Labor decides to oppose citizenship changes

Ciudadano australiano sostiene su certificado de Ciudadanía obtenido en ceremonia en Brisbane el 26 de enero de 2017. Source: AAP

Labor caucus met in Canberra this morning and has decided to vote against the proposed citizenship law in its current form.

The federal opposition has decided to oppose the coalition government’s proposed changes to the citizenship legislation which seeks to introduce a mandatory English proficiency requirement and increase the waiting time for permanent residents before they can be eligible for Australian citizenship.

The Labor caucus met this morning and has decided to vote against the Federal Government’s proposed citizenship law in its current form.

Tony Burke, Shadow Minister for Citizenship called the proposed legislation a "massive overreach". Commenting on the English requirement, he said a large number of Australians will never reach the level of English required. 

"The challenge with the English language test, that they've set it so high, is just ludicrous and absurd, and dumb," the ABC quoted Mr Burke as saying.

"It is not over cooking it to say this is about who we are as a country. This is who we identify as an Australian citizen," he said.

Mr Bourke also dismissed the argument that the proposed changes were in the interest of 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," he said.

When the changes were first announced in April, Labor said some of the proposed changes were reasonable and that it would consider them. 

But on Monday night, the shadow cabinet decided to block the changes, particularly increasing the waiting time from one year to four for permanent residents before they can apply for Australian citizenship. The Labor is also opposed to a tougher English language test.

According to the government’s proposed legislation introduced in the lower house of parliament last week, citizenship applicants will be required to achieve IELTS Band 6 score in English test to be eligible for citizenship.

The representative body of the multicultural communities in Australia, Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) is also opposed to the introduction of a stringent language test.

"Australia is a country of immigration and forever we've not only received people but allowed them to work and contribute regardless of their linguistic background. I know thousands and literally thousands of older Australians now who don't speak English well who've made an enormous contribution," says Pino Migliorino of FECCA.

Among the laws brought before Parliament is one granting power to Immigration Minister to overrule the Administrative Appeals Tribunal so that if it gives citizenship to someone despite a ruling from the Immigration Department, he can override it.

The Immigration Minister already has the power to override the AAT’s decisions related to visas but not in relation to the grant of citizenship.  

The proposed law also seeks to introduce an Australian values statement that a citizenship applicant would be required to sign.

Labor's opposition to the bill means the coalition will have to seek 10 crossbench votes to pass it through the Senate. The Greens have already labelled it xenophobic and unfair. 

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