Speech by The Hon Kevin Andrews MP, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Address to the Sydney Institute, 31 July, 2007
Citizenship – committing to a way of life
May I begin by putting the initiatives the Government is taking on citizenship in a broader context? There is a tendency to think about each challenge we face in this area in isolation. However, from my point of view there are inter-related threads and common objectives, regardless of whether we are talking about our economic progress, border security, labour shortages, international education or the increasing number of countries from which people emigrate to Australia.
These issues reflect a fundamentally different global dynamic which has emerged over the last twenty years.
The era of ideology that crumbled with the Berlin wall has not been replaced with nothing. In this new era, identity — whether race, religion or nation — is what divides. It also can be what unites us. I shall return to this issue later.
There have been other developments also. Travel became easier and with that the number of economic migrants and political refugees has increased dramatically.
The economic migrants are taking advantage of a third factor. The impact of a thirty-year decline in the birth rate in Western countries is finally being felt.
As a consequence, the ageing of the population and increasing international competition, not just for goods and services, but also for workers, means that immigration will remain a critical tenet of our national prosperity.
Finally, changes in culture and identity, or, at the least, perceptions of changes in culture and identity, are driving some in Western countries to seek new pastures.
It is important that we get our responses to these challenges right. The contribution that migrants have made to Australia extends well beyond pizzas, kebabs and spring rolls. It is hard to imagine, for example, how one of our iconic post-War projects, the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme could have come to fruition without the contribution of migrants. It is equally hard to imagine how our nation will continue to prosper without adequate levels of immigration.
Migration has been a great success story despite the fact that there always has been a section of the community who have been nervous about the potential for migration to impact detrimentally on them.
One reason for this success is that our migration programmes have been balanced, taking into account this sensitivity. Another is that successive waves of migrants have integrated successfully into the community.
We need to bear these lessons in mind as we face a future in which our need for migrants is as great as it ever has been.
It is against this background that the Government has decided to introduce a citizenship test and a values statement for people applying for permanent residency visas.
The central principle behind such a test and statement is to ensure that those people who wish to become an Australian citizen do so by way of demonstrating a level of understanding and commitment to Australia and our way of life.
This way of life is influenced by a history that includes the Judeo Christian beliefs and traditions brought by the British settlers. Also present were the values and institutions that form the basis of a free and open democratic society, particularly our British political heritage, and the spirit of the European Enlightenment.
The principles upon which our success as a nation have been built remain critical to this very day. These include the rule of law, religious freedom, parliamentary democracy and equality among men and women.
Not only are these values and principles unexceptional in the West, but they also have been the foundation of our stability and cohesion and our social and economic development.
The Australian way of life is therefore something to be rightly proud of and it is a shining example of what is good about western liberal democracies.
Not all values are equal. As Francis Fukuyama has observed:
The civilisation of the European Enlightenment, of which contemporary liberal democracy is the heir, cannot be culturally neutral, since liberal societies have their own values regarding the equal worth and dignity of individuals.
As a staunch admirer and defender of our heritage, I also am reminded of the words of Ronald Reagan who remarked that:
I’ve often wondered about the shyness of some of us in the west about standing for these ideals that have done so much to ease the plight of man and the hardships of an imperfect world.
Our Australian way of life is also about having a confidence in our future as a nation and committing to its ongoing stability and success.
Never has there been a more prescient time for Australia, as one of the world’s most stable democracies, to protect and secure its future by redoubling its commitment to the traditions, values and institutions that have made this nation what it is today.
This is especially so when, as I said earlier, we are now welcoming migrants who have not been exposed to these values and heritage, who may not have experienced them in their past and who may not have thought about how intrinsic they are to the Australian way of life they seek to enjoy.
These civic values are fundamental to the successful existence of a liberal democracy and we should never forget that they are principles to be cherished and protected.
As Dwight D Eisenhower said, “A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both”.
A citizenship test that is about our values, beliefs, culture and history should not be seen as precluding some migrants from becoming citizens. In fact, it is to the contrary, a citizenship test is specifically about being inclusive.
To ensure that this is so, some people will not be required to sit the citizenship test. They include people under the age of 18 or over 60 and those with a permanent physical or mental incapacity.
Likewise, a new values statement requires people seeking permanent and selected temporary visas where there is potential for long term stay, to commit to abiding by Australian laws and respecting the Australian way of life.
It is a commitment to a way of life that is in many ways unique, that includes an embrace and tolerance of people from a multitude of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. That is one of the key strengths of the Australian way of life.
In defending western culture, we should be unapologetic in requiring migrants to make a commitment to our way of life. This should include having a knowledge and appreciation of the events that have shaped this country and the values and institutions that have been established as a result.
Our national identity is about our history, our symbols, our values and the story we tell ourselves about Australia.
It is also about fostering a nation of people who, although they may not share a common background, are united in having a common purpose. The current debate is not unique to Australia. The United Kingdom is also grappling with similar issues. Recently the UK Minister for Immigration, Liam Byrne, delivered a paper on the next steps for citizenship to the Fabian Society entitled a ‘Common Place’.
The paper canvasses the possible introduction of a points system for citizenship, where those aspiring to settle in the UK and then go on to become full citizens would need to accrue credits before being allowed to do so.
This idea is referred to as ‘earned citizenship’, where extra points credits can accrue for behaviour which shows commitment to the UK. For example, undertaking civic and voluntary work that enriches communities. Likewise, points could be deducted for failure to be a law abiding citizen.
As Liam Byrne observes, ‘Citizenship works where everyone understands the contribution they’re expected to make. It is part of a deal, working together with a common purpose’.
In addition to the debate in the UK, Holland is also developing what has been described as a charter for responsible citizenship which sets out expectations of newcomers to the country.
The French also have what is called an ‘integration contract’, requiring newcomers to spend a day learning about French civics, culture, political institutions and language. The certificate awarded upon successful completion of these classes entitles the immigrant to a 10-year residence permit. If the migrant fails to earn the certificate, he or she will receive only a one-year residence permit.
Germany also has introduced new integration measures and greater requirements for citizenship
At the heart of these measures is a rejection of the post-modern myth that the only national identity is no identity.
It is possible to identify values which are important in modern Australia and help form our natural identity. They include:
* respect for the equal worth, dignity and freedom of the individual
* freedom of speech
* freedom of religion and secular government
* freedom of association
* support for parliamentary democracy and the rule of law
* equality under the law
* equality of men and women
* equality of opportunity
* tolerance, mutual respect and compassion for those in need.
The articulation of these values lies at the heart of the citizenship test that I anticipate will be introduced in September.
In addition, in the future we will be asking applicants for permanent visas and provisional visas which lead to permanent visas to sign a statement that they will respect these values and to obey Australian laws before being granted a visa.
As well as producing a resource book for prospective citizens, the Government also is producing a booklet designed to inform visa applicants about Australian history, culture and social structures before they sign the new values statement on their visa application form will be distributed to visa applicants. It will be available in about 29 different languages.
Ladies and gentlemen I spoke earlier about the success of the Australian immigration story and the importance of successful integration to that outcome.
Last November this statement was published in The Australian:
There has been a retreat from interviewing toughly and with good judgement those from overseas who apply to come here, but we must choose only those who are assessed as likely to integrate well. Furthermore, we have retreated from sending home more readily those who do not make the grade before being given permanent residence. They and we would be better off if that tougher approach was reinstated.
Those are not the words an anti immigration proponent; on the contrary they are the comments of Chris Hurford, former Minister for Immigration in the Hawke Labor Government.
The issue of integration and the emphasis and requirement placed on migrants to demonstrate such willingness and capacity is nothing new.
However, we cannot assume that the capacity of all of our potential migrants to integrate successfully is the same as their predecessors.
Because of the importance of migration to Australia, the Government believes it is important that migration continues to be the success story it has been until now.
Consequently, in addition to the citizenship test and values statement, the Government has decided to put greater emphasis on the capacity of potential migrants to integrate into our community.
The Migration Regulations already make provision for assessing the capacity of visa applicants to settle in Australia.
I have decided that greater emphasis should be placed on this criterion in assessing applications for permanent visas or provisional visas which lead to permanent residence.
The intention of this provision to ensure that applicants:
* have the ability to cope with the problems associated with settlement in a new environment,
* have the capacity to integrate into Australian society, and
* in the case of a family unit, are supportive, cohesive and united in their desire to settle in Australia.
Partner and child visa classes and those temporary skilled worker visa holders will be exempt
Factors taken into account in making an assessment include an applicant’s adaptability and resourcefulness, their knowledge of Australia and their expectations about living in Australia, their attitude towards learning English and their English language skills.
Those visa applicants who are currently interviewed, such as applicants for humanitarian visas also will be assessed during the interview against the integration criterion.
As I have indicated already, applicants for permanent visas and provisional visa which lead to permanent visas such as business skill visas will be required to sign a values statement from October. This statement will require the applicant to say that they understand the values, undertake to respect them and that they will obey the law.
This policy will be implemented as soon as the relevant Department officers both in Australia and overseas have received appropriate training. I expect this to occur from February next year.
I turn now to the importance of migrants attaining some proficiency in English.
It is unfortunate that some of the recent debate over the proposed citizenship test has focused on the claim that it will be about English proficiency. This is incorrect.
The test will actually encompass questions covering a range of topics, relating to both historical and contemporary issues. The test will of course require the demonstration of English comprehension in answering the questions.
However, this is not new. It has been necessary since the 1950s for potential citizens to demonstrate a basic or adequate knowledge of English.
Nevertheless, I believe the ability to speak English is important. It is essential if people are to participate fully community life and if they are to make the most of the opportunities that Australia offers.
That is why the Government has increased the English knowledge requirements of students who study in Australia and wish to become permanent residents. It also is why the Government is increasing the English knowledge requirements of 457 visa holders.
This is not to say that people should discard their native language. However, it is undeniable that proficiency in the use of English is important for anybody who wants to participate in the life of this country.
Before concluding may I touch on the issue of security which has come to the fore in recent years.
The Australian Government unashamedly has a tough policy against people smugglers. Such activity is both criminal and repugnant. To maintain the integrity of our migration programme and our border security, we have to be ever vigilant in preventing and deterring such activity.
Ladies and gentlemen, to once again quote the words of the UK Immigration Minister:
We must develop a meaningful sense of what we all – whatever faith, ethnicity and wherever we are from – hold in common. We need a stronger sense of why we live in a common place and have a shared future.
Our immigration programme remains robust and for the reasons already outlined, it is important that this does not change for in the foreseeable future. However, we must ensure that the programme does not undermine a cohesive and integrated society.
Our western liberal democracy and the values, beliefs and traditions that have made this country great and worth standing up for and they are worth preserving. For this reason, I believe Australians are supportive of a citizenship test and the requirement for migrants to demonstrate a capacity and willingness to integrate into the Australian way of life.
It is not unreasonable to expect that people who come to this country have a level of understanding and commitment to Australia.
Equally it is important that we remain in control of what we are doing. That is why we must be demonstrably committed to maintaining the integrity of our borders and our migration programme and why our vigilance must extend from people smuggling to abuses of 457s and student visas.
The integrity and continued success of our immigration programme is dependant on the support of the Australian people.
They must be confident that immigration benefits Australia as a nation and that it in no way undermines our way of life, be it in a social, economic or security sense. Rather, it should be reinforcing those values and principles on which the success of Australia has been built and which help to make Australia the best place in the world in which to live.
Rising to the challenges which I have outlined is central to our future success and critical to our ensuring the peace, welfare and the happiness of the people of Australia.