SYDNEY, Oct 1 (Reuters) New citizenship tests came into force in Australia today, requiring people to answer questions about the nation's history and culture to qualify to be an Australian.
Conservative Prime Minister John Howard says the new tests are necessary to ensure new Australians are committed to the country's broad values, such as ''mateship''.
The tests, and laws to ensure immigrants must spend four years in Australia instead of three to become citizens, are part of a push to promote ''Australian values'' after riots between Muslim and non-Muslim youths at a Sydney beach in 2005.
The tests, similar to those in Canada, the United States and Britain, have been criticised by refugee and migrant groups.
The Refugee Council of Australia said people from non-English-speaking backgrounds would be disadvantaged by the new citizenship tests.
''Historically, people who have come as refugees and humanitarian entrants have been much more interested in becoming Australian citizens than any other group of migrants,'' refugee council chief Paul Power told local radio today.
''This testing regime will advantage those who are least likely to be interested in Australian citizenship and disadvantage many of those who are most interested.'' Australia is a nation of immigrants, with one in four of Australia's 21 million people born overseas.
More than 30 people were due to sit for the computer-based citizenship tests on Monday.
Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said the 20-question multiple-choice exam would cover a wide range of topics.
Questions included, what year did Australian federation take place, what day of the year is Australia Day, what is the first line in the national anthem and what is the country's population. To pass, a person must get at least 12 questions correct.
Andrews rejected criticism of the tests, saying there was no limit to how many times an applicant sat the tests, adding there was a test guidebook available in 29 languages.
''Ultimately, if you are becoming a citizen of Australia, we expect you to share the common values that we have in this country and know something about the way of life and heritage of Australia,'' Andrews told reporters.
The government will have a pool of 200 questions, with 20 questions chosen at random for each person. Some questions could focus on subjects like Australia's notion of ''mateship'' or commraderie and on the Melbourne Cup horse race.
Under the new citizenship rules, immigrants and people coming to Australia to work will also need to sign up to a statement of Australian values, which mentions ''mateship'', equality, freedom of religion and support for democracy and the rule of law.
REUTERS SYU RK0850