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'Apply now for Australian citizenship before it is too late' – Tony Burke

hadow Minister for Citizenship Tony Burke speaking to SBS Arabic24

Shadow Minister for Immigration, Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship, Tony Burke tells SBS Arabic24 that everyone who is eligible to apply for citizenship should do so before the Coalition government tries to tighten up the rules again.

Speaking from the National Open Mosque day event in Lakemba, Tony Burke encourages all eligible permanent residents to apply for Australian citizenship now

“Anyone who is eligible now should apply now,” Mr Burke tells SBS Arabic24.

“Right now we have got a reprieve, right now the government has given up and they are processing again. They will come back, but anyone who is eligible now should apply now."

“Anyone who is eligible now should apply now.”

Mr Burke says he believes the government will try and pass the legislation on tougher English tests again, saying that he can’t guarantee a win in the Senate every time, but is happy the proposed changes have been rejected.

"I am so happy that the bill failed in the Senate," he says.

The controversial citizenship changes proposed by the Turnbull government were rejected in the Senate recently - a decision that was celebrated by many permanent residents. 

Read more on citizenship changes

Mr Burke says he received letters and feedback from the public about how much they love Australia and want to make a pledge of commitment to this country.

"[Migrants] just want to make a public pledge to the country and be told by the rest of Australia, 'you are home now… you are welcome.'"

 

He says they couldn’t understand why the government wanted to make that so much harder for them to accomplish.

Mr Burke says those letters held a simple yet important message.  

"I think that says one simple thing," he says. "There are people who are good Australians, who are already permanent residents who are going to live here their whole lives, who just want to make a public pledge to the country and be told by the rest of Australia, 'you are home now… you are welcome.'"

As a senior Labor party MP in parliament, Mr Burke says he is involved in many different battles but the outcome of this one made him happy.

“This one, this is a permanent fundamental change to people’s lives, and I couldn’t be happier," he says.

Mr Burke also commented on the latest poll by the Australian Population Research Institute that found nearly half of all Australians support a partial ban on Muslim immigration.

Read more

Mr Burke thinks it’s not all about bigotry.

“Maybe there are some other issues going on here," he says. "And if we rush to believe that it is all bigotry, I think we probably miss some of the other lines of argument that are within that."

"As long as there are views that are based on ignorance and a lack of understanding and a lack of generosity, then we need to deal with that, no matter what community it comes from."

Mr Burke says when people see increased traffic, pressure on hospitals, schools, and services, they start questioning whether Australia "has it’s immigration level right."

"Basically they are running that view based on the fact that we are not keeping our services up to date," he says

Mr Burke underlined the importance of cross-cultural understanding. "As long as there are views that are based on ignorance and a lack of understanding and a lack of generosity, then we need to deal with that, no matter what community it comes from."

The government’s citizenship reforms, which included longer waiting times for permanent residents and a tougher English language exam, were struck off the Senate notice paper earlier this month.

The original bill failed to pass with Labor, the Greens and the Nick Xenophon Team all opposed.

In response, the government has proposed dropping the English test requirement from an IELTS level 6 (the same level required for university) to level 5.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has also confirmed that migrants who applied for citizenship since the 20th of April will now be processed under existing rules.

Dutton also says he wants new rules around citizenship in place by July next year.

The reactions from SBS Arabic24 Facebook followers was mixed:

Arab community reaction
Arab community reacts to Senate’s rejection of proposed citizenship changes
SBS Arabic24

Ahmed Hamdi Issa said “Rejecting the amendment is the right decision, but what makes me proud of Australia and it’s Parliament is Australia's respect for its principle of separation of powers and respect for the government and its compliance with the legislative authority.

“In Egypt the parliament conforms to whatever decision or law the government takes. Long live democracy”

Another follower, Abdulla Adas thought the Senate decision was “very fair” and said that “through the Senate’s wisdom, Australia will develop significantly’.

Abdulrahim Khaleel said he was “afraid of the proposed changes” and was thankful to all the parties that didn’t pass, what he called, “this racist project.” 

Listen to shadow Minister for Immigration, Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship, Tony Burke’s full interview (in English) with SBS Arabic 24 in the audio player above.

Listen to SBS Arabic24 live here.

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