Citizenship minister floats stricter values test for migrants

The citizenship minister says too many migrants are granted permanent residency "before ever stepping foot in Australia".

A Turnbull government minister has flagged a further tightening of visas that grant permanent residency in Australia, claiming too many are granted to migrants before they ever step foot in the country.

Australia accepted around 162,000 permanent migrants last year – well below the annual cap of 190,000 places and the lowest intake in 10 years.

The Turnbull government has attributed the drop to tougher vetting procedures at the Department of Home Affairs, although a former Immigration official has questioned the explanation.

Citizenship minister Alan Tudge said about half of the stream had visas granted after years in Australia on temporary visas, but the other half were “granted full permanent residency before ever stepping foot in Australia”.

“This is less ideal, and something that requires further consideration,” Mr Tudge said in a speech to UK leaders in London.

The permanent migration stream is around two-thirds skilled visas and one-third family visas for their children, parents and spouses.

Mr Tudge said offshore applicants were a “challenge” because “information about individuals is sometimes difficult to obtain from abroad”.

Alan Tudge.
Source: AAP

‘Weakness’ in checking Australian values

Migrants are already required to sign a values statement when they become Australian citizens, but the Turnbull government has long advocated a stricter approach.

The government’s controversial citizenship reforms, which were blocked last year in the Senate, would have introduced a new test on Australian values as well as a tougher English exam.

But senior Coalition ministers have consistently promised another attempt at the reforms in 2018.

Earlier this month, Mr Tudge suggested a new spoken English test might be developed for all migrants seeking permanent residency, possibly including refugees, instead of just citizens.

“We place an emphasis on Australian values as the glue that holds the nation together,” Mr Tudge said on Thursday.

“We do this through requiring people to sign a values statement before coming into Australia, satisfy a citizenship test and pledge allegiance before becoming a citizen.

“The weakness of this, however, is that we presently have few mechanisms to assess people against their signed statement.”

Mr Tudge did not comment on what mechanisms might be considered.

“We need muscular ongoing promotion of our values: of freedom of speech and worship, equality between sexes, democracy and the rule of law, a fair go for all, the taking of individual responsibility,” he said.

The government’s first attempt at sweeping citizenship reforms were blocked by Labor, the Greens and key crossbenchers on the now-rebranded Nick Xenophon Team.

Existing background checks

John Coyne, a former Australian Federal Police intelligence professional now with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the public expected a “rigorous” check of all visa applicants.

He said a tougher values test could be an “effective mechanism” if the values were based on “empirical” evidence rather than political messaging.

But he pointed out that checks for serious red flags, like prior convictions, were “already being done” through the vetting process.

“If there's some evidence out there, sitting in an Interpol database somewhere in regards to a criminal offence or sitting in some form of other database, then of course,” Mr Coyne told SBS News.

He also pointed out Australia was also an exporter of “unsavoury” characters, using the example of tough anti-consorting laws that have seen outlaw motorcycle gangs relocate to cities in South East Asia.

Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese criticised Mr Tudge for going overseas and “talking our country down”, referring to the minister’s comments on how migrants were not integrating to broader society as well as they once did.

“The fact is we have an incredibly successful multicultural nation,” he said.  

Published 20 July 2018 at 7:54am, updated 20 July 2018 at 12:56pm
By James Elton-Pym