from other cities, I mean – when I walk out even my office door here to the broad section where I’ve got staff in here, you know, I put on my mask. There’s a curfew still.

Nearly all the businesses are shut down, other than the supermarkets. And so, the testing centres are still shut down for the foreseeable future. I hope they can open up soon.

Everywhere else is going full throttle again, so I’m hoping those testing centres will be able to get up and running. Now, could they be done online, is one of the questions which people have asked me about, the citizenship tests. Potentially, we then get into – the real concern that we have about that is the identity checks, and we’d much prefer them be done in person just so we can properly see that the person going in to do that test is the applicant him or herself. Otherwise, there’s always a risk someone else is doing it for them. You know, either at home or they are overseeing, telling them what the answers are.

QUESTION: I just want to know a little bit about the questions regarding the values test – how they’re compiled? How many people come together in order to come up with these questions?

ALAN TUDGE: So, we’ve got advice, Mary, from the Australian Council of Education Research, along with the department who developed these questions, but based on those core liberal democratic values that I was articulating previously. They’re multiple choice questions like the rest of the test. To you and I, they’ll seem quite straightforward. And I think for most people, they will. But it is just a reminder that not every country in the world shares those values. And I’ll give an example of one of the questions – what it could be would be in relation to where there’s a conflict between a parliamentary law and a religious edict, which is paramount in Australia. Now, everyone knows that parliamentary law is paramount even if it’s in conflict with a religious edict. But in some countries, as you know, they are governed by religious laws as such, and they would be more important than anything else, and they may not have a parliamentary system. So that’s the type of question. It might be about, you know, the freedom to marry. It might be about equality between men and women, which again is not always the case in every country around the world. So, as I said, I think for most people, they’ll look at them and see that it’s very straightforward. The test itself is the tool to encourage people to study the book and understand our values. That’s ultimately what we want people to do, is to deeply understand those Australian values before they pledge their full loyalty to Australia. That’s the key objective. And the test is the mechanism to encourage that.

QUESTION: Does the Government think getting all the five Australian value questions correct, like you just mentioned, can prove the candidates actually agree with all these values, and are there any consequence if the candidates fail to comply with these values in the future?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, once a person is a citizen of course then they have to obey the law and there’s consequences for disobeying the law. The test itself, as I was indicating previously, is about the encouragement for people to study and understand our values before they become a citizen. So, we’re not seeking to penalise people here in anything we do. It’s an

encouragement for people to really understand that we live in a liberal democratic society where men and women are equal under the law, where freedom of speech is very important, as is freedom of religion and freedom of association. All of those core principles. And after all, these are the core values which have underpinned our country, which have made it so attractive for migrants to want to come here. So we really want people to study and to learn these things. That’s our objective here. It’s not to be punitive. It’s very difficult to assess whether or not people agree to them versus understand them. But at least through this test, we’ll get an indicator that people understand them before they become a citizen.

QUESTION: My question first of all is that you are placing value more on the answers to those five questions, and all score has to be 75 per cent only, which means that the candidate can get at least five wrong out of the other 15 questions.

ALAN TUDGE: That’s right.

QUESTION: To my understanding – I’ve gone through the updated test. To my understanding, these values, or the gist of it, follows from the other three sections of the test or the practice test. So, what made you place so much emphasis on the five questions in relation to the values alone?

ALAN TUDGE: We’re placing emphasis upon those values, in part because they are the things which have underpinned the success of our nation and have made our country a very desirable place for millions of people to want to come here and settle here and become Australians. Equally, it’s those values which are the key things which unite our nation. And so, despite having a very diverse population, the glue to our nation is those core liberal democratic values. And when they are strong and widely held, then I think we’ll be a strong socially cohesive nation.

QUESTION: I want to note [indistinct] show support to Hong Kong [inaudible]… national security law on 9 July, the Prime Minister had announced to attract [indistinct] Hong Kong based business to relocate to Australia. Economic incentives and permanent visa pathways will be available for all critical Hong Kong-based staff of the relocated business. Are there any details on this initiative that will be released? In view of the COVID-19 economic downturn, will the Australian Government consider offering more programs of this type as an incentive to promote the economy and rebuilding of Australia through attracting more investment from people who want to leave Hong Kong and seek a new home?

ALAN TUDGE: I mean the answer to that is yes. That’s exactly what we’re trying to achieve. We know that there’s going to be many people in Hong Kong today who will be wanting to live in a country which is a liberal democratic country, a place which they have been used to up until this point in time – and obviously, with the national security laws, that situation’s changed. And equally, there’s many businesses that have already signaled they’d prefer to

be located in a liberal democratic nation rather than one governed by the communist party as such, under the national security law. And so, we are actively calling out to those really talented people, if you like, to consider Australia. And equally to some of those businesses – and we’ll be doing more work in this space to encourage those businesses to think about relocating to a Sydney or a Melbourne or a Brisbane or anywhere else if indeed they do want to leave Hong Kong. Because, we get those sort of businesses coming out here and that generates jobs and wealth for Australians, and that’s one of our key objectives. Certainly, jobs generation is our number one objective right now in this post-COVID recovery phase.

So, we’re equally going to be doing this in other countries as well, taking advantage of the fact that, certainly outside of Melbourne right now, the rest of Australia is relatively open. The economy, despite us being in a recession, is doing better than most of our traditional competitor countries. And so, can we take advantage of that? We’ve maintained our social cohesion largely throughout this process. So, we’ve got a real strategic opportunity I think here to attract great people to our shores as well, and other great businesses.

QUESTION: My question is about, the details on the visas about students, about the short- term workers have been already announced, but there’s nothing released about business- export business relocation. When could that be expected?

ALAN TUDGE: Yeah. So, we’re still working through that. And we’ve got a taskforce set up and a ministerial subcommittee which I chair which is working through all of those issues in terms of what we can put into place. So, that’s a more complicated cross-portfolio, cross- department issue that we’re working through. We’ve got an individual from the private sector who is heading up that taskforce, reporting to me, and as I said, with the cabinet subcommittee looking after it as well.

QUESTION: The question is about citizenship and whether [indistinct] the sort of security checks that we do on people around citizenship and how important those are.

ALAN TUDGE: Yeah, I mean there are security checks at key milestones. Certainly, when you become a permanent resident there’s obviously a security check as there is an important one before people become a citizen. And those are done by Home Affairs as I think all Australians would expect. I think we do those pretty well, and obviously if there’s adverse findings, that can have consequences on that person’s progress to become a citizen again.

Thanks very much everybody once again. As I said, I’ll continue to do these regularly and I’ll have a bit more time next time. I’m sorry that I was a bit squeezed today. We’ll speak again soon. All the best everyone.

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