Stirling Griff, a member of the crucial three-person Nick Xenophon senate team, slammed the changes in a late-night speech in the chamber just after 10pm on Monday. (Photo: SBS)
18 October 2017
05 September 2017
Marija Zivic, James Elton-Pym – SBS
The Turnbull government’s plan to increase the barriers to Australian citizenship with a tough English language test looks all but certain to be blocked in the Senate, following a fiery speech from a key crossbencher.
Stirling Griff, a member of the crucial three-person Nick Xenophon senate team, slammed the changes in a late-night speech in the chamber just after 10pm on Monday.
“It instils fear and it foments hate,” Senator Griff said. “It targets families and children as if in an attempt to wear them down to ultimate defeat.”
With Labor and the Greens against the bill, the Turnbull government will not have the numbers to pass the bill through Senate if the Nick Xenophon Team remains opposed.
“What the government is trying to do is nothing short of un-Australian,” Senator Griff said.
Nick Xenophon Team’s opposition centres on the government’s plan to implement a new English language test for all citizenship applicants, except those from the UK, US, Ireland, Canada and New Zealand.
Migrants would need to pass a standalone English test at IELTS Band 6 – a higher level than is currently required.
Critics said the requirement was too strict and would lock out less-educated migrants, especially those who came to Australia as refugees.
“The bill targets … vulnerable people. It ignores everything we know about the protections these people ought to have and says to them, ‘You aren’t good enough, literate enough, smart enough, hardworking enough’ – or maybe, even by inference — ‘white enough to be an Australian’,” Senator Griff said.
The senator said his own grandparents would have failed the test. They fled Russia in 1900 and came to Australia with “limited” English, he said.
Senate committee may recommend easier test
A cross-party Senate committee is due to report to Parliament on Tuesday after a series of public hearings investigating the predicted impact of the reforms.
They are expected to recommend the English test be revised to make it easier, the Guardian Australia reports.
The government gives eligible migrants and refugees 510 hours of free English lessons through the Adult Migrant English Program, but critics have said the lessons would not be sufficient to meet the new requirements.
The Immigration department itself told the Senate inquiry the adult lessons would need to be improved.
Increased English requirements have been a major sticking point for ethnic community groups ever since the changes were announced in April.
The Turnbull government says it will continue pursuing its plans, which are aimed at improving integration and employment outcomes for migrants as well as stopping criminals and terrorist sympathisers from being granted citizenship.
As well as the new English test, the reforms include a four-year wait instead of one before permanent residents can apply for citizenship.
There would also be a new values test, to check where migrants stand on child marriage and domestic violence.
Immigration minister Peter Dutton has said the changes would help people integrate with broader society.
“Australian citizenship should be highly valued, and the government’s changes will ensure that it is a privilege obtained by only those who’ve demonstrated the most sincere commitment to Australia, our values and respect for our laws, as it should be,” Mr Dutton said last month.
Applicants under 16 and over 60 would be exempt from the new test, as well as people with certain disabilities.
Children born in Australia to parents without valid visas would not be automatically eligible for citizenship either.
Senior Research Fellow at the University of Western Sydney’s Institute for Culture and Society, Shanthi Robertson, told SBS World News the changes were unnecessary.
“It’s just yet another hurdle, yet another obstacle, another hoop they have to jump through on the increasingly long journey to citizenship,” she said.
[Read the SBS article].