From ABC, September 15, 2006
Howard's citizenship proposals 'unfair'
The Federal Opposition has criticised a proposal to make migrants wait four years instead of three before becoming eligible for Australian citizenship.
Prime Minister John Howard has outlined plans to toughen citizenship rules, which include making it compulsory for migrants to pass an English language test before becoming Australians.
Mr Howard has told Southern Cross Radio it will not make it any harder for those "fair dinkum" about becoming citizens.
"You'll certainly need to know a good deal more about Australia," he said.
Labor's citizenship spokeswoman, Annette Hurley, says people should be encouraged to take out citizenship sooner rather than later.
"When you take the oath to become an Australian citizen you indicate that Australia is your primary country your principle loyalty lies with Australia," she said.
Ms Hurley says migrants should only wait three years to do that.
The Refugee Council's president, John Gibson, says the changes just add another unnecessary and unjustifiable hurdle for refugees.
"Let's keep in mind that the great majority of people who are refugees who come here do make this commitment to Australia, and they do become citizens," he said.
"Conversely, the great majority of people who live in this country who are not citizens and hold other nationalities, as I understand it, come from English-speaking backgrounds.
"I think once one starts talking about language as the defining component, as the Prime Minister did today of our culture, then we can be on the slippery slide.
"It may not be fashionable but we are still a diverse, multicultural society."
The Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils says migrants should be encouraged to gain English language skills, but it should not be compulsory.
The federation's chairwoman, Voula Messimeri, says the plans are unfair.
She says her parents, who came to Australia in the 1970s, are a good example.
"They spoke very little English," she said.
"They became Australian citizens and quite rightly so, and they have contributed enormously.
"They're proud Australians from a Greek background but they're proud Australians nonetheless.
"They would have been excluded and I think my mother still to this day would not be able to pass an Australian citizens test in English."
The proposal has prompted both the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils and the Refugee Council to call for more Government funding for English classes.