House debates

Thursday, 12 November 2020

Bills

Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021; Consideration in Detail

11:50 am

Photo of Alan TudgeAlan Tudge (Aston, Liberal Party, Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure) Share this | Hansard source

I would like to address two of the issues which were raised by the former speaker in relation to citizenship tests and also English-language provision. On the citizenship test, the changes that we have made are very clearly documented in the citizenship booklet which is provided before each applicant does their citizenship test. They will see very clearly in that booklet some of the core principles which have underpinned Australia's success: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association, democracy, the rule of law, and the paramounts of parliamentary democracy and parliamentary law over other religious laws. Those are the types of issues which are outlined in that document, and those are the types of issues which will be contained in the new updated citizenship test.

In relation to English language, I was being asked about whether the standard was functional English and how it was defined. I can inform the member that, in part of our reforms to the Adult Migrant English Language Program, we are lifting the threshold to vocational level rather than just functional level. This has already been stated publicly. This is one of the reform measures. Of course, this is not the requirement for a person if they are applying for permanent residency through their partner visa. It is not to reach any particular standard. It's simply to make a reasonable effort to do some English-language classes. That would typically be defined by doing hours of those classes. That's an important change we are making and it's in recognition that some people may want to do more hours of classes until they get to that slightly higher level of vocational English.

Some other changes are included, and these have been outlined already in the bill that was presented to the House. I note that the Senate is considering this bill presently. It removes the 510-hour statutory limit on eligible persons' entitlement to English-language tuition. It amends the upper limit for eligibility to access English tuition to a new level of vocational English, which I said. It removes the statutory time limits for registering, commencing and completing English tuition for people who hold a visa and were in Australia on or before October 2020. That means that, if you've been here for 10 years already and your English is still not as good as you'd like it to be, you can still partake in those free English-language classes, which you couldn't have done previously. These are very significant changes. It's particularly important, as I think the member for Berowra was pointing out, that, if your native tongue is linguistically distant from English, it will often take you more hours to learn English than if your native tongue is Latin based. Consequently, a person may need 2,000 hours, for example, and they will be able to take up all of those hours if they need them and want to do that, and they can go all the way up to vocational levels.

These are important changes to the accessibility of free English language classes to migrants. As I said, we're working on the quality of those classes as well, which we think is important. We think work can be done on that. Furthermore, we're placing some expectations upon people. It is in the individual's interests as much as in society's interests to have a reasonable command of the English language, because it helps that individual participate fully in Australian society. That's what Australian society is about. It is about welcoming people from around the world and integrating them fully into our great multicultural community. We want to fully support that and fully support those individuals to learn the English language so that they can fully participate in our great democracy and our great communities and fully participate in our great multicultural society.

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