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Australia Defends Controversial Citizenship Tests

Australian refugee groups have criticized tests that require people to answer questions about the nation's history and culture to qualify to become a citizen. Critics believe the new measures will discriminate against migrants from non-English speaking countries. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

Migrants are being asked a range of questions about Australian history, its political institutions and culture.

To gain Australian citizenship, candidates will have to achieve a pass mark of 60 percent from a random, computer-generated list of 20 questions.

There are sections on what officials call "Australian values", despite the difficulty of reaching a formal definition of these. Prospective citizens are also being quizzed on religion, freedom of speech and gender equality.

Migrants will also have to pass a new English language test. Critics believe this will discriminate against settlers from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Australian Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews says the ability to speak English is vital.

"The bottom line is if you wish to achieve your aspirations in Australia then it is quite crucial that you can speak English," he said.

Refugee advocates have insisted that people from non-English-speaking backgrounds will be disadvantaged by the new citizenship tests.

Critics of the new measures believe the money would be better spent on language tuition for migrants.

Leader of the minority Democrats party, Senator Lyn Allison, believes the tests are a waste of time.

"What's the point of it?" she asks. "Are we really testing people's fitness for citizenship, or are we testing them on memory of some pretty obscure facts, which the Government has brought together in what it calls the history of Australia?"

The tests are part of a push to promote "Australian values" after riots between Muslim and non-Muslim gangs at a beach in Sydney in 2005.

The government has said the aim is to foster greater social cohesion while still appreciating the rich ethnic diversity of a country where a quarter of the population was born overseas.

Failure to achieve the necessary standards in the citizenship tests will not be the end of the world for applicants. They will be allowed to re-sit the examination as many times as they like.