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Page last updated at 03:12 GMT, Friday, 18 September 2009 04:12 UK

Australia debates citizens' tests

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Aborigine with Australia flag, march by indigenous war veterans, Sydney April 08
There is more to Australia than cricket and barbecues.

Australia's parliament has begun debating changes to the country's controversial citizenship tests.

The government wants to make applicants more aware of their rights and responsibilities rather than examine a general knowledge of sport and culture.

The tests have been criticised by rights groups as discriminating against migrants from non-English-speaking countries.

They were introduced by the former conservative administration.

The current Australian government wants to make the tests more relevant, to help prospective citizens settle into life in their adopted country.

Responsibilities

In Canberra, parliament has been debating changes to the legislation that would see updated questions posed about gender equality, compulsory voting and the Australian legal system.

The Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, who was born in Britain, said the amendments would help migrants better understand their responsibilities to the community.

Mr Evans believes that parts of the current test that quiz applicants about famous cricketers, billiard players and explorers were irrelevant.

Critics have insisted that the entire process was a waste of money, did nothing to help newcomers integrate into society and discriminated against those from a non-English-speaking background.

Migrants must pass the controversial examination to become Australian citizens.

Under the proposed changes, those sitting the test will have to answer 20 multiple-choice questions in English, while the pass mark would rise from 60 to 75%.

The country has been celebrating National Citizenship Day and to mark the occasion 4,000 people have been sworn in as new Australians.



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