Australia’s tougher citizenship laws spark charges of racism

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SYDNEY, AFP

Prime Minister John Howard was accused Tuesday of pandering to far-right groups who want a “white Australia” after the senate passed the biggest overhaul of immigration laws in nearly 60 years.

The changes, which make it harder to become an Australian citizen, are partly a response to fears of home-grown terrorism in the wake of the London train and bus bombings in July 2005 which were carried out by British Muslims.

“It’s very difficult to understand why the government is doing this, except to say it’s part of the prime minister’s package of demonizing those who come from other countries,” said Australian Democrats leader Senator Lyn Allison.

Howard seemed also to be appealing to supporters of anti-immigration politician Pauline Hanson “who essentially don’t want to see Australia as anything but white Australian,” Allison told reporters.

Hanson sparked outrage after being elected to parliament in 1996 and warning in her maiden speech that Australia was in danger of being “swamped” by Asians.

She lost her seat two years later, but announced on Monday that she would run for the senate in elections this year.

Hanson has made it clear she still holds her xenophobic views, complaining that African migrants had diseases such as AIDS and that too many Muslims were being allowed into Australia.

Under the new legislation, migrants now must spend four years in Australia before being eligible for citizenship, double the previous requirement of two years.

They will also face tests of their knowledge of English and “Australian values”.

“There’ll be a lot of potential citizens who will be put off by the test, not just the length of time but the requirement that they pass English tests, that they somehow get to understand Australian values, whatever they are,” Allison said.

The test will cover issues such as democracy, the rule of law and the equality of men and women.

Howard has denied the test is aimed at Muslims, but he has also expressed fears that Muslims who do not integrate fully could launch terror attacks in the country.