Changes to Australian citizenship laws blocked

By Melissa Coade|19 October 2017

Attempts to beef up the requirements to obtain Australian citizenship were thwarted this week, after the government failed to muster cross-bench support.

Legal groups have been following the progress of the proposed changes to Australian laws that, if successful, would make it harder for people to be eligible for citizenship.

On Wednesday the government failed to get enough numbers in the Senate to support the reforms, which would have included raising the permanent residency requirement to four years from one year, making the English language test more difficult and rolling out a new process for determining each applicant’s Australian values and their integration into the community.

A last-ditch attempt by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to get cross-bench support involved moves to water down the hard-line reforms.

However, a manoeuvre by the Greens meant that when the Coalition failed to garner enough support by 7.20pm on Wednesday evening, the legislation was struck from the Senate notice paper.

Commenting on the failed passage of the citizenship bill, Law Council of Australia (LCA) president Fiona McLeod SC told ABC News 24 admonished the notion that a minister’s powers should be extended so that it infringed on the rule of law.   

“We have been expressing serious concerns for some time about the [minister’s proposed] power to override the Administrative Appeals Tribunal decisions but also some other concerns with the bill,” Ms McLeod said.

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“There [were] a number of issues about citizenship that the government was seeking to introduce with this bill.”

She added that the idea of introducing a new English language test for citizenship, and the standard of that, was a major concern.  

The LCA also took exception to the government’s proposed values and character test, which were to be introduced by way of an instrument whose content was subject to the minister’s discretion. By not including these things in the citizenship legislation, Ms McLeod said government transparency remained a concern.  

In the wake of the failed Senate vote, Minister Dutton told Sydney’s 2GB radio that he would continue to put forward “sensible changes around tightening up the citizenship requirements”.

“The Australian Labor Party has decided that they want to side with the Greens on this issue and play games. Now we will still negotiate (with) independent senators, but the reality is that I think Bill Shorten will have a lot to answer for,” Mr Dutton said.

Changes to Australian citizenship laws blocked
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