Calls to make Australian citizenship tests include English language proficiency tests have irked campaigners for multiculturalism.
Federal MP, and a long-time supporter for multiculturalism, Maria Vamvakinou says while English skills are an asset, Australian citizenship should not be closed to people with poor levels of English proficiency.
“We are a country that was built by people who became citizens who didn’t speak English,” she tells Neos Kosmos.
“English language shouldn’t necessarily be the determining factor of whether you get citizenship or not, because there’s a possibility that it will then lead to excluding people and excluding people means you will have people living in this country who are not able to be full members of the community.”
Liberal MP Sharman Stone has been calling for the overhaul of Australian citizenship requirements this week and argues English tests should be mandatory.
“It makes me very sorry when people come into my office and say they need an interpreter and are feeling alienated,” she said to Fairfax Media.
Last week a government discussion paper supported a measure that would require new citizens to sit an English exam before they were eligible to be citizens.
Many Greek Australians became citizens during the big post-war wave of migration with little or no English skills, something Ms Vamvakinou says shaped the way Australia is today.
“If we had that attitude then, I don’t know what kind of society we’d be today,” she says.
Attending numerous citizenship ceremonies in her electorate of Calwell each year, Ms Vamvakinou says she sees many people of all walks of life proudly become part of the “Australian family”.
She says it will be quite discriminatory for people coming to Australia from the refugee humanitarian program to be excluded from becoming citizens for their low English skills.
“They come here from difficult circumstances and may not be able to become as fluent in English as quickly as others,” she says.
“Australian citizenship has been the great leveller, the equal playing field for everybody who chooses to live in this country.
“We don’t exclude people from becoming members of the Australian family.”
Currently, the Australian citizenship test includes 20 multiple choice questions about Australia’s beliefs, values, law system and people.
The government is currently considering developing the test to standardise English language requirements and limiting the number of times a person can sit the test before their application is refused.