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Citizenship changes 'designed to create second class Australians’ - Tony Burke

New citizens attending the Australia Day Citizenship ceremony. Source: AAP

The Labor is primarily opposed to introducing a longer waiting period and a stand-alone English language test for permanent residents.

On Tuesday the Australian Labor party unanimously voted to reject the Government’s proposed legislation to amend the citizenship law which seeks to make recent migrants to wait longer and prove their ‘university-level’ English proficiency to become Australian citizens.

The manager of Opposition business and shadow minister for citizenship, Tony Burke, accusing the government of snobbery, has deemed the proposed changes as designed to create “a new class of second class Australians."

TONY BURKE
TONY BURKE
AAP

The Labor party is opposed to a stand-alone English-language test in which the government wants migrants to score a Band-6 score in the International English Language Testing System. The opposition says a new English language test is unnecessary.

“The government wants to make it that you have to have the same level of English that a whole lot of universities demand for entrance to their courses," Tony Burke tells SBS Punjabi. "That will guarantee a massive failure rate."

"The level [of English competence] the Government is asking is ridiculous.”

“There’s a large number of Australians who were born here who will never be able to reach that level of English competence,” he says.

“We don’t support the extra layer. The extra layer, the level the Government is asking is ridiculous.”

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The party is also staunchly opposed to the introduction of a longer waiting period before permanent residents can apply for citizenship. In the proposed legislation, that waiting period is raised from one year to four years.

“Some people who have been on two temporary work visas then get on permanent residents, have already been waiting for nine years, they’ll have to wait for another three years,” says Mr Burke.

"They’ll end up waiting 12 years before they can become full Australians."

The proposed new legislation also seeks to give powers to the Immigration Minister to overrule the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in matters of granting citizenship. Labor hasn’t yet taken a position on this.

“We are referring the legislation to a Senate inquiry and if it turns out that there’s a practical, decent way of dealing with that then our advice to the government would be to reintroduce it in a separate legislation and deal with it there,” he says.

“It shouldn’t have been bundled into this.”

Mr Burke rejected Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s assertion that the legislation is linked to the national security. 

"If there is a national security problem for these people, then why on earth does the government have them already living here permanently?" Mr Burke said.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was aghast at the suggestion.

"Does this member imagine for one minute an integrated society, a harmonious society, one based on shared values and mutual respect ... has nothing to do with security?" Mr Turnbull told MPs.

"It is the very foundation of it."

Despite the Labor’s opposition, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton insisted he would be not be compromising on his legislation.

"I'm confident we can get this bill through the Senate because I think ultimately Labor will change their position," he said.

The Government is now relying on crossbench support to get the legislation through the parliament.

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