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Government’s proposed citizenship changes face new challenge from Greens

Source: AAP

The Government’s proposal to make Australian citizenship tougher for migrants may face a new hurdle from The Greens.

The Government’s proposed citizenship legislation is listed for introduction and passage through Parliament in the current Spring sittings, but the Immigration Minister says the Government is still consulting about the key components of the legislation.

Immigration Minister David Coleman told SBS Punjabi that the Government has been “involved in consultations”. He did not give any timeframe on when the Bill may be brought in Parliament.

“In terms of the timing of the legislation is not something that the Government comments on the specificity,” Mr Coleman told SBS Punjabi.

Greens Immigration Spokesperson Senator Nick McKim says the Government doesn’t have the numbers to have the Bill passed through the Senate.

“If the Government thought they had the numbers in the Senate to pass this Bill, they would have moved for debate and passed it already,” Senator McKim told SBS Punjabi.

He says if the Government delays a debate on it, his party would once again move to have it removed from the Senate notice paper.

“The Greens aren’t prepared to just sit by and just allow this legislation to remain on notice paper if the Government isn’t going to bring it on. We will certainly consider once again to have this legislation struck off the notice paper if we think the government is using it for political posturing.” 

The Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill was removed from Senate notice paper last year. The Government then failed to bring it in Parliament before 1 July 2018, which is when they intended to implement it.

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet later included it in the list of Bills intended to be introduced for passage in the Spring session of Parliament, which began in August.

The Government’s first draft Bill sought to make migrants wait four years as permanent residents before applying for Australian citizenship, and required them to prove competent English proficiency.

A united opposition forced the Bill off the Senate notice board in October last year after it was passed by the lower house. The key sticking points were increased general residence requirement for permanent resident up from one year and a stand-alone English test for migrants.

The Government has since softened its position on some elements of the law, including the English test which now could be a “primary school-level conversational test” - something that the previous Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge referred to in June.

Mr Coleman says it makes “a lot of sense” for people to learn English.

“I think it’s common sense to say that some level of English is a positive thing and the more English people are able to speak, the more they are able to speak, the more they are able to participate in the Australian life,” he said

Nick Mckim
Greens Senator Nick McKim

Both the Greens and Labor remain firm on their opposition to a stand-alone English language test.

“We don’t think it’s appropriate to be testing for English because there are a number of people who history has shown have made fantastic contributions who would have failed a primary level English test,” Senator McKim said.

The party is also opposed to making migrants wait longer to be able to apply for citizenship and the legislation seeking to give the minister powers to overturn decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in matters of Australian citizenship.

Shadow Citizenship Minister Tony Burke has also made his party’s opposition to the citizenship changes known. In the face of a united opposition, the Government will need nearly all the crossbench senators to help pass the changes through the Senate. Senator McKim says the Government hasn't brought the Bill for a debate is an admission that it doesn't have the numbers to pass it through Senate. 

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