What happened to Australia's proposed citizenship law

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Turnbull, Dutton
Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (L) and Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton speak on Australia's citizenship test during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, April 20, 2017. Reuters/Lukas Coch

The federal opposition has decided to block the proposed overhaul to the citizenship legislation. Shadow Minister for Citizenship Tony Burke said the proposed changes were a “massive overreach.”

The Labor group met on Tuesday and voted against the Federal Government’s proposed citizenship law in its current form. Burke commented on the new English requirement, saying that even some Australians would never reach the level of English proficiency required.

"The challenge with the English language test, that they've set it so high, is just ludicrous and absurd, and dumb," ABC quotes Mr Burke as saying. Those applying for Australian citizenship will be required to score IELTS Band 6 in the English test to be eligible for an application, according to the government’s proposed legislation introduced in the lower house of parliament.

The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA), which represents the body of the multicultural communities, is also against the tougher language test. FECCA’s Pino Migliorino argued Australia is a country of immigration that receives people and allows them to work and contribute regardless of linguistic background. According to Migliorino, thousands of older Aussies do not speak English well but they have made vast contributions.

The changes were first announced in April, and by that time, Labor said some were reasonable and that it would consider them. Australian Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull has linked the government’s citizenship overhaul to national security.

But Bourke dismissed the argument. "If there is a national security problem for these people, then why on earth does the Government have them already living here permanently," he said.

Under the new changes, residency obligation of migrants will be up from one year to four. The shadow cabinet also opposed increasing the waiting time for permanent residents before they can apply for citizenship.

One of the laws brought before Parliament is one that grants power to the immigration minister to overrule the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. That means he can override if it grants citizenship to someone regardless of a ruling from the Immigration Department.

Already, the immigration minister can override the AAT’s decisions related to visas. The proposed law is also aimed at the introduction of an Australian values statement that a citizenship applicant would be obliged to sign.

Since the Labor group opposed the proposed changes, the coalition will now need to seek 10 crossbench votes to pass it through the Senate. The Greens have already called the bill “xenophobic and unfair," SBS notes.

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