Labor poised to deliver verdict on Coalition's citizenship changes

Shadow cabinet to meet in Canberra on Monday night before caucus considers legislation on Tuesday morning

Labor appears poised to either amend or reject the Turnbull government’s citizenship package, with internal concerns centring on the new English language test and residency requirements.

The right and left caucus, and the shadow cabinet, will meet in Canberra on Monday night and it appears certain, given the level of internal concerns, that Labor will resolve to either amend the citizenship bill or signal complete opposition.

The Labor caucus is due to consider the issue formally on Tuesday morning, after the shadow cabinet position is ticked off by a backbench committee.

The government bill, which has been badged a national security proposal, makes a number of changes to the current citizenship regime.

The bill extends permanent residency requirements from one year to “at least four years” before someone can apply for citizenship and requires most applicants to provide evidence of “competent” English-language proficiency before they can become a citizen.

It would give the immigration minister power to overrule decisions on citizenship applications by the administrative appeals tribunal if the minister doesn’t think the decisions are in the national interest, and also give the minister power to decide whether or not the applicant has integrated into the Australian community.

While the government has been keen to ratchet up political pressure on Labor over the citizenship issue, concerns have been raised in Labor from both right- and left-aligned MPs about the practical implications of the proposed changes.

Much of the objections centre on the new English proficiency test, and the requirement that people are permanent residents for a minimum of four years before becoming citizens.

Some Labor MPs have also raised concern the longer pathway to citizenship relates to a desire on the part of the Coalition to stop new arrivals going on the electoral roll, given that new arrivals are more likely to vote Labor.

The electoral roll issue was raised in last week’s Labor caucus meeting.

Last week Malcolm Turnbull used a national security update to parliament to urge Labor to support the government’s citizenship package, arguing that new arrivals need to “join us as Australian patriots”.

But while the government has framed the changes as a values proposition and a national security proposition, the changes have been blasted by the Law Council of Australia.

The law council president, Fiona McLeod, has criticised the government’s attempt to expand the immigration minister’s power to overrule independent citizenship decisions made by the tribunal.

Before Labor’s internal deliberations, the frontbencher Linda Burney said on Monday: “There are aspects to this particular piece of legislation that we need to understand very carefully.

“Things like, for example, the language test. Is it based at the right level? Is it fair? There are many issues to this piece of legislation.”

The Greens have already signalled opposition to the package.


Katharine Murphy Political editor

The GuardianTramp

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