Politics Opinion

English language test requirement deemed a 'racist measure'

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A mandatory English language test for new immigrants and their sponsors reflects racial attitudes of the 1930s, writes Bilal Cleland.

APART FROM TAX CUTS for the rich, the neglect of much-needed social housing and cuts to JobSeeker and JobKeeper, the Frydenberg-Morrison Budget had a nasty deeply buried in the Budget Papers.

It announced an English language requirement for partner visa applicants and for their permanent resident sponsors.

Apparently there will be a test, which Prime Minister Scott Morrison said would require ‘applicants to prove their basic language ability’.

Labor MP Julian Hill took to Twitter describing it as ‘this nasty, effectively racist, measure’.

Melbourne-based migration agent Ranbir Singh called it a “shocker”. He said it was “bad news for permanent residents intending to bring their partners to live with them in Australia permanently”.

He called for some “further clarity as to whether the same rule would also apply to Australian citizen sponsors as well”.

The Minister's office said the new language requirement would not need to be met until someone was applying for permanency, usually after two years of being able to live in Australia on a temporary partner visa.

Spouse visas will now cost $8,000.

A report on ABC News suggested that fears of Chinese influence might be informing this decision.

Alan Tudge, acting as Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Minister since David Coleman took leave last year, said:

“Malign information or propaganda can be spread through multicultural media, including foreign language media controlled or funded by state players.”

There has been a welcome change to the Adult Migrant English Program with the 510 hours of free English language training within five years being changed:

‘...any permanent resident or citizen will be able to attend English classes free of charge until they have “functional English”, which the Government defines as having basic skills to participate in society. There will also be changes to the citizenship tests to include new questions “on Australian values”.’

Of course, we must ask: What values?

Given our history of the White Australia policy and the xenophobia of the fringes of the Liberal Party and its voting mate, the One Nation Party, many Australians have greeted this new provision with deep suspicion.

The echoes of the 1930s ring loud and it is up to the Government to prove its policies do not stem from such roots.

The Australian Natives Association in its 1939 Congress in Warrnambool demanded that any aliens permitted to enter the country should not be permitted to concentrate together in communities, should not be permitted to have their own schools or teach in their own languages, nor have foreign-language newspapers.

They also demanded that they should be subjected to an English language test after three years, failure to ‘be a ground for expatriation.

Only a few days before, the Victorian Minister for Education had stated that a working knowledge of English should be made a condition of entry for refugees and other aliens.

This was at a time when many, including persecuted Jews, were fleeing Europe:

‘He considered it would be too difficult to make adult aliens attend English classes as the state had no power to compel attendance at school beyond the age of 14 years.’

This represents a narrow-minded, racist past when the White man ruled the world.

Times have changed.

Fear of Chinese immigration and hostility towards Muslims and other Third World immigrants cannot be permitted to form government policy again in the 21st Century.

If such ideas are not behind this policy, it is up to the Morrison Government to prove it.

Bilal Cleland is a retired secondary teacher and was Secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Chairman of the Muslim Welfare Board Victoria and Secretary of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils.

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