Dutton offers easier English test as defeated citizenship bill set to be revised

The government's sweeping reforms to citizenship will be redrafted with an easier English language test and eventually reintroduced to the Senate, immigration minister Peter Dutton has confirmed.

Key points: 

  • Govt's proposed English test will drop from IELTS 6 to IELTS 5 
  • Dutton wants new rules in place by July 1 next year 
  • Migrants who applied for citizenship since April 20 will now be processed under existing rules
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 on Wednesday after missing a deadline to pass the bill.

Mr Dutton on Thursday said the government was willing to accept migrants who pass an English entrance exam at the Band 5 on the international testing standard, rather than Band 6 as previously proposed.

The tougher Band 6 test was a major sticking point in the Senate, including for the crucial Nick Xenophon Team on the crossbench. Band 5 is described as "modest" English user, rather than a "competent" one.

Mr Dutton also confirmed tens of thousands of citizenship applicants who applied since the changes were announced in April will now be processed under the existing rules. The minister told a committee in mid-July this year there were 47,328 people who would be affected because they lodged their citizenship applications on or after April 20.

The original bill failed to pass with Labor, the Greens and the Nick Xenophon Team all opposed. On Wednesday night, a deadline imposed by a Greens tactical manoeuvre expired, and the bill was struck down.

But the government plans to reintroduce the bill later, aiming to have the new requirements come into effect on July 1 next year. 

Mr Dutton accused Labor of "acting against the national interest" by siding with the Greens to defeat the bill, speaking with reporters on Thursday. 

He said the government had moved "a fair way" in compromising on the package. 

"The government moves, and you hope that the people you're negotiating with move their position as well, ultimately to a position of agreement," Mr Dutton said. 

"Our discussions with the crossbenchers continue." 

Labor leader Bill Shorten indicated his party was unlikely to support a revised bill.

"Who knows what Dutton will cook up now. If it is bad for the interests of ordinary people, we won't vote for it," Mr Shorten said.  

The changes included making permanent residents wait four years to apply instead of one, introducing tougher English language tests and giving extra powers to the immigration minister to veto tribunal decisions on citizenship.

Mr Dutton said the changes were in response to

Greens senator Nick McKim, who was instrumental in the move to defeat the package, said Australian migrant communities would celebrate the demise of the bill.

“There are many thousands of people whose lives have basically been put on hold by Peter Dutton and from today those people can move forward with their lives, make choices about their future and have confidence that their applications will be assessed under the current legislation,” Senator McKim told SBS World News.

“We want people to pledge their loyalty to Australia and to say they sign up to our rights and liberties and people to make the commitment to Australia,” she said.

Fiona McLeod, head of the Law Council of Australia, said her group's main concern was a provision in the bill that gives the immigration minister the power to override decisions on citizenship made by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. 

"What the minister is seeking to do is give himself the power to override the decision of the independent umpire," Ms McLeod told SBS World News. 

She also criticised the long wait thousands of applicants had endured since April 20.

"If the law changes simply because a minister makes an announcement of an intention to introduce new legislation, then that creates great uncertainty. And as we've seen with many thousands of people, it's created a great unfairness," she said. 


4 min read
Published 19 October 2017 at 8:29am
By James Elton-Pym