Dutton proposes civics 'pledge' for schoolchildren, immigration changes

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Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton says school curriculums should be changed to enable a “rejuvenated civics effort" with school-aged children.

Schoolchildren could soon be asked to repeat a pledge of loyalty to Australia under a push on “civics” education proposed by Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton.

The minister of the newly created super-department, which combines the Immigration portfolio with various national security agencies, said he wanted to work with state education departments to talk more about Australia’s “core values”.

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Dutton to push for a rewrite of foreign fighter laws
Dutton to push for a rewrite of foreign fighter laws

“In my view, there is a place for the pledge in a broader rejuvenated civics effort with school-aged children, regardless of their background,” Mr Dutton told the National Press Club in a wide-ranging speech on Wednesday.

New Australians read a pledge of loyalty when they become citizens, which the prime minister customarily reads out loud with a batch of new citizens every year on Australia Day.

“I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share … whose laws I will uphold and obey,” the pledge reads.

Mr Dutton said his department was ready to provide support in improving the teaching of civic values in schools.

It remains unclear whether the minister’s idea for a pledge for schoolchildren would match the regular citizenship pledge.

“It behoves all sections of society to reaffirm our nation's core values through our words and our deeds,” Mr Dutton said.

Govt moves again on English test for citizenship

The Turnbull Government will soon try to pass an edited version of its changes to the Australian citizenship test, which were voted down in the Senate last year by Labor and the crossbench.

The most controversial of the changes would have created a standalone English language exam, set at a higher level than the existing test requirements.

Mr Dutton’s bill would also have created a test on “Australian values” in an attempt to weed out migrants with abhorrent views on domestic violence, religious extremism and the treatment of women.

Labor, the Greens and the Nick Xenophon senators killed off the bill, mostly citing opposition to the tougher English test.

Mr Dutton has already offered to reduce the difficulty of the English test – from Band 6 to Band 5 under the international standard – to secure the support of the Senate.

“I can assure you that the government remains committed to this reform and will work with the cross bench on the basis of a new package of measures … to see that across the line,” the minister said.

Protecting children will be ‘priority’ of new department: Dutton

The minister flagged further efforts to crack down on child sex abuse, particularly online.

“The exploitation of children will be the most important priority of the Home affairs portfolio,” Mr Dutton said.

He said the government would announce new changes to “target the cyber networks and financial flows” used by paedophile rings online, citing the government’s recent success in banning convicted child sex offenders from holding Australian passports.

Mr Dutton also indicated an advanced biometrics scheme for live-checking faces from cameras in airports against a national database would be fully operational in a “couple of years”. He said an ongoing trial at Canberra Airport was showing positive signs.

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