SYDNEY • Australia will provide free English language classes to migrants and will quiz new citizens on “Australian values” to try to promote cohesion and prevent foreign states – particularly China – from tightening their grips on their diaspora communities.
Announcing the changes on Friday, acting Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Minister Alan Tudge told the National Press Club: “Despite now being proud Australians, some communities are still seen by their former home countries as ‘their diaspora’ – to be harassed or exploited to further the national cause.
“Some who criticise their former country are silenced through threats and intimidation… others are persuaded or forced to monitor or harass members of their own community.”
Security officials in Australia are reportedly concerned about efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to monitor, control and influence Chinese students and Chinese-language media outlets.
About 1.2 million people with Chinese ancestry live in Australia.
Mr Tudge expressed concern over the poor English language skills of some migrants, saying that “without English language skills, migrants are less likely to get a job, less likely to integrate and less likely to participate in our democracy”.
“Malign information or propaganda can be spread through multicultural media, including foreign-language media controlled or funded by state players,” he said.
The government will now overhaul its A$1 billion (S$1 billion) programme to teach English to adult migrants. Any migrant will now be able to attend free English language classes until they have acquired “functional English”. Currently, migrants can access up to 510 hours of free classes within five years of their migration.
Mr Abul Rizvi, a former senior official of the Immigration Department, told SBS News: “The main problem is that many of the migrants who want to attend classes are also searching for work and are often working.”
Meanwhile, the government also plans to change tests for new citizens to include questions on Australian values.
In the year to June 30, a total of 204,817 people from over 200 countries became Australian citizens.
Of these, 38,209 were from India, 25,011 were from China and 14,764 were from the Philippines.