June 27, 2017

Opposition opposes gov't reforms to Australian citizen law

20 June 2017, 04:50 | Darnell Patrick

FIle image of Deputy Leader of the Opposition Tanya Plibersek and leader Bill Shorten speaking at a media conference

FIle image of Deputy Leader of the Opposition Tanya Plibersek and leader Bill Shorten speaking at a media conference

Labor's citizenship spokesman Tony Burke launched a savage attack on the changes, rejecting outright the government's claim that the legislation was linked to national security. "We have worked up a package which I believe is appropriate and balanced", he said.

"We think that the Government's citizenship laws do have flaws, and we're going to kick it around at caucus and have a look at the matter", he said.

He said it was "a freakish act of snobbery" on all Australians and "a fundamental shift in how Australian citizenship is defined", adding that a "very large number" of Australian-born citizens would never pass such a test.

Labor has accused the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, of using changes to Australia's citizenship laws as a campaign for the Liberal leadership and has confirmed it will oppose the package.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has proposed migrants wanting to become Australians will have to sit a stand-alone English language test before being allowed to apply for citizenship and demonstrate a "competent" level of reading, writing, listening and speaking.

"I think it is important for us to get Labor's support because we do want to have bipartisan support. on a law that will serve our country well for many decades to come", he said.

He said the government risked having "a group of permanent residents who live here their entire lives and are never invited to pledge allegiance to Australia".

When the citizenship changes were announced in April, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten initially said it was "reasonable" to expect a degree of English proficiency and to have a waiting period for aspiring citizens.

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Labor should recognize that citizenship needed to be more than an "an administrative tick-and-flick form-filling process".

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton dismissed that claim as nonsense and insisted he would be not be compromising on his legislation.

"He needs to follow up and he needs to rein in the left of his party", Mr Dutton said on Tuesday morning.

Labor's opposition, along with the Greens', would mean the government will need the backing of Pauline Hanson's One Nation, the Nick Xenophon Team and other crossbenchers to pass the bill through the Senate.

"[To] never be able to be told by the Australian government, 'You belong.' That is a fundamental change in our country and we will not support that change occurring", he said.

The government, which has attempted to elevate the proposed changes to a national security issue, leapt on Labor's opposition.

"[Labor is] disrespecting Australian citizenship by failing to recognise that integration, citizenship and the harmony and the mutual respect that comes from shared political values that unite us, that requires a respect for citizenship", Mr Turnbull said.

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