Multicultural Australia at risk: Tudge

Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge believes Australia risks replicating ethnic unrest in Europe.
Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge believes Australia risks replicating ethnic unrest in Europe.

Growing clusters of overseas-born migrants with poor English are putting Australia's multicultural society at risk, the federal government warns as it pursues tougher hurdles to citizenship.

Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge is using his first major speech since taking on the portfolio in December to argue "ethnic separatism" is shaking the country to its core.

Mr Tudge believes Australia risks replicating ethnic unrest in Europe unless the government intervenes.

He is laying the groundwork for a renewed push by the Turnbull government to reintroduce controversial citizenship laws which were shot down in the Senate last year.

"We have a higher concentration of overseas-born in particular areas, and sometimes that overlays with a paucity of English being spoken in those areas," the minister told Sky News on Wednesday.

"We have also got a general diminishing capacity or capability of the English language being spoken by new arrivals to this country over the last decade."

Ten years ago, one-in-five migrants had poor or no English, which has worsened to one in four.

The peak body for new Australians agrees migrants need support to learn English, get an education and find jobs, but is urging the government to maintain fairness and justice in the citizenship system.

"Measures that make it harder for them to become citizens are counter-productive," Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia chair Mary Patetsos said.

"If English language tests are too stringent, many current Australian residents who have functional levels of English will, unfairly, be denied the rights, opportunities and protections that are enjoyed by citizens."

The coalition wants to raise English language requirements for aspiring citizens and ensure migrants have made an effort to integrate and demonstrate a commitment to Australian values.

"In essence, just raising the aspiration slightly on the new arrival before they become a citizen," Mr Tudge said.

Data in relation to employment, education, small business creation and home ownership all indicated migrants had done "phenomenally well" and underpinned the nation's success.

"I am merely highlighting the fact that on the margins we are seeing some indicators where we are starting to slide in relation to our ability to integrate," he said.

"I want to make sure we are alert to that and put in place mechanisms to address them."

The federal opposition believes the existing citizenship requirement for conversational English is sufficient, accusing the government of waging a "snobbish and divisive" attack on multicultural Australia

Labor frontbencher Ed Husic suspects there is very little evidence behind the coalition's revived crackdown on citizenship.

"It's not about policy, it's not about good ideas being pursued in the public interest, this is about politics by Alan Tudge," Mr Husic said.

In a speech due to be delivered to the Menzies Research Institute in Sydney on Wednesday night, Mr Tudge will say Australia's multiculturalism model is the world's best, but is no longer working as well as it should.

"I want to sound a note of caution: Australian multiculturalism is not God-given and cannot be taken for granted," he will say.

Australian Associated Press