Peter Dutton is using citizenship laws to campaign for Liberal leadership, Labor says

Labor to block citizenship changes, which it says are ‘inconsistent with who we are as a country’

Labor has accused the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, of using changes to Australia’s citizenship laws as a campaign for the Liberal leadership and has confirmed it will oppose the package.

The Labor caucus on Tuesday morning signed off on a recommendation to block the government’s citizenship changes, which the shadow minister for citizenship and multiculturalism, Tony Burke, described as a “massive overreach”.

Burke told reporters the government’s legislation took some steps, “which, put simply, Australia should never take – and are inconsistent with who we are as a country”.

Labor’s decision to reject the package followed the ventilation of strong concerns internally from MPs from both the right and left factions about core elements of the changes, including the new English language test and residency requirements.

The government, which has attempted to elevate the proposed changes to a national security issue, leapt on Labor’s opposition.

The prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, declared Labor “does not value Australian citizenship enough to say, as we do, that it must be more than simply the outcome of an administrative tick and flick form-filling process”.

Turnbull said the title, and the role of Australian citizen, “is the most important in our democracy”.

“Surely we care enough about our democracy, about citizenship, to say that it should be given, granted to people who make a commitment to our nation and share our values”.

The immigration minister, Peter Dutton, said the decision showed the Labor leader, Bill Shorten, was being “monstered” by his party’s left faction.

“This demonstrates to all Australians that Labor is completely divided on the citizenship bill.”

He said would-be citizens needed to “abide by Australian laws, to abide by Australian values”.

Burke said Labor had taken the decision to reject the proposal unanimously because core elements of the package were deeply unacceptable.

He said the proposed language test required a university level grasp of English and “what sort of snobbery leads a government to say, unless you reach a university level of English, we’d rather you weren’t here?”

Burke said if there was “a national security problem” for people in the country already living as permanent residents, “then why on earth does the government have them already living here permanently?”

“It is a leadership campaign for Peter Dutton,” Burke said Tuesday. “It is a very silly game, and a very dangerous game, because he is not just playing with some random law here or there, he is talking about the thing that defines who we are as a nation.

“You don’t play games with that”.

The government will now have to rely on crossbench votes to pursue the citizenship package and Dutton told parliament the government did not intend to “back down”.

The proposal the government is seeking to legislate 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 also 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.

Labor proposes to send the legislation to a Senate inquiry.

Burke said on Tuesday if that inquiry threw up “sensible changes”, which could be considered calmly, then the government could bring forward a new package and Labor would look at it.


Katharine Murphy Political editor

The GuardianTramp

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