ANDREW Robb smiled and congratulated the beaming Faid family as he handed them their citizenship certificates yesterday.
If the parliamentary secretary for immigration’s Government has its way, though, families in the Faids’ situation would not yet be eligible for citizenship.
Khadiga and Mohamed Faid and their five children came to Australia from Sudan two years ago. Mr Faid has little English, but has learned the main words to explain his story. Why did they come? “War,” he says. “Refugee.”
Why Australia? “Australia freedom country. Safe here.”
His oldest son, Abdelaziz, must help translate the next question from reporters. How does Mr Faid feel about the Federal Government’s proposals for an English test and a test of Australian values before migrants will be given citizenship?
After rapid consultation and much gesticulation, Abdelaziz shakes his head. “Doesn’t want it. He doesn’t know English.”
But Mr Faid wants to make it clear that learning it is one of his goals. “I am doing the language classes, and my wife. In Footscray.”
Asked about the Faid family after the ceremony at the Immigration Museum in Flinders Street, Mr Robb acknowledged that, under planned changes, such migrants would have to be in Australia for at least four years, not two, before becoming citizens.
They would also need a working knowledge of English so that they could integrate effectively, “to hold down a job, and be able to talk to their workmates, read a safety sign, fill in a form”.
Is the citizenship test proposal aimed at Muslims, or is it coincidence that the question of Australian values among migrants has arisen at the same time as concerns about Islam and terrorists?
“The whole issue of terrorism around the world, in combination with globalisation, has created a sort of general anxiety amongst not only the Australian community but other communities, and a threat to their identity,” Mr Robb said.
“A lot of Australians feel, ‘who are we, and where do we fit in the world?’ And they want migrants to come – we are a migrant country – but I think they increasingly want to feel that anyone who comes does form a commitment to the country and does understand the country. That if they take the pledge at a citizenship ceremony, they understand what they are pledging.”
So that no Australian citizen would argue for the setting up of sharia law here, for example?
“No. Well, whatever – I mean, it is not directed at Muslims, but it will help the Muslim community as much as it will help Eastern Europeans, South Americans, anyone coming here,” Mr Robb said.
The Government has prepared an advertising campaign encouraging citizenship, which began in the media last night.
Among others who “took the pledge” yesterday, views about the test proposal were mixed. Kimberley Anderson is a teacher from the US who married an Australian. She decided to take out citizenship after boys in her history class at St Bede’s College, Mentone, wrote essays about why it is great to be Australian.
Regarding an English test, she said: “I think there’s a place for it. But I taught these boys about the White Australia policy, which I found appalling, and if there are echoes of that in this test – if it’s used to exclude – then I feel seriously uncomfortable with it.”
Fiona Morris is a nurse-manager who arrived from England with her husband and their three children three years ago. She questions how an English test could be applied. “Which English are you going to test? Australian, American, British? It’s very colloquial. And at what level are you going to test it?”
As for values: “That’s all very nebulous. Are you talking morality? Culture? Politics?”
Her husband David Morris, an engineer, believes that anyone who wants to be a citizen should speak the language of the country, but he says the values push is “a bit of fluff, really”.
“I didn’t hear any definition of Australian values today . . . unless you ask whether they drink VB, and if they don’t they fail.”
First published in The Age.