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Australia to Review Controversial Citizenship Tests

  • Phil Mercer

Australia's new left-of-center Labor government says it will review a controversial citizenship test. Some people are critical of the test's high rate of failure by applicants, who are quizzed about Australian history, culture and political system. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

Australia's citizenship test was introduced by the former conservative government last October to ensure that new citizens are committed to the country's broad values and aware of its indigenous and colonial history.

Ten thousand six hundred people have taken the exam, but one in five test takers has failed to reach the 60 percent passing mark. That has prompted the new Labor Party administration to review the process.

Australian Immigration Minister Chris Evans says the exam should concentrate more on increasing awareness of citizens' responsibilities rather than on history. A review will begin soon.

The tests have been controversial and have been criticized as racist and discriminatory.

Some opponents want them abolished.

Mark Gudkamp from the Refugee Action Coalition says migrants must be allowed to learn about their adopted home in a more relaxed way.

"That sort of background information about Australian history and our indigenous history and multicultural history - all that sort of stuff of course people, you know, should be exposed to that and should have the opportunity to learn that. But that should happen in a relaxed environment where people don't feel like they're being assessed. You know, in that way, I think, encourage people to become active residents and active citizens in their new country," said Gudkamp.

To gain Australian citizenship, candidates must answer from a random, computer-generated list of 20 questions.

There are sections on Australian values, religion, freedom of speech and gender equality.

Migrants must also pass an English language test. Critics believe this discriminates against people from non-English speaking backgrounds.

They have insisted the money would be better spent on language tuition for migrants.

The tests were part of a push by the former government of John Howard to promote Australian values after riots between Muslim and non-Muslim gangs at a Sydney beach in 2005.

Howard said the aim was to foster greater integration while still appreciating Australia's rich ethnic diversity, where a quarter of the population was born overseas.

Failure to achieve the necessary standards in the citizenship test is not a major set-back for applicants.

They are allowed to re-take the examination as many times as they like.

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