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Changes to Australian Citizenship Laws

Fluent English, four years of residency, Australian values

Prospective Australian citizens will need to have fluent English, four years of residency, Australian values, and a demonstrated capacity to integrate as part of an overhaul of the citizenship test announced by the Turnbull government this morning.  The changes comes as part of a major overhaul of Australian citizenship laws announced today.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says there is “no more important title in our democracy than ‘Australian citizen’, and the institution of citizenship must reflect Australian values.

“We’re not defined by race or religion or culture, as many other nations are,” he said.

“We’re defined by commitment to common values, political values, the rule of law, democracy, freedom, mutual respect, equality for men and women … and our citizenship process should reflect that.”


Minor offences probed

The current system sets a good “character test” which rules out anyone with a conviction of a serious offence. For the first time domestic violence, gang related activity and organised crime associations will be included in more forensic police checks.

A government source claimed that the new test would look more deeply into people’s history for even minor offences which were not consistent with Australian values such as social welfare fraud and abuse.

New questions that would target religious extremism will be designed to demonstrate appreciation of Australian values, with potential questions to include whether the principle of religious freedom allowed for children to marry, genital mutilation, striking a spouse and prohibiting girls from school.

A position paper to be released today and obtained by The Australian cites national security and the global threat of terrorism as factors in the decision to update the Citizenship laws to re-affirm a commitment to democracy and bolstered Australian values.

“Recent terrorist attacks around the world have justifiably caused concern in the Australian community,” it says.

“In the face of these threats, there is no better time to reaffirm our steadfast commitment to democracy, opportunity and our shared values.

“The Australian community expects that aspiring citizens demonstrate their allegiance to Australia, their commitment to live in accordance with Australian values and their willingness to integrate into and become contributing members of the Australian community.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the government made no apologies for wanting new Australian citizens to integrate.

“We want people to be able to send their kids to school, to take advantage of a great education system,” he said.

“We want people to be able to work if they’re of working age and to make sure that if they have a capacity to work, they’re contributing and not leading a life on welfare.

Mr Dutton outlined the four key aspects of the overhaul:

• The current residency requirement to be eligible for citizenship will increase from 12 months to four years;

• Applicants will be required to pass an English language test equivalent to IELTS level 6 equivalent, or a “competent” English language proficiency level;

• The government will make changes to the pledge of Australian citizenship and add questions to the current test aimed at cracking down on inappropriate attitudes on issues such as violence against women, child and forced marriage, female genital mutilation, etc;

• Applicants must provide evidence of integration including employment, tax payments and schooling for children;

Mr Dutton said the government would consult around the changes to questions and pledge and the values requirements between now and June 1.


Test limits apply

The new requirements will also limit the number of times an applicant can fail the citizenship test to three (at present there is no limit), and introduce an automatic fail for applicants who cheat during the test.

Mr Dutton said the current multiple-choice test was essentially a civics test, that asked questions of people.

“What we’re saying is that we want people to demonstrate the fact that they have, if they’re of working age, that they have worked over that period of four years, that they have sent their children to school,” he said.

“We would ask questions for example, as we’re seeing in Melbourne at the moment, if kids are roaming the street at night as part of gangs in the apex gangs or elsewhere in cities like Melbourne, whether or not that is adopting an Australian value. Clearly it’s not.

The Immigration Minister said he believed there was a deficiency in the way the current test was applied, and said the new test would work alongside current laws to crack down inappropriate conduct.

“For example, a perpetrator of domestic violence,” he said.

“My view is that that person shouldn’t become an Australian citizen. We can ask that question but we can also undertake our own checks in relation to police checks or whatever the case might be. So that’s how you can adopt, apply the test.”

Mr Dutton said there were currently criminal background checks for applicants, but the current checks were “clearly insufficient”.

Mr Turnbull conceded that practices such as genital mutilation and forced marriage are already illegal, but said questions on such matters in the new test were necessary to reinforce Australian values.

“Are you proud of our Australian values? Are you a proud Australian? You should stand up for it. You should stand up for those values and that’s what we’re doing,” he told a journalist.

“You see if we believe that respect for women and respect for women and children and saying no to violence against women and children, if we believe that that is an Australian value and it is and every one of you does believe that, then why should that not be made a key part, a fundamental part, a very prominent part, of our process to be an Australian citizen?

“Why should the test simply be a checklist of civic questions, all very important, about the parliament and how many senators there are from each state. These are all important things to know, no doubt, but fundamentally, the values which bind us together are those ones of respect, the rule of law, commitment to freedom, democracy, these are the key elements in our Australian identity and our citizenship should reflect this.”

Mr Turnbull said members of the Labor Party were criticising the proposition that prospective citizens should have competent English.

“Really? Are they serious?” he said.

“I mean does anybody doubt that if you want to succeed, if you want to even have a chance of succeeding in Australia, you need to be able to speak English?

“It is the single best thing any person coming to this country can do is learn English and that’s why Peter’s department put such a big effort into it.”

Mr Dutton said people would lie on the new citizenship test in relation to issues such asdomestic violence.

“I mean they lie now in relation to citizenship tests and in relationship to laws that exist now,” he said.

“That is not an argument for us to do nothing in this space.

“Domestic violence is a significant issue in this country, and we shouldn’t tolerate one instance of it, and the fact that somebody might fudge an answer on a test or an application is no argument against us asking people if you want to become an Australian citizen, abide by our laws and our norms.

“If somebody lies in an application, if they are fraudulent in their application for Australian citizenship, there is an existing power under the act in certain circumstances to revoke that citizenship.”

Mr Turnbull said the government would be briefing the Opposition and crossbench about the new laws “today or as soon as possible”, subject to their availaibility.

‘Current test in English’

Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong said the current test was in English.

“It’s a test that was largely designed by John Howard, so I have to say this looks to me like the change you make when you want people to notice and one suspects that Malcolm Turnbull is having a much greater focus on Tony Abbott or perhaps One Nation than on any real and substantive change here,” she told ABC radio.

Ahead of the PM’s announcement this morning, Senator Wong said she didn’t quite understand what was being proposed, but believed the current pledge of allegiance was sufficient.

“Frankly if English grammar is the test there might be a few members of parliament who might struggle, but let’s understand what does our current pledge say?” she said.

“It says that you ‘pledge your loyalty to Australia and its people whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey’.

“That’s our current citizenship pledge. Now I think those sentiments are pretty good.”

Senator Wong said said the questions on issues such as female genital mutilation, domestic violence and forced and child marriages involved offences which were criminal acts proscribed by Australian criminal law.

“That is the harshest way, as we should, the harshest way of ensuring as far as we can that these are the values that people uphold,” she said.

“You know what those questions are? They’re saying ‘do you support complying with Australia’s law?’ I mean all of those actions are criminalised in Australia.

“I have to say it seems a little odd to me that you’d actually ask people whether or not they’re going to obey the law when they already pledged to obey the law. I mean these are, as appropriate, these are criminalised activities.”

Abetz welcomes reforms

Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz has welcomed the the citizenship changes, saying he has long been an advocate for similar reforms.

“One of the greatest gifts that anyone can ever receive is Australian citizenship and so it’s vital that people who are joining Team Australia understand and abide by our values and understand our community expectations.,” Senator Abetz said.

“Many parts of the world have a dramatically different idea of how fellow members of the community should be treated and as we’ve seen in recent times, some people who come to Australia still seek to preach and practice such appalling behaviour.

“For instance, it’s important that new Australians understand that violence towards women, female genital mutilation and throwing people off buildings for their sexuality is totally unacceptable. We also expect people to make a contribution to the community through participating in the workforce.”

Senator Abetz said basic concepts such as learning English, getting a job and becoming involved in the community were all vital components of a successful immigration policy.

“It is good for the new arrival, their family and the Australian community,” he said.

“The Prime Minister’s announcement today, along with the recent reworked Multicultural Statement, are very positive steps in the right direction and I am pleased that the government is resisting the political correctness brigade to implement these important reforms.”

‘No shame in Australian values’

Earlier, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says he doesn’t think Australians should be ashamed of saying that we want people granted Australian citizenship to abide by Australian laws and values.

“I don’t think we should be ashamed of saying that we want people who are going to abide by the law, people who are going to pick up Australian values, still honour their heritage, but when you’re in Australia you abide by Australian laws, you abide by our values,” Mr Dutton said this morning.

“At the same time we want people to honour and respect their heritage and their culture, the country from which they’ve migrated, but once you’re here and once you seek Australian citizenship we do very clearly want you to be part of our team and we want you to be abiding by laws, we want you to be adopting Australian values and integrating into Australian life.

Asked what he meant by “Australian values”, Mr Dutton said he abhorred domestic violence.

“I think perpetrators of domestic violence or people who would advocate violence against women don’t deserve Australian citizenship,” he said.

“I’ve been very clear about that. I believe that if you have children of school age, every effort should be made to see their regular attendance at school, because part of the opportunity of living in Australia and becoming an Australian and adopting Australian ways is that you take advantage of a great education system, not having kids involved in gang violence, for example, or breaking laws otherwise, so I think it’s an adoption, frankly of common sense.

Asked how a citizenship could police attitudes on domestic violence given people were unlikely to advocate it on a citizenship test, Mr Dutton said the government would continue to work with state and local government authorities to crack down on perpetrators as they currently do.

“There is a test of good character at the moment, and we can look at the evidence available to us,” he said.

“We can look at information that people provide to us. Obviously we can seek information from state and local government authorities in relation to the consideration of an application and that’s the way that these matters are determined.

“There are people that advocate and there are people that perpetrate domestic violence and we have the availability of that information otherwise, whether they’re honest on their test or not, there are other ways that we can work with state authorities to identify those people.”

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the new citizenship would ask a series of questions to highlight inappropriate attitudes.

“I don’t think anyone could seriously defend an attitude that says women are not equal to men, or that violence against women is acceptable, so we’re looking to test attitudes to ensure that people who take out Australian citizenship, and it is a privilege to become an Australian citizen, so it has responsibilities and obligations with it, that they are prepared to embrace the values, the laws, the attitudes that we have as a society that’s made us so successful,” Ms Bishop said.

PM ‘trying to save own job’

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Australia was an immigration nation, but people who come here should adhere to Australian laws and values.

“I think though that what’s happened here is Mr Turnbull’s just trying to save his own job,” Mr Shorten told Lateline last night.

“For Labor this is not a new issue. We said before the last election there were rorts in the visa system. We said before the last election more needed to be done on apprenticeships. Now we’ve seen nothing done on those matters since the last election.

“The only thing which Malcolm Turnbull is worried about is keeping his unhappy backbench from rolling him. It’s a very divided government.”

Asked whether he agreed with the new policy of restricting migrants to three attempts at a citizenship test, Mr Shorten said he would look at the detail of the policy before commenting.

“I’m not going to start reacting to every government policy which is not spelled out,” he said.

“I’m not going to start commenting about news which we don’t have the information, but let me make it clear: anyone who comes here should adhere to Australian laws.

“Anyone who comes here should fit in with Australian values.”

Source: The Australian, published 20 April 2017

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