Peter Dutton pressures Labor to support Coalition's citizenship crackdown

Immigration minister says Labor has been ‘talking down’ proposal but he expects independents to support the bill

The Turnbull government will unveil details this week of its planned changes to make it harder to get Australian citizenship.

The immigration minister, Peter Dutton, will introduce legislation to parliament that extends permanent residency from one year to four before people can apply for citizenship, that toughens English language competencies, introduces a values test and requires people to demonstrate they have integrated into Australian society.

He said Labor had been briefed on the bill and he called on the opposition to support the bill through both houses.

“I think it’s an issue that requires bipartisan support,” Dutton said on Sunday. “I suspect we will get support of independent senators ... there’s obviously negotiations to take place in that regard but this is an issue where we would want the Labor party to support the government.

“It is a bill that suits the times we’re living in and the government is very serious about making sure that people who pledge their allegiance to our country mean it, that they abide by our laws and our values.”

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.

In April, Malcolm Turnbull said 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”.

Asked to provide a summary of values he believed all Australians should sign up to, given that people were likely to have different views on that question, Turnbull nominated “mutual respect, democracy, freedom, rule of law … a fair go”.

Senior Labor figures expressed early scepticism about the proposal, including Labor’s Senate leader, Penny Wong, who said the proposed citizenship changes looked cosmetic and politically motivated.

But Dutton said on Sunday the citizenship changes were necessary.

He said a key component of the legislation would force people to stay as permanent residents for a longer time period before applying for citizenship. That would give them more time to demonstrate they had integrated into Australian society, through things like holding down a job or making sure their children went to school, he said.

It also allowed the government to consider people’s behaviour over a longer period before allowing them to become citizens, rather than just a “point-in-time snapshot”, he said.

Four years was on the shorter side of requirements across other western democracies, he said.

“We have a particular problem with gang violence in Victoria at the moment, we’re very conscious of that, so for children under the age of 18, for people that haven’t been of good character, they will need to face further checks as well,” he said.

Dutton also indicated that permanent residents who failed character tests would be still able to stay in Australia unless it was possible to cancel their visas.

“It may mean that they can remain on a permanent visa and become an Australian citizen at some other point in time when they can prove good character, but if they have been involved in violence, gang violence, terrorist-related activities, whatever it might be, then they won’t be getting Australian citizenship,” he said.

The bill is expected to be sent to a Senate committee for detailed examination before it comes to a vote.

He said Labor would see a copy of the legislation this week.

“This is an issue where we would want the Labor party to support the government,” he said. “I know there have been a number of Labor party members who have been out there talking down the proposals that we’re putting forward but I would ask them to wait to see the detail before they decide they’re not going to vote in favour.

“I’m willing to consider any measure which can be demonstrated to keep the public safe, to reduce the threat and to make sure the Australian public has confidence in the migration processes of our country.”


Gareth Hutchens and AAP

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