The Australian government’s controversial attempt to heighten citizenship requirements has been stymied in the Senate, after a coalition of cross-bench support from Labor, the Greens, and Team NXT successfully voted down the legislation.
Had the proposed bill been passed it would have significantly increased the difficulty in becoming eligible for Australian citizenship, thanks to a host of restrictive new requirements, including:
- Increasing the permanent residency requirement from one year to four years
- Making the English language test significantly more difficult
- Introducing a new process for determining whether the applicant is successfully integrating with the community and displaying “Australian values”
- Additional powers for the Immigration Minister allowing them to veto tribunal decisions on citizenship
The legislation’s failure has been described as a “humiliating” defeat for the Immigration Department, with Greens senator, Nick McKim, calling the bill’s demise a victory for Australia’s migrant population.
“Peter Dutton’s been humiliated today by the Senate. He didn’t even have the courage of his convictions to bring the bill on for debate. It’s an indication of cowardice and lack of conviction from Peter Dutton,” McKim said.
“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.”
“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,” he said.
The current leader of the Labor party, Bill Shorten, also criticised the government’s proposed citizenship changes, calling them unfair and ridiculous.
“I think the best thing they could do is just quietly drop the proposals. Here’s an idea for Dutton—maybe he should talk to us before he announces this stuff,” Shorten said.
“If it is bad for the interests of ordinary people, we won’t vote for it.”
However, the Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton, has said that the government will not be abandoning the legislation, and will instead renegotiate with independents and minor parties over possible changes that could be made to an amended bill.
Dutton subsequently confirmed that the citizenship reforms will be redrafted and then eventually reintroduced to the Senate. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) have also stated that all migrants who applied for citizenship after the April 20th deadline will now be processed under the existing requirements.
Although this is being viewed as a victory for Australia’s migrant population, the Immigration Minister has already confirmed that the DIBP want the newly revised legislation in place by July next year. A key element of the changes will involve a lowering of the difficulty of the English-language test from the Band 6 requirement of “competent” to Band 5, which is described as “modest”.
The increased difficulty of the English-language test was one of the most contentious elements of the original bill, with the issue proving to be a crucial concern for the NXT party.
Dutton has accused the Labor party of “acting against the national interest” by choosing to vote against the proposed laws, saying the government has been forced to move “a fair way” towards compromising the legislation.
“The government moves, and you hope that the people you’re negotiating with move their position as well, ultimately to a position of agreement,” Dutton said.
“Our discussions with the crossbenchers continue.”
The CEO of Absolute Immigration, Jamie Lingham, also expressed his support for the legislation’s defeat, characterising it as a win for Australia’s migrant community.
“We think that this is a positive step for Australia’s immigration program, and great news for a significant part of the population that has been dumped on by a government intent on causing division through their poor treatment of migrants,” Lingham said.
“Already we have had a flood of calls from clients looking to secure citizenship, and our advice has been for these people to move as quickly as possible before a tsunami of applications hits the Department. We hope that this announcement will begin to turn the tide of the national conversation surrounding the treatment of migrants, and lead to a greater pushback against the ill-conceived changes that have recently been made to a number of our immigration programs.”
“Whilst we are optimistic, we advise clients to secure their status in Australia as soon as possible to ensure that they will not miss out on an opportunity for citizenship thanks to politically motivated changes to the legislation,” he said.
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