Citizenship changes: Australian opposition cries foul

Labor disputes Dutton’s claim party was briefed on citizenship changes

Gulf News

Canberra: The shadow minister for citizenship, Tony Burke, has accused Peter Dutton of misleading journalists about having properly briefed Labor on the government’s proposed changes to citizenship laws.

Dutton, the immigration minister, announced on Sunday he would introduce legislation to parliament this week that made it harder to get Australian citizenship.

He said the Turnbull government wanted to toughen English language competencies, introduce a values test, extend the amount of time before permanent residents could apply for citizenship, and require people to demonstrate they had integrated into Australian society. He called on Labor to support the legislation, and said Labor had been briefed on the bill.

“The Labor party will receive a copy of the bill this week,” he said on Sunday.

“They’ve already had a briefing in relation to the bill.”

On Monday, Dutton then announced the legislation would give him power to overrule decisions by the Administrative Appeal Tribunal on citizenship applications that he didn’t think were in Australia’s national interest. He called on Labor to support the bill again.

“It won’t pass through the Senate unless we can get Labor’s support, so that’s the key objective for this week, to speak with the Labor party,” he told Sky News.

“They’ve already had a briefing in relation to many of these matters and once they’ve seen the legislation this week they can ask questions.”

But Burke said on Tuesday that Labor hadn’t been briefed on the policy details that appeared in media reports over the last couple of days. He said the last briefing Labor received was before the 9 May budget, over a month ago.

“I was given a briefing on the 8th of May,” Burke said.

“Was I briefed on the issues of the citizenship changes that were in the papers on the weekend? No, not at all. That’s all new. None of that existed as part of the proposal at the time of the briefing. “[During that briefing], when I asked which parts of what I was being briefed on the government was committed to, the answer was none.

“When I asked, on the English-language test, how many people who currently apply for citizenship would pass the test, the government didn’t know. “When I asked how many Australians would pass the test at a university level, the government didn’t know. “Today I see in the papers, a claim that it is somehow linked to national security ... once again, we’ve got changes here that have appeared in the paper that weren’t part of the briefing, that weren’t part of the government’s original proposal,” he said.

Dutton’s office has been contacted comment.

The government’s proposed overhaul of the citizenship process — which has been in gestation for months — follows the Coalition’s move two months ago to overhaul skilled migration by replacing 457 visas with two new categories that cut off pathways to permanent residency.

Malcolm Turnbull said in April it was time for a new citizenship test that demonstrated people’s allegiance to Australia and whether they were prepared to stand up for “Australian values”.

The Greens’ immigration spokesman, Nick McKim, criticised Dutton’s proposed citizenship changes on Monday, saying they were xenophobic, unfair and must be rejected by Labor.

“Time and again we have seen Peter Dutton grabbing more power for himself, as he tries to make himself judge, jury and jailer,” McKim said.

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