Peter Dutton would be given the power to overrule independent tribunal decisions on citizenship applications that he doesn’t think are in Australia’s national interest under new legislation.
The Turnbull government will be unveiling details this week of its planned changes that make it tougher to get Australian citizenship.
The legislation will give the immigration minister the power to reject decisions on citizenship applications made by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal if he doesn’t think they are in the national interest. He can now reject AAT rulings on visa applications but said he would like the same power for citizenship applications.
“What we’re talking about here is just providing the same arrangement that we do for visas now,” he told Channel Seven on Monday. “This is really just trying to align the arrangement in terms of citizenship with the laws that exist in relation to granting and cancellation of visas.”
He said people could still appeal his decision at the federal and high courts.
The new powers form part of the government’s proposed changes that make it harder for people to get Australian citizenship.
The government wants to extend permanent residency from one year to four before people can apply for citizenship, toughen English language competencies, introduce a values test and require people to demonstrate they have integrated into Australian society.
The overhaul of the citizenship process – which has been in gestation within the government 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, has criticised Dutton’s proposed citizenship changes, saying they are 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 jailor,” McKim said. “He has repeatedly shown he cannot follow the current laws – now he wants to get rid of the right of the courts to correct his unlawful decision.
“This a draconian measure aimed at undermining multicultural Australia.”
Tony Abbott told 2GB radio on Monday the AAT lacked common sense and if tribunal members made “bizarre decisions” they “shouldn’t have their contracts renewed”.
Dutton said some of the AAT’s visa decisions had been hard to accept. “I think some of the decisions they make are rightly overturned and I’ve done that in relation to a number of cases,” he said.
“We have been very deliberate in cancelling visas of people that have committed crimes. Outlaw motorcycle gang members, for example, who are the biggest distributors of ice in this country, we’ve cancelled a record number of their visas.
“The ability of the way in which the law operates now is they can appeal to the AAT but the minister of the day can substitute that decision of the appeal tribunal, so we’re just aligning [the citizenship laws] with that current law.”
Dutton also said that, under the new legislation, young migrants may have citizenship refused and their visa revoked if they fail to pass a character test. He pointed to young people involved in the violent Apex gangs in Melbourne, saying they may not get citizenship in the future.
“My view is that if 15, 16, 17-year-olds are involved in adult-like criminal behaviour – that is, following people home from restaurants, breaking into their houses, home invasions, stealing cars, breaking into jewellery shops, at the moment they might be on an automatic pathway to citizenship because their parents have been granted citizenship,” he said.
“What I’m saying is, they need to conduct themselves within the law.
“If they don’t, and they fail that good character test, then they could stay on a permanent visa depending on the arrangement but they wouldn’t be getting citizenship.”