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Australia announces review of its citizenship test

world Updated: Jan 30, 2008 00:31 IST
Rob Taylor

Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Tuesday went into bat for cricket legend Donald Bradman, promising the country's best-known cricketer would not be dumped from a controversial citizenship test for migrants.

"The Don is safe," Rudd said when asked if a question on Bradman, allegedly written by his conservative predecessor and cricket fanatic John Howard, would be dropped from the test in a promised review.

"I'm unaware of any plans on our part to give The Don the axe. I'm not lining up in that camp," Rudd told local television.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans on Tuesday ordered a review of the test, introduced prior to the November election that swept away Howard's government. Evans said he was concerned many of the questions were inappropriate for unskilled refugee arrivals.

Questions include the colours of the national flag, the makeup of government, what the capital city is, what animals are on the coat of arms and sporting questions. Britain and the United States have similar citizenship tests.

"Maybe some people are being deterred from taking out citizenship because they are concerned or frightened by the test process," Evans told reporters. "People who would otherwise be good citizens may not be able to currently pass the test."

Figures showed while 93 per cent of applicants passed the test during a three-month period last year, up to one-in-four arrivals from conflict-torn Sudan and Afghanistan failed.

"This test is clearly skewed to disadvantage refugees and humanitarian immigrants not from western nations," said Civil Liberties Australia President Kristine Klugman, calling for the test to be amended. "Cricket is not a high priority, when just eating and surviving is all they have time for," she said.

Howard argued the test would make Australia, a nation of migrants with nearly one-in-four of the country's 21 million people born overseas, more united after debate about the peace and impact of immigration involving Muslims and African refugees.

Australia takes around 13,000 refugees each year among 140,000 new migrants. Howard denied the tests had racist overtones and marked a return to the kind of exams used until the 1950s that excluded mainly-Asian migrants under the White Australia policy.

But Evans said parts of the test appeared to be the result of political interference and questions were too heavily weighted towards Australia's obsession with sport and Howard's nostalgia the 1930s and 40s sporting heroes of his youth.

Howard, who ruled for 11 years, is said to have personally written a question asking prospective citizens to name Australia's greatest cricketer from Bradman (correct), cyclist Hubert Opperman or billiards player Walter Lindrum.

"I'm not sure a lot of sports trivia is really what's important when settling here," Evans said, adding that an understanding of democracy, womens' rights and civil liberties were more critical.

The test can be taken any number of times as a citizenship requirement after migrants have lived four years in Australia.

Just over 9,000 people sat the test between October and December last year.