Peter Dutton’s Citizenship Bill fails after Senate ultimatum

Peter Dutton failed to meet a Senate-imposed deadline to bring his bill for debate. (Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP)

Changes include quadrupling the time people must wait for citizenship, but will not now be debated in their current form

Gareth Hutchens

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Peter Dutton’s controversial citizenship bill has failed to pass the Senate, leaving the package dead in its current form.

The Turnbull government will now be forced to make significant amendments to the bill before restarting negotiations, after the immigration minister failed to meet a Senate-imposed deadline on Wednesday to bring the bill on for debate.

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“Today, the people of Australia have shown what we can achieve when we stand together,” McKim said on Wednesday. “People who are working, studying and raising families in Australia can now get on with their lives and make choices about their future, after they were so unfairly put on hold for months.”

Dutton told the Australian that the government remained committed to its citizenship package but he would not say when it intended to try to get an overhauled package through parliament.

The Nick Xenophon Team last month derailed Dutton’s attempt to enact his tough new citizenship laws, saying it could not support his package in its current form.

Among other components, NXT senators did not like the aspect of the bill that gives the immigration minister power to overrule decisions by the administrative appeals tribunal on citizenship matters.

After it became clear last month that Dutton’s bill could not get through parliament as it stood, a majority of senators voted to give him until Wednesday to bring his citizenship package on for debate in the Senate. The Greens, whose motion it was, said they were tired of Dutton telling voters how crucial his bill was while simultaneously withholding it from the Senate so it couldn’t be debated.

The bill did not make it to the Senate on Wednesday in time for debate, so was discharged from the notice paper.

Dutton conceded to his colleagues on Tuesday, in the Coalition party room, that he would now be willing to reduce the bill’s English language test from level six (university standard) to level five.

Guardian Australia also understands his office has raised the prospect with crossbenchers of amending the retrospective elements of his bill that have caused consternation.

But those amendments will not be enough to persuade the Nick Xenophon Team to support his bill, nor the Greens or Labor.

Dutton’s office has approached key members of the NXT in the past few days to talk about possible amendments to his bill but it appears he has left it too late.

The component in the bill that gives Dutton the power to overrule decisions by the AAT does not appear to have figured in discussions with crossbenchers about possible amendments.

With the citizenship bill struck from the Senate notice paper, the government will have to move a motion to restore the bill to the notice paper, but the Senate will not support that. It means the Dutton will either have to dump his package completely or make substantial changes to get his bill through parliament again.

The bill, as it stood, would increase the waiting times for permanent residents before they could apply for citizenship (from one year to four years) and force new applicants to complete a tougher English-language test (and achieve a pass mark of 75%) equivalent to level six of the international English language testing system (IELTS).

It would also give Dutton the power to overrule decisions on citizenship applications by the AAT if he did not think the decisions were in the national interest, and give him power to decide whether or not the applicant had integrated into the Australian community.

The NXT senator Stirling Griff decided not to support the bill after weeks of public hearings, during which senators were warned repeatedly the legislation could deter people from applying for Australian citizenship.

Griff said it was clear the government’s changes were an attempt “to fix problems that don’t exist”.

“A number of the witnesses during the inquiry pretty much suggested the legislation was all about One Nation, about the Liberals cosying up to One Nation,” Griff said last month.

The Greens had not been contacted by Dutton’s office in the past week. They expected the bill to be struck from the Senate notice paper on Wednesday evening.

[Read the Guardian article].

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