The Coalition’s citizenship changes are facing defeat in parliament, after Labor’s decision to oppose them. Labor’s move is a welcome shift, after Bill Shorten initially suggested he might accept them, and months of hesitation.
The changes are simply a political stunt aimed at spreading fear about migrants and trumpeting the government’s hardline approach. Turnbull and Dutton proved this when they accused Labor of endangering national security by opposing them.
There has been shock from many new migrants at the plan to make them wait longer for citizenship, requiring four years on a permanent resident visa. People who spend years in Australia on temporary visas, like student visas or temporary work visas, could end up waiting over ten years before they can apply.
Tuğçe Guler, who helped organise a rally against the changes in Melbourne, explained, “I got my permanent residency visa in August 2016 and have been living in Australia since February 2013. I had just six days until I was eligible for citizenship and now I have to wait three and a half more years”.
In a further piece of unfairness, Dutton wants to make the new requirements apply from the day of the bill’s announcement, 20 April. So despite the fact the legislation has not passed through parliament, the government is refusing to process 81,000 citizenship applications in the hope it can apply the new procedures to them.
The Human Rights Commission says the revamped language test would require a higher level of English than “many Australian-born citizens”. The standard is equivalent to that required at university, according to Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane.
Some may struggle to ever become citizens. As many as 30,000 to 40,000 less people would gain citizenship each year, analysis by Peter Mares suggests. Refugees, who sometimes arrive with low literacy skills in their own language, would be among the worst affected.
Labor’s Tony Burke pointed out that, “This introduces permanently in Australia a large group of people—an increasingly large group of people—who… will always be told by the Australian government they don’t completely belong”.
Already, the government is discriminating against refugees who arrived by boat by refusing to finalise their citizenship applications. This means it is almost impossible for them to bring family members here.
Taqi Azra, a Hazara refugee from Afghanistan, told the Melbourne rally, “I came to Melbourne in 2010 and in 2016 passed my citizenship test as well, but I am still waiting [for citizenship]. Thousands of people from my community who came by boat are facing the same issues.”
Further evidence of the racism behind this is the new “values test”, which suggests that Australians have superior values to migrants. Applicants will be asked questions such as whether it is lawful to strike your spouse or to deny education to girls. These play to racist prejudice about migrants, and Muslims in particular.
Migrants will also have to present proof that they are, “behaving in a manner consistent with Australian values”, through working, volunteering in the community and sending their children to school.
Labor has focused its opposition on the language test, but won’t criticise Dutton’s racist “Australian values” test, with Bill Shorten saying, “we believe everyone should sign-up to our values”.
The outcome of the legislation will be up to crossbench Senators including Nick Xenophon. There is every reason to think these changes can be stopped.
By James Supple