Opinion: Migrants must have a basic grasp of English
Opinion: Migrants must have a basic grasp of English

Insisting migrants learn English isn’t racist

IT'S a billion dollar federal government program which having failed to achieve its objectives, will have another mountain of money shovelled its way.

It's the Adult Migrant English Program which will now benefit from that long-cherished government solution to a poor policy outcome which is to throw more money at it in the faint hope that it will somehow disappear.

The underlying problem is that there are lot of people in Australia who can't speak English and who on the evidence, aren't particularly interested in learning how to do so.

If they were, then they'd be taking advantage of the 510 hours of free English language tuition provided over five years for which we pick up the tab.

Less than one in five of those who currently enrol in the course finish with what is regarded as "functional" English.

According to Acting Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Minister Alan Tudge there are about one million residents, or one in every 25 Australians, who cannot communicate effectively in English.

Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs Alan Tudge. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman
Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs Alan Tudge. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

In 2006 this figure was 560,000 so it's not difficult to see the direction in which it is trending.

To overcome this, Acting Minister Tudge will now expand the failed program so that there are no caps on the hours of tuition provided nor on the number of years within which the course must be completed.

The reasoning here is that someone who couldn't complete 510 hours of free tuition over five years, which works out to a commitment to learning the language of your adopted country of about two hours a week, will now suddenly be overcome with the urge to learn to speak it.

Let's face it - if you can't crack it in five years, you're not trying too hard.

The government admits that this failure to embrace English can be a threat to national security, saying that "malign information or propaganda can be spread through multicultural media, including foreign language media controlled or funded by state players.

"This can be particularly influential if local residents' English is poor and hence they are more reliant on foreign language sources," it says.

"State players", of course, is political-speak for the Communist Party government of China and its insidious infiltration of our society.

The government has also been forced to concede that the spread of COVID-19 in Victoria was in part facilitated by the inability of some ethnic groups to grasp the import of what they were being told.

Acting Minister Tudge said the coronavirus pandemic showed it had been difficult to communicate with multicultural Australians through mainstream channels, in spite of distributing information in 63 languages.

Obviously, if people spoke and understood English this would not be a problem.

Data taken from the latest census indicates that around half of Australian residents who were born overseas and who arrived in this country with no English skills still can't speak the language well - or at all - after living here for 15 years.

In some suburbs up to one in three people cannot speak the national language well or at all.

Stating the blindingly obvious Mr Tudge said that without English language skills, migrants were less likely to integrate, participate in Australia's democracy or get a job.

"This is not to blame anyone whose English language proficiency is poor, but clearly full participation in the community is difficult when there are language barriers," he said.

He dare not blame them for fear of being accused of racism but if it's not their fault, then where does the blame lie?

What is the mindset of someone who migrates to a country with no intention of becoming part of it?

There is no way you are ever going to become an Australian and embrace our values if you can't understand what anyone is saying so what are their intentions?

To remain closeted in an ethnic group, cocooned from society's mainstream?

Columnist Mike O'Connor.
Columnist Mike O'Connor.

The government has announced that it is going to revisit the questions that will be asked

of people who are applying for citizenship.

"The stronger focus on Australian values in citizenship testing will be an important part of helping protect our social cohesion into the future," Mr Tudge said.

Perhaps but if the questions are asked in English, and I don't see how they can be asked in Hindi, Mandarin or Arabic with making a mockery of the process, then there are at least a million people out there who won't have the faintest idea what they mean.

Politicians can wax poetic about the wonders and virtues of our great nation at citizenship ceremonies but if a significant proportion of the population doesn't speak the language then it's just so much theatre.

Insisting on competent language skills for immigrants isn't racist.

Rather, it is giving them a chance to truly be a part of our nation, to get a job and mix on an equal footing with their fellow Australians.

It's what we call a fair go - for everyone.







Originally published as Insisting migrants learn English isn't racist