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Vic/Tas Moderator challenges ‘English language test’ for Australian citizenship

In his first sermon as Moderator of the Uniting Church in Victoria and Tasmania, Rev Jason Kioa, seriously questioned the proposed ‘English Test’ for Australian citizenship and challenged politicians to overcome the fear of terrorism “by building communities of trust”.

“The best thing Australian governments – both State and Federal – and opposition leaders and religious leaders…can do to overcome terrorism is to build confidence in community neighbourliness,” Mr Kioa said at his induction service on Sunday evening.

Mr Kioa is the first person from a Pacific Island background to lead a mainstream Christian denomination in Australia.

Mr Kioa said Australia’s politicians and religious leaders had the responsibility, "to build trust across the traditional divides of race, religion and ideology… to make our communities confident, hopeful and helpful places to live by building bridges of understanding.

“The best way to overcome the power of terrorism – which is fear – is to build deep foundations of tolerance, acceptance and understanding at the heart of our neighbourhoods,” he said.

On the proposed use of an English test for people seeking to be come Australian citizens, Mr Kioa said that a person’s ability to speak English was not an adequate test of patriotism or a measure of ‘Australianness’.

In fact, “Instead of setting up tests on ‘Australianness’, benchmarks for patriotism, or exams on speaking the local language – all of which in themselves create and increase the sense of divisiveness – we need leadership that unites and brings us together as good neighbours with understanding, whilst appreciating the value of our differences.

“Anything else makes for organised division in our community: we end up with ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’, where some are somehow judged as ‘more complete Australians than others’, where your ability to say ‘fair dinkum’ counts for more than the content of your heart or the generosity of your spirit.”

Mr Kioa pointed out that many Australian’s are born speaking an Australian language that is not English.

“Australia is full of diversity. There are thousands of Australian’s who are born speaking a language other than English; they are our indigenous brothers and sisters. Their language is more ‘Australian’ than even English. A language test is not in itself a test of commitment to a community,” he said.

Speaking after the opening service, Mr Kioa, elaborated on the language test issue, by saying he thought it was an excellent thing for everyone in Australia to learn English.

“English is the language we all use to communicate ‘inter-culturally. That way, everyone can participate in the economy, the culture, the whole life of the nation. That is really good.

“But just speaking English does not make you a model citizen. The language we speak is not a benchmark of our commitment or our character, our identity or our gratitude, for being able to live our earthly lives here.”

The full text of Rev Jason Kioa’s sermon can be read HERE.