"We are concerned for those that come after us. It's not enough to say we got through the gates and to hell with the rest."
That was the concerned message of multicultural community leaders in Canberra rallying against proposed changes to the citizenship test at public forum held at the Theo Notaras Multicultural Centre on Wednesday.
Chair of the Canberra Multicultural Community Forum Diana Abdel-Rahman rejected the government's rationale that introducing a university level english requirement and providing applicants with just three chances would have any impact on national security.
"What really irks me about all of this is some of the politicians who are pushing for a citizenship test actually are the children of migrants," she said. "Their families would not have spoken English when they arrived to Australia. That's the hypocrisy of it all."
She said her father arrived from Lebanon by boat in 1951 with just a handful of phrases he'd picked up in conversation with ANZAC soldiers. He learnt English without instruction whilst running several successful businesses.
The legislation, if enacted, would fundamentally change how Australia defined itself, Federation of Ethnic Community Councils Australia director Emma Campbell said.
"Australia's multicultural society is successful and harmonious because it welcomed people as citizens early on in their migration journey," she said.
"This replaces that successful model ... with a model that has failed in Europe. Where you have generations of people who are a permanent underclass because they are not ethnically German, because not enough of their generations have been born in Switzerland."
Many in attendance spoke of how the changes would exacerbate pressure on migrants struggling to establish themselves and didn't account for the realities of trauma, and gaps in education which were so common.
"A young person who has been in a refugee camp in Kenya, who has missed out on any schooling is given three chances, three strikes and you are out," CMCF deputy chair Harry Opperman said.
"Why set the barrier to make the feeling that one is not wanted, not part of society, excluded?"
Member for Canberra Gai Brodtmann said Labor opposed the package and urged those at the forum to put forward their views to the Senate inquiry into the citizenship law changes.
"This announcement affects real people's lives and the decisions they've made for their families, I am very aware of the unnecessary distress this is causing the community."
Ms Brodtmann said those applying for citizenship had already been subject to strict character and security checks and the government's claim this was a national security issue was "absurd."
Ms Abdel-Rahman said 2016 census figures showed not having a migration story, either personally or through your family, was the minority Australian experience.
The "us and them" rhetoric was too easy to see through, she said.
"We need migration to enable Australia to move forward. Australians are savvy. We will not be fooled, we will fight this, but we will not be fooled."