Government slammed for ‘retrospective’ implementation of citizenship changes

Australian citizenship Source: GettyImages-AsiaPac

Government and opposition MPs have traded barbs over the proposed citizenship law that requires migrants to demonstrate 'competent' English proficiency.

The opposition and the government MPs have traded barbs in parliament over the proposed citizenship law that seeks migrants to demonstrate competent English proficiency and make them wait longer before they can become Australian citizens.

Shadow Minister for Citizenship, Tony Burke criticised the Federal Government for implementing the changes to the citizenship process without “any legislative authority”.

“What was the risk here when the government decided that this would be retrospective?” he asked.

“The risk was that people who were eligible for Australian citizenship might apply. People who were eligible and legally able to become Australian citizens might apply.” 

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced an overhaul of Australia’s citizenship law on 20th April this year and the changes apply to all applications made on or after the day of the announcement.

Satinder Pal Singh-an Indian migrant is one of the thousands caught in the citizenship imbroglio. He tried to submit his citizenship application on 13th April, before the changes were announced, but a glitch in the Immigration website crashed his citizenship dream.

“Newly arrived migrants have an every right to feel upset about government’s forced approach. I have started thinking if this is the new way of keeping new migrants away from the voting right,” said Mr Singh.

According to the proposed legislation, permanent residents will have to wait for four years instead of one year before they can apply for Australian citizenship. The government also proposes to introduce a stand-alone English language test and wants citizenship aspirants to achieve a band-6 score on the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test.

Slamming the government for the proposed changes, Shadow Minister for Citizenship, Tony Burke said these were “much more offensive” than section 18C changes.

In June, Labor decided to oppose the government’s proposed legislation and referred it to a senate committee for an inquiry. Shadow Minister for Immigration, Shayne Neumann said the government was “undermining and preventing” people from pledging allegiance to Australia who wanted to become Australian citizens.

“The current citizenship test is already in English and these proposed changes by the government are an additional test being added to the list of their desired requirements,” he told Parliament.  

“Being an Australian citizen should be about your values and commitment to this country, not whether a person can speak a university level of English.”

The government vehemently refuted Labor’s claim that it wanted to introduce a “university-level” English requirement. Government MP Ted O’Brien said the government was proposing a test already being used by many other countries, including the UK, New Zealand and Canada.

“There is a separate testing system for those applicants who want to study here in Australia,  and another separate strain for the wider immigration programme. The levels of proficiency required under different streams [of IELTS] are different and fit for purpose,” he said.

“The general stream test is far less onerous and this is where the Labor party are being irresponsible and creating fear among the very people who are trying to master English enough to pass level six.”

Launching a blistering counter attack, Mr O’Brien called the Labor’s approach “despicable” and said it wanted to make Australia “ungovernable”.

Mr O’Brien said the Labor’s opposition to the changes stems from its “capitulation” to the socialist left while Labor leader Bill Shorten had initially expressed support for the changes soon after they were announced in April.

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