Battle lines drawn over citizenship changes

20 Juin, 2017, 16:50 | Author: Claudine Rigal
  • Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has called on Labor to support an overhaul of citizenship laws

The government's plans to raise the standards for attaining Australian citizenship were condemned by the opposition party on Tuesday as a fundamental change that would create a large underclass of residents who do not fully belong.

The proposal the government is seeking to legislate extends permanent residency requirements from one year to "at least four years" before someone can apply for citizenship and requires most applicants to provide evidence of "competent" English-language proficiency before they can become a citizen.

The position, to be taken to a meeting of Labor's caucus in Canberra on Tuesday morning, will placate MPs in the party's left faction who were particularly concerned about those two elements of the package.

Opposition spokesman on citizenship Tony Burke rejected the conservative government's argument that the changes were needed to safeguard Australia against mounting security challenges.

He said the government risked having "a group of permanent residents who live here their entire lives and are never invited to pledge allegiance to Australia".

Labor proposes to send the legislation to a Senate inquiry.

Justice Minister Michael Keenan - invoking the deadly Lindt Cafe siege in Sydney - said it was critical to weed out bad eggs before they entered the country and long before they achieved citizenship.

Labor has accused the Turnbull government of snobbery and vowed to oppose tougher hurdles to citizenship, while the prime minister has questioned his political foes' commitment to national security. Mr Burke said under the existing rules, officials had already had several years to assess a person's contribution to society.

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Labor says the government's proposed citizenship changes are a "massive over-reach" and will be opposed in parliament.

Setting the test at a level which many Australian-born citizens could not meet was an "act of snobbery on the whole country", and "guarantees we will have a new permanent underclass" of people who could never gain citizenship.

Mr Dutton said he was confident the legislation would ultimately get through the Senate, predicting Labor would change its mind and independents would back the government.

Nick Xenophon is doubtful about English language requirements being necessary for Australia's safety.

Mr Burke also took aim at Mr Dutton, saying the minister was playing a "dangerous game" linked to leadership tensions in the Liberal party.

"[Labor is] disrespecting Australian citizenship by failing to recognise that integration, citizenship and the harmony and the mutual respect that comes from shared political values that unite us, that requires a respect for citizenship", Mr Turnbull said.

"Now that is a big change in how this country operates and it's a change that Labor can not support", he added.

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