Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull takes a selfie with new Australian citizens Lydia Banda-Mukuka and Chilandu Kalobi Chilaika after the citizenship ceremony. Photo: Andrew Meares
18 October 2017
Dutton’s citizenship crackdown doomed after key senators pull support
Michael Koziol – Sydney Morning Herald
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s controversial crackdown on Australian citizenship appears doomed, with the crucial Nick Xenophon Team declaring it won’t support the plan as it stands.
The proposal, which passed the lower house, would introduce a four-year waiting period for permanent residents, tough English language requirements and a test on Australian “values”.
The government will introduce new citizenship laws this week and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says they’ll focus on English language competency and more thorough background checks.
But the changes are set to be blocked in the Senate by Labor, the Greens and now the NXT, which confirmed its position to Fairfax Media on Tuesday.
“We will not be supporting the bill’s passage through the Parliament,” NXT senator Stirling Griff said. Mr Dutton’s plan was “an attempt to fix problems that don’t exist”, he said.
“We’re a nation built on migration and the envy of the world when it comes to a harmonious multicultural society. The system isn’t broken, there’s no need for it to be repaired.”
Senator Xenophon also confirmed: “We’ve got serious concerns about the bill in its current form.”
Senator Griff sat on a Senate inquiry into the proposed citizenship changes, and has authored a report opposing most elements of the package.
Fairfax Media has not seen the report but has been told it recommends the bill not proceed. The NXT will oppose higher-level English language testing, arguing the current citizenship test sufficiently tests English by proxy.
The party also opposes retrospective changes that would require permanent residents to wait four years before applying for citizenship. “It’s horrible”, Senator Griff said. “You don’t backdate everything.”
In addition, the NXT objects to Mr Dutton’s bid for the power to overturn decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal on citizenship matters, believing it would deny due process.
NXT senator Stirling Griff authored a damning dissenting report on the citizenship bill. (Photo: Andrew Meares)
The minor party is also against capping the number of times a prospective citizen can sit the test, and contends any “values test” should be decided by the Parliament, not Mr Dutton.
Senator Griff claimed the package was an attempt to “chop the migration numbers in half without actually making an announcement that you’re going to cut it”.
Asked if there was any room for negotiation, he said: “I don’t think there’s any room if this is a complete package.”
A spokesman for Mr Dutton said: “The government is discussing the bill with the crossbenchers as is normally the case.”
It is understood Labor and the Greens have not budged from their stated positions of opposing the bill outright.
The surprise position from the NXT – whose votes are essential for the government to pass any bill opposed by Labor and the Greens – will force the Turnbull government to dump the proposal or go back to the drawing board.
Prior to the Senate inquiry, Senator Xenophon flagged his “broad support” for the measures announced by the government, but did express some concerns about English language testing.
Fairfax Media understands Liberal Party senators will also express reservations about some aspects of Mr Dutton’s bill in their report, to be published Tuesday afternoon.
Committee chair Ian Macdonald, a LNP senator from Queensland, last week said he had concerns about the retrospective aspects of the four-year waiting period, among other issues.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection confirmed at a public hearing that anyone who applied for citizenship after the policy was announced on April 20 would be captured by the new rules.
“The government were quite clear that they wanted it from date of announcement,” the department’s first assistant secretary David Wilden said.
Senator Macdonald lamented that “unfortunately, government by media release … is nowadays just a fact of life”. “I personally think that there should be some ministerial discretion … in the transitional period,” he said.
[Read the Sydney Morning Herald article].