Peter Dutton concedes he will need to rethink English test in citizenship overhaul

Nick Xenophon Team signals immigration minister will need to ‘go back to drawing board’ on whole citizenship package if he wants legislation to pass

The immigration minister, Peter Dutton, has admitted he will need to overhaul the English-language test in the government’s citizenship package to have any hope of getting the legislation through the parliament.

But the critical parliamentary powerbroker on the controversial citizenship overhaul, the Nick Xenophon Team, is signalling the rework will need to be more broad-ranging than just the language test.

“There are so many components of this whole package that are a problem,” the NXT senator Stirling Griff told Guardian Australia on Tuesday. “Our position hasn’t changed at all.

“Peter Dutton needs to go back to the drawing board.”

Last week, the Senate gave Dutton four sitting days to put his controversial citizenship bill up for debate, otherwise it would be struck from the notice paper.

The procedural pincer movement in the parliament came less than a week after the Nick Xenophon Team derailed Dutton’s attempt to enact the citizenship package, saying it could not support it in its current form.

The government does not currently have the numbers to get its citizenship overhaul – which has been badged politically as a national security measure – through the parliament.

It has been unclear how the government would respond to the current parliamentary deadlock – whether it would pull the whole package, or negotiate – but Dutton on Tuesday signalled for the first time he was prepared to negotiate.

Asked whether he was prepared to overhaul the English-language test, which currently requires a university standard of language fluency, Dutton told Sky News: “Of course we are flexible.”

The minister said he was talking with Nick Xenophon in an effort to reach a compromise. Dutton described the dialogue with the NXT as “constructive”.

The government needs the NXT bloc because both Labor and the Greens are opposed to the package.

Dutton said the government’s objective was to ensure would-be citizens had a functional level of English, and improved their language proficiency over time.

The citizenship changes in their current form 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 6 of the international English language testing system (IELTS).

The package also gives Dutton significant power to overrule decisions on citizenship applications by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT).

As well as raising broad-ranging concerns about the practical implications of the package, the NXT has expressed particular objection to the enhanced ministerial powers over tribunal decisions.

Griff said on Tuesday the government needed to go back to the drawing board and consult more widely about the implications of the changes.


Katharine Murphy Political editor

The GuardianTramp

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