Thursday, 12 November 2020
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021; Consideration in Detail
My questions are to the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs. I refer to the minister's indications that changes will be made to the citizenship test to include new questions on Australian values and his comments in the media that the stronger focus on Australian values in citizenship testing will be an important part of helping protect our social cohesion into the future. My questions are: does the minister condone the comments made by Senator Abetz in a Senate inquiry in which he asked three witnesses of Australian-Asian heritage to denounce the PRC under the guise of Australian values? What does the minister mean by 'Australian values'? Can the minister provide a checklist of what it means to be Australian that can be quantifiably verified through robust research methodologies? Does the minister consider that members of the government uphold these said values? Does the minister consider that Senator Abetz should offer an apology to the three witnesses he confronted?
The Australian people deserve to know what this government means when they say 'Australian values'. They deserve to know at what point their Australianness is considered enough. Is it when they have been here 50 years? Is it when they've been born here? Is it when they've lived here all their lives and have never gone overseas to another country?
While I am here, I may also ask the minister further questions about the changes to English language classes. The minister has stated that recent migrants will be able to access English classes for free until they have functional English, which the government defines as having the language skills to participate in society. I note that there have been further details given on this provision, but my questions really go to testing and functionality, so I pose the following questions to the government: while we welcome the lifting of the cap of 510 hours, which returns the AMEP to the level of functionality it had pre the mid-1990s, is the minister also considering amending the threshold for functional English competency from its current ISLPR 2? My second question is: considering that research suggests that it takes six months on average to progress 0.5 of a level across all four macro skills, reading, writing, speaking and listening, if an individual with zero to minimal literacy arrives in Australia and is eligible for AMEP, it's likely that they could take up to three years to achieve a functional ISLPR 2. Has the government received any advice as to the potential cost of this and the additional funding and resources that would need to be allocated to the AMEP to meet this demand? My third question is: what measures is the government putting in place to ensure that current inequities in the provision of AMEP are addressed so that women on partner visas, for example, are given equal opportunity to learn English even if they are not pursuing English for vocational purposes? Will these women have the same access to structured classes taught by a qualified TESOL practitioner in a formal setting?
The current English language testing regime for immigration is not fit for purpose and is inconsistent. The five accredited tests, the OET, the PTE, the TOEFL, the IELTS and the Cambridge test, are diverse in their operation, in their purpose and in their standards. Each test has different levels or standards by which candidates are assessed, and they cannot be uniformly standardised or equivocated. Further, IELTS is widely used for immigration purposes in Australia, but it was not designed for those purposes. It was designed primarily to assess prospective university entrants. It's not suited to assessing English language proficiency for a wide range of prospective migrants.
Given that context, what measures is the government taking to fix the English language testing regime for immigration purposes? Is the government considering including the ISLPR, which is widely used in Australia, in that testing regime? Has the government fully assessed the social and economic impacts of its proposal to test potential partner visa applicants for English language competency? What level of English language competency does the minister deem 'functional', and is this across all four macro skills? Is the minister aware that functional competency in oral skills is more readily acquired than functional competency in written skills? Has the minister undertaken to fully understand the functional competency skills required for different workplace participation, including levels of functional competency across all four macro skills in different workplaces? For example, somebody working in a job that requires primarily physical tasks would need to have a lower level of written competency. How does the minister propose to assess functional proficiency across these different skills requirements?