Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Poll: 85pc support English test for migrants

Public support for a citizenship test that requires a basic grasp of English has risen since the proposal was unveiled three months ago, with four out of five Australians now backing the plan. The Australian can reveal that the ability to read safety signs in the workplace will be the standard of English required to pass the language component of the Howard Government's citizenship test.

Under a proposal put forward by the Government, migrants who have lived in Australia for four years can apply for citizenship, but must sit a test on "basic aspects" of Australian society, including an English language component. Prospective citizens must also agree to defend Australia "should the need arise".

A Newspoll survey, conducted exclusively for The Australian on December 15-17, shows more than four out of five people - or 85 per cent of respondents - agree that English should be a requirement for migrants who want to become citizens. The result is an increase on the 77 per cent of Newspoll respondents who backed such a test in September, shortly after Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs Andrew Robb released a discussion paper on the issue. The support for making knowledge of the English language a requirement of citizenship was strongest outside the capital cities, where 90 per cent of respondents agreed. Older respondents were marginally more supportive, with 86 per cent of respondents older than 50 backing the plan, compared with 82per cent aged 18 to 34. Support for the proposal was strongest among Coalition voters, at 93 per cent, compared with 79per cent of Labor voters. Overall, only one in eight respondents, or 12 per cent, were against the proposal. Almost two-thirds of respondents - or 64 per cent - were strongly in favour of the proposal.

Mr Robb welcomed the Newspoll figures yesterday. He said setting the test's standard of English at a level where candidates could read safety signs at work was reasonable. Opposition citizenship spokesman Tony Burke said Labor supported the standard adopted for the test. He said he was not concerned by the lower level of support for the English requirement among Labor voters. "Seventy-nine per cent is still an overwhelming majority," Mr Burke said. "The Australian community knows how important speaking English is to successful integration."

But the proposal has many opponents, including former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser and former governor-general William Deane. Their criticisms include concerns the test could exclude migrants who would make a contribution and that it stigmatises ethnic and religious groups. John Howard will move to formalise the proposal this year, but faces party opposition


Prime Minister was warned on Lebanese migrants way back

Immigration authorities warned the Fraser government in 1976 it was accepting too many Lebanese Muslim refugees without "the required qualities" for successful integration. The Fraser cabinet was also told many of the refugees were unskilled, illiterate and had questionable character and standards of personal hygiene.

Cabinet documents released today by the National Archives under the 30-year rule reveal how Australia's decision to accept thousands of Lebanese Muslims fleeing Lebanon's 1976 civil war led to a temporary collapse of normal eligibility standards.

The emergence of the documents raises the question of whether the temporary relaxation might have contributed to contemporary racial tensions in Sydney's southwest, which exploded a year ago into race-based riots in Cronulla. Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser rejected yesterday any link and said modern Muslim youth felt alienated because governments had not done enough to help them integrate into the general community. "I suspect the schools weren't equipped (and) I suspect the communities weren't equipped," Mr Fraser told The Australian.

But demographer Bob Birrell said the relatively depressed nature of Sydney's Muslim community could easily be linked to the lack of education and work skills of the 1970s migrants.

John Howard was accused of inflaming public hatred towards the Islamic community last February when he warned that aspects of Muslim culture posed an unprecedented challenge for Australia's immigration program. The Prime Minister said while he remained confident the overwhelming majority of Muslims would be successfully integrated, there were unique problems that previous intakes of migrants from Europe and Asia did not have. "I do think there is this particular complication because there is a fragment which is utterly antagonistic to our kind of society, and that is a difficulty," he told The Australian then. "You can't find any equivalent in Italian, Greek, or Lebanese, or Chinese or Baltic immigration to Australia. There is no equivalent of raving on about jihad, but that is the major problem. "I think some of the associated attitudes towards women (are also) a problem."

Mr Fraser's first full year in office, revealed in the papers released today, saw a frenzy of decision-making, with the cabinet making more than 2000 decisions and receiving more than 50,000 pages in submissions - twice the workload shouldered the year before by the Whitlam government. Troubled by a deteriorating economy, the government unleashed a razor gang to slash spending. The abrupt ideological shift from free-wheeling Labor idealism to economically dour conservatism triggered cabinet policy tensions and an epic battle between Mr Fraser and the bureaucracy on economic policy.

In September 1976, as a humanitarian response to the civil war raging at the time between Lebanese Christians and Muslims, cabinet agreed to relax rules requiring immigrants to be healthy, of good character and to have a work qualification. The war claimed 50,000 lives and displaced 600,000 people, many of whom fled to Cyprus, where Australia set up processing facilities in the capital, Nicosia. Australia accepted 4000 Lebanese immigrants in 1976. A cabinet submission of November 30 called for a return to the normal arrangements. The Fraser government boosted immigration numbers from 55,000 in 1975-76 to 70,000 in 1976-77.

Mr Fraser told The Australian that cabinet had relaxed entry qualifications as a humanitarian response to the Lebanese civil war in line with Australia's international responsibilities. He said it would be wrong to assert that current tensions in the Muslim community came about because his government had allowed "bad people" to enter the country. Current racial tensions related to people born in Australia - not the immigrant refugees, he said. "From my point of view, I think the education system and the community have got to take a pretty fair part of the blame (for current problems)," Mr Fraser said. "If there were known to be problems in relation to the Lebanese, maybe the very pertinent question is: why weren't some special efforts made to ward off future difficulties?"

Immigration minister Michael MacKellar told colleagues in 1976 officials had cited concerns about health and character requirements, personal qualities and the migrants' ability to integrate. Whereas earlier Lebanese intakes had involved an even split of Christians and Muslims, the submission said 90 per cent of the migrants were Muslims and that a high percentage were illiterate and unskilled. The officials had warned that many refugees were misrepresenting their background during interviews in "deliberate attempts to conceal vital information", Mr MacKellar reported. And he said most of the applicants were being sponsored by relatives living in Sydney's southwest, where overcrowding was emerging along with evidence that husbands were leaving wives and children "without adequate support" to travel to Lebanon seeking displaced relatives.

The Commonwealth Employment Service and Department of Social Security had reported difficulties at Campsie, in Sydney's southwest, which had a high proportion of migrants. Half were unemployed, and local schools were reporting fears they would run out of classrooms. Cabinet agreed with Mr MacKellar and authorised him to issue a press release attributing the decision on curbing the intake to concerns about a lack of work opportunities for the migrants.

Mr Fraser said he would be surprised if no mistakes had been made by immigration officials over the years, but that Australia had "done pretty well" out of the refugee intakes from areas of civil conflict.

Dr Birrell, who heads Monash University's Centre for Population and Urban Research, said a study last year had shown Lebanese Muslims in southwest Sydney were less well-off economically than Lebanese Christians. Dr Birrell said this reflected the lack of work skills and education of many of the refugees who arrived in the 1970s.


Appeal by 'Catch the Fire' pastors allowed

The incredible lower court ruling that reading out passages from the Koran is "hate speech" has been knocked on the head. Previous post on the appeal on August 29 (Scroll down). General background here

The Court of Appeal (Supreme Court) of Victoria has ALLOWED the appeal sought by Catch The Fire Ministries, Pastor Danny Nalliah and Pastor Daniel Scot. All three justices - Nettle, Ashley and Neave - agreed that the appeal should be allowed. In particular, the argument that the Tribunal had wrongly interpreted Section 8 of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, the basic section that sets out the offence of religious vilification was successful.

The Court gave orders that the Tribunal orders re 'penalties' (advertisement, not saying similar things) be set aside, and that the matter be sent back to VCAT to be heard by a different judge with no new evidence. The Court also ordered that the costs relating to the previous Tribunal hearing and the next one be decided by the Member who hears it.

The Court ordered that the Islamic Council of Victoria pay half of the costs incurred by Catch the Fire Ministries and the pastors in conducting the appeal. Pastor Danny Nalliah and Pastor Daniel Scot welcomed the decision, as the statements made by the Justices show that the decision by Judge Higgins was flawed.


Plan to send parents back to classrooms

Better late than never to give people the education they should have got first time around

Western Australia's new Education Minister wants to send parents back to school in an effort to improve the reading, writing and numeracy skills of their children. Mark McGowan said yesterday there was "anecdotal evidence" that giving parents the right teaching skills would improve their children's education.

The state's smartest student, Christopher Mofflin, 17, from Hale School, Perth, yesterday credited parental support for his 99.95 Tertiary Entrance Examination score, saying they encouraged his reading at an early age. "I first started really reading in Year 3 when they gave me a copy of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings," Christopher said, after being awarded one of two Beazley medals in the state.

Mr McGowan said pilot programs could be made available to all parents, but they should be targeted at those who had children with learning difficulties. "Where children aren't doing as well as they could ... we could invite parents back, work with them, show them how to teach their children these basic skills," he said. "It's about getting parents involved to show parents what they can do to assist their children. There is concern about young people not being able to have the basic competencies ... and it would be irresponsible of me not to investigate options to deal with that."

Mr McGowan has recently touted an overhaul of the state's history curriculum as he tries to boost the Carpenter Government's tarnished standing in the education sector. Former minister Ljljiana Ravlich had a year of calamities in the job.

Christopher's Beazley Medal was based on results including 100 per cent for French and 98.8per cent for physics. Student Michael Gibbings, of Harvey College of Agriculture in the state's southwest, won the vocational studies Beazley Medal


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