SYDNEY: Canberra on Thursday unveiled plans to put “Australian values” at the heart of tougher requirements to gain citizenship, days after scrapping a visa programme for temporary foreign workers.
The moves came against a background of growing populist pressure and a resurgence of the anti-immigration One Nation party led by Pauline Hanson.
“We’re defined by commitment to common values, political values, the rule of law, democracy, freedom, mutual respect, equality for men and women,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters.
“These fundamental values are what make us Australian. Our citizenship process should reflect that. So today we are announcing changes to strengthen citizenship, to make for a stronger Australia, stronger citizenship, stronger citizens.”
The new requirements include competent English, belief in gender equality and a four-year qualification period. Candidates for citizenship will be required to be permanent residents for four years against the current one-year period.
They will also need to demonstrate a job record and how they have integrated into the local community.
The current “civics” test for would-be Australians would be expanded to include issues such as domestic violence, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said.Some 114,109 people sat the Australian citizenship test in 2014-15, with 112,474 passing it, according to the latest immigration figures.
The test changes, like the visa announcement, were welcomed by Hanson, who has long pushed for tougher immigration rules. “Does anyone really imagine Malcolm Turnbull’s new ‘Australia first’ #AustralianValues approach isn’t because of One Nation pressure?” Hanson tweeted on Thursday.
But the opposition criticised the citizenship overhaul as political theatre to appease right-wingers. “One suspects that Malcolm Turnbull is having much greater focus on [predecessor] Tony Abbott or perhaps One Nation, than on any real and substantive change here,” Labor Senator Penny Wong told ABC radio. “Let’s remember that these [domestic violence] are criminal acts that are proscribed by Australia’s criminal law. That is the harshest way of ensuring as far as we can that these are values that people uphold.”
The government on Tuesday scrapped a visa programme for temporary foreign workers and replaced it with a new system aimed at reducing unemployment among Australians.
Echoing US President Donald Trump’s crackdown, Turnbull said the new regime “will be manifestly, rigorously, resolutely conducted in the national interest to put Australians and Australian jobs first”.
Amendments to the citizenship law will be put to parliament shortly.
Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2017