PROPOSED AMENDMENTS to establish a test for Australian citizenship fail to take into account disadvantaged applicants, according to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC).
HREOC has made a submission to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee in its inquiry into the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Testing) Bill 2007, which was introduced in the House of Representatives on 30 May this year.
According to HREOC, although the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship is given the discretion to determine the nature and form of the citizenship test, the minister has insufficient discretion to provide alternatives to the test where applicants, due to circumstance, are disadvantaged by having to sit the test.
“For instance, the Bill fails to make special provisions for persons who might make worthy Australian citizens yet are unable to pass a formal citizenship test due to past experiences of trauma or persecution, or due to limited education,” the HREOC submission said.
HREOC’s suggested solution to this problem is “a better balance in the allocation and oversight of ministerial discretion in these two areas of the Bill”.
“The Bill should provide a mechanism which provides for exemptions or an alternative process for applicants who are unfairly disadvantaged by having to sit a test,” it said.
Jurisdictions such as New Zealand and Canada have important safeguards, “by providing an element of flexibility to accommodate the individual circumstances of particular applicants who might be unfairly prejudiced in having to pass a formal citizenship test, but who would nevertheless make worthy Australian citizens”, the submission said.
The Commission has recommended the inclusion of the discretion to employ an alternative to the test, or to waive the eligibility requirements, in line with models used in NZ and Canada.
HREOC submitted that in NZ, “the Citizenship Act 1977 allows the minister to grant citizenship to the applicant if the minister is satisfied that granting citizenship ‘would be in the public interest because of exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian or other nature relating to the applicant’”.
Canada’s Citizenship Act 1985 allows for a citizenship judge to interview an applicant rather than formal testing in some circumstances, the submission said.
Although most people must sit the test, the Australian government’s official citizenship website says that people who are younger than 18 years of age, 60 years and over, or have permanent physical or mental incapacity rendering them incapable of understanding the nature of their application, will be excluded.
The citizenship test, the plan for which was announced on 11 December 2006 by the Federal Government, is intended to be computer-based, in English, and contain a sample of 20 to 30 multiple choice questions randomly chosen from a pool of 300.