Prior to the commencement of this inquiry, the Australian Labor Party (Labor)
indicated it had grave reservations about measures within this proposed
legislation—in particular, the delays to citizenship eligibility and the new
English language test—and seriously questioned the rationale given by the
Government with respect to the need for legislation for national security and
Throughout the course of this inquiry, the Opposition’s position has
firmed on all of these issues. In every instance, as more detail has emerged,
the seriousness of reasons to oppose this legislation has grown.
Labor opposes the Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment
(Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures)
Bill 2017 (the Bill) and
the three recommendations of the Senate inquiry into the Bill.
The hearings and submissions demonstrate that Labor’s position is
consistent with that of the broader Australian community. It is clear that the
Australian community see this Bill for what it is: a snobbish, unfair and
unfounded attack on citizenship.
The committee heard evidence that the Bill undermines rather than
enhances a cohesive Australian society by setting arbitrary standards of
citizenship that exclude people who are in all respects committed to Australian
laws and making a contribution to our nation. Labor finds that the legislation
does nothing to enhance, but rather risks fragmentation of the social fabric
that holds our nation together.
There are a series of other issues and measures raised in the Bill which
the inquiry has touched on at various points. Some of these other measures may
well have merit. But Labor cannot and will not support legislation that
contains the extension of the permanent residency requirements and the
unreasonable English language test, nor will it countenance amending
legislation which has been brought to the Parliament using the false arguments
of national security and integration.
With that in mind, should the Government want to bring forward these
other measures in a separate bill Labor would consider the other measures in
that bill on their merit, based on a more detailed examination which could be
conducted at that point. As it currently stands however, the bill cannot be
amended to make it acceptable.
Inappropriate English language requirements
Labor rejects the Government’s proposal to increase English language
requirements to university level English, defined by International English
Language Testing System (IELTS) scoring as 'competent'.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection's (the Department's)
submission notes that the current citizenship test requires an English level of
IELTS 4. Labor supports migrants having conversational English language skills
so they can contribute to Australia and participate in economic and cultural
activities. Labor also notes that the current citizenship test requires this
level of English. Professor Elder' made clear in evidence that English
competence is already a requirement.
We already have a citizenship test in Australia in English,
which operates indirectly as a kind of language screen. You can't pass this
test without a reasonable degree of competence in English, and I understand
that I think you heard yesterday that there language courses in place to help
people with their English at the same time as assisting them with the knowledge
required to pass this test. So I think that kind of approach is very useful,
and that the current citizenship test is a sufficient language hurdle.
The Government is proposing in this bill a completely inappropriate
measure—that is university level English. It demands an unnecessary standard
for testing migrants' ability to participate in everyday community life, and is
a level of English that many existing Australian-born citizens might be unable
This view is backed by the professional teachers of English to speakers
of other languages. Evidence presented by the Australian Council of Teaching
English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) Associations (ACTA) stated that
over a quarter of the Australian population would not meet university standard
The university level English test proposal clearly signals the Government’s
snobbish and out of touch approach. It sends a message to every Australian, not
just migrants, that if you don’t have university level English you are not
valued in Australia. The measure is not only snobbish it also targets the most
vulnerable—including women, older migrants, refugees and humanitarian entrants—as
well as particular language communities for whom English learning is more
ACTA's submission condemned the testing regime in very strong terms.
Making an English proficiency test a pre-requisite for
attempting the current (or a modified version of) the citizenship test is to
create an arbitrary and unfair barrier to those who would otherwise pass the
In this respect, it is exactly the same as the dictation test
once used to enforce the White Australia policy.
Settlement Council of Australia's submission cited statistics that:
Analysing AMEP results for the period 2004 to 2012, a
researcher from the Australian National University recently published findings
that indicate that zero per cent of participants scored an equivalent to IELTS
6 after completing their 510 hours of AMEP training.
Evidence before the committee also highlighted that an IELTS test is
also inappropriate because it, and other competing tests, is controlled by a
private company, for making a profit, and that it includes a focus on
International English rather than allowing for common differences with
It is a testing system that the Australian Government or Parliament has no
oversight or control of. 
The IELTS "world view" is a Cambridge view of what
suits the international education and training industry. The growing use of the
test for migration purposes is a windfall for the test owners and is directed
to a purpose for which it was not and is not designed, and in which the owners
have no interest other than a commercial one.
ACTA contends that English proficiency tests designed to
screen entry to education and training institutions world-wide is quite
inappropriate for determining citizenship in Australia. This lack of
appropriateness applies to any level of these tests.
The IELTS owners (like the TOEFL owners) are legitimately
self-interested in promoting their test, which requires meeting certain
professional, technical and other standards. However, the IELTS, like all the
other tests against which it competes, is not open to public or government scrutiny in how it is devised,
maintained, administered, how raters are trained, and how tests are marked.
The complete lack of public transparency regarding the
organisations that own the IELTS, together with the test’s intense promotion on
all their websites, is a source of concern to ACTA. Our concern applies equally
to all the tests that compete with IELTS.
Labor Senators support the view expressed by ACTA that Australian
standards for citizenship should never be outsourced to majority foreign
...the Australian Government should never surrender control
of crucial requirements for Australian citizenship to any international,
overseas and/or commercially driven body or consortium.
Labor also refutes the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection’s
claim that IELTS has two streams that result in different tests. The Department
has argued that the IELTS test is general in nature and not academic, and that
there is a difference in the reading and writing modules. However, the
Government’s own majority report cites the evidence of Professor Catherine
Elder of the Language Testing Research Centre at the University of Melbourne
who stated that the academic IELTS test and the general IELTS test both report
performance on the same scale.
The majority report also quotes Professor McNamara, a linguistic expert at
Melbourne University also said 'the tasks are different but the standard
required is the same'.
Impacts of the English test on
The proposals also disproportionately impact women, including from
refugee backgrounds and those with stay at home parenting responsibilities.
Recent research of 43 refugee women from Western Australia, who desired to be
proficient in English, but found that the 510 hours of AMEP was not sufficient
nor appropriate to their circumstances, because of their pre-Australian
education levels, family responsibilities, health, age, and isolation. Labor
Senators are concerned at the significant extent to which the changes will
exclude refugees, and disproportionately women refugees, from citizenship.
Concerns about these issues have been highlighted in interviews conducted by
Curtin University and the Ishar Multicultural Women's Health Centre who found
that 'family responsibilities, health issues, being older in age, limited
education prior to Australia and isolation were some of the issues which
impacted access to full participation in the Adult Migrant English Program made
available to new refugees.
Labor Senators note that many generations of women who have had little
English because often because of their family responsibilities have made
significant contributions to our nation, the current generation of migrants are
not different, as argued by Mr Achiek, who spoke of his South Sudanese mother.
...I again take you back to my mum, who today still has basic
conversational English, however basic that is. If you say four words at a time,
she won't understand. That doesn't stop her being a committed Australian and
being part of the community and it hasn't stopped her from producing great
Australians like myself and my siblings. If you look at my family, there is me
working to support other young people and I have a masters degree, which I
wouldn't have dreamed of while I was in a refugee camp. My brother has a law
degree and my sister has an accounting degree. It's not because we were smart
kids; it's because we had support from our mother, who doesn't speak English
and at the moment only has conversational language.
In addition, Labor Senators are concerned that the migrant spouses of
Australian citizens may in some cases never be able to become citizens if they
are unable to meet English language tests, again we note that this is likely to
affect those with full time caring responsibilities. It is of great concern
that this means many Australian families will have to suffer the inconvenience
of never being able to travel as a family on Australian passports, as well as
experiencing a range of other difficulties that arise as a parent when you do
not have Australian identity documentation.
Requiring university level English to become a citizen is clearly
elitist and risks creating an entire class of people who may live in Australia
their whole working lives but not be permitted citizenship. The reasons people
do not reach university level language qualifications can be many. In some
cases people have not been university trained and would not be able to achieve
university level language standards in their first language so it would be
extremely difficult to achieve this level in their second or third language. In
other cases people could be working full time or looking after their family,
meaning they do not have the spare time or financial resources to devote to the
intensive study required passing a university level test that many Australian citizens
themselves would not pass.
General residence requirements
Labor rejects the increase to the general residence requirement.
Delaying people making a pledge of commitment to Australia and our laws and
values, does not benefit Australia. This inquiry has shown that the Government's
divisive citizenship changes are driving away potential citizens. During
hearings Senators heard from a range of people with different skills and
qualifications. Concerns around the bill are not limited to sections of the community
or certain visa holders. Submitters noted they have jobs (both skilled and
unskilled), pay taxes, have children born in Australia and are buying houses;
that they are film makers, students, social workers, businesspeople and
The measures proposed are unfair to people who have been a permanent
resident or living in Australia for years, often over a decade, and are almost
eligible for permanent residency and then citizenship.
The Government has provided no basis that this proposal in any way
measures or supports a migrant's effective integration into the community.
Rather, this proposal will completely disregard the valuable economic and
cultural contributions often made by migrants while on temporary visas, and
their commitment to the Australian way of life, in assessing their eligibility
for citizenship. This is notwithstanding the extended period of time often
spent by migrants on temporary visas before being granted a permanent visa. The
average time spent on a temporary visa has been estimated by the Productivity
Commission as 6.4 years.
The increase in the general residence requirement also causes
significant 'visa stress' to people who have been a permanent resident or
living in Australia for many years and who are almost eligible for permanent
residency or citizenship.
The impact of these changes has been detailed in countless submissions
and in verbal evidence before the committee:
I cannot emphasise enough how all-encompassing those factors
are, and I think that's really reflected by the fact that you've got—I think I
was told—something like 14,000 submissions from people, because when these
things change, they affect people's lives so profoundly.
...Part of what this all means for us is that we never know, on
any day, if the Minister might decide to change the conditions of our visa, of
the pathway to permanent residency and citizenship that we have carefully
mapped out. I haven't heard anyone describe this comprehensively before, but I
just call it visa stress. You lie awake at night worrying about the next steps
and the awful possibility that perhaps this time your application will be
rejected and your life will be turned, suddenly, upside down: your work, your
family, your house, all those commitments and plans that you've made.
Labor Senators also agree with concerns raised, by the Andrew &
Renata Kaldor Centre of International Refugee Law and the Gilbert + Tobin
Centre of Public Law, about the perverse outcomes in the new residency
requirement for people who have been already resident in Australia for many
...a non-citizen could apply offshore (i.e. from another
country) to enter and reside in Australia on a permanent skilled independent
visa (Subclass 189). This is a permanent visa, which would see the person meet
the general residence requirement after 4 years of living in Australia. Another
person could apply onshore for the same Subclass 189 visa after many years
living in Australia on a series of temporary visas (visitor, student, temporary
skilled), yet, if the proposed changes are passed, their years living in
Australia on those temporary visas would not count towards their residence
periods. The result is a perverse outcome whereby a person who has been in
Australia longer—and who potentially has built a stronger association to
Australia and made a significant contribution to our society— is penalised when
it comes to accessing citizenship.
The practical implications in day to day life of these changes
were made clear to the committee in the many personal stories of both
inspiration and hardship that we heard. One young woman who has migrated from
India as a student and who has studied and worked in Australia for many years
I keep on trying to find words that would do justice to my
journey here in Australia for the past four years. The truth is this: no words
could describe the hardship I went through, the love I received and continue to
receive from my fellow Australians, and the sense of home I feel today.
On 8 August 2017 I finally became eligible to call this
country home. It was a mere 110 days after the announcement made in April. That
number may not seem much, but for me it has felt like an eternity. The
retrospective aspect that has been inserted into this bill means that my
struggle and my story mean very little.
saddens me to know that if this bill as it stands to date becomes part of
legislation I'll have to wait another three years—a total of approximately
seven years—before I call this beautiful country home. I feel demotivated and
feel as though all the hard work I've put in and all the challenges I've faced
since I landed here are going to be prolonged. For me, citizenship is more than
a piece of paper.
The residence requirements in the bill not only delay people from making
a pledge of allegiance to Australia they can reduce their contribution to the
nation. It can be seen to impact on people’s capacity to travel in a wide
variety of ways, both because of the inability to access an Australian
passport, and the extended residency requirements.
...involved in our group is a PhD researcher in electrical
engineering...at the University of Wollongong. She has an Iranian passport, so
it's very difficult for her to participate in academic conferences on an
Iranian passport. As soon as she applies, there's this extremely long process
that she needs to go through, for example, to attend some of the main academic
conferences held in the United States. So she is, obviously, very keen to get
an Australian passport, because that means that she would then be able to
actually to a better job on her research and disseminate that from an
Australian university. 
Mr Kon presented evidence to the committee that highlighted the
detrimental impact that the increased residency requirement have on his ability
to leave the country for any meaningful period of time as it would cause a
delay in his accrual of his residency. Labor Senators note that the requirement
of one year is achievable but that the introduction of four years has
significant personal consequences for people who are in all respects committed
to becoming good citizens.
...at the end of the day I will personally get to become a
citizen, I will get to do my postgrad and I will go on to live a decent Aussie
life. However, there is a watch which is ticking backwards, because I do not
know what might happen to my grandparents. For instance, what if I receive a
call today to say one of my grandparents was severely ill? In order for me to
visit them or even, if I can make it out, to make the memorial service, I would
have to apply for a resident return visa, which takes at least a week, and pay
$365 and, at the same time, find the money to buy aeroplane tickets. By
definition, if something bad happens to one of my relatives overseas, I will
not get the chance to spend a couple of days with them.
A lack of evidence to justify the changes
Labor notes concern about the lack of detail and evidence presented by
the Government in support of its proposals in submissions and throughout the
Senate inquiry. Justification for changes relies on a Government process led by
Phillip Ruddock and Conncetta Fierravanti-Wells in 2015 which received 2,544
responses and 400 submissions. This Senate inquiry received over 13,500 submissions.
Only a small amount of submissions, less than 0.001 percent, were in favour of
the changes. The main one being from the Government itself.
A number of academics questioned the evidence base provided by the Government.
Professor Reilly, Director, Public Law and Policy Unit, University of Adelaide noted
department uses a report from the Migration Policy Institute, In Search of
Common Values Amid Large-Scale Immigrant Integration Pressures as a key
part of its justification.
Professor Reilly highlighted that the Department wrongly uses the report
to justify 'integration requirements' at an early stage in migration. What the
Department did not say in use of this material is that the report concluded
that while some countries are using such measures, they risk alienating
The Government’s claims around National
Labor has for over a century demonstrated our understanding that it is
the paramount responsibility of all parliamentarians, whether in Government or
in Opposition, to keep our community safe and our nation secure.
Labor does not believe that national security should ever be used for
partisan political purposes, and we will never seek to politicise any
disagreements that we may have with the Government on national security
The Government has claimed that this bill has been developed because of
national security. There was no evidence received from national security
agencies such as the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation or the
Australian Federal Police—the evidence is from a process run by two ex-members
of parliament in 2015. The strongest evidence of the lack of evidence to
increase English language requirements and extend resident requirements for
national security reasons is the Department's submission itself which lists
existing arrangements, provides no additional evidence and vaguely states,
'[t]he measures outlined in the Bill build on these earlier developments and
reinforce the integrity of Australia’s citizenship programme.'
The Department offers no clear evidence or rationale for changes proposed in
If the Government wishes to bring forward measures that benefit national
security there is an established process for doing so. Labor is committed to
bipartisan action on national security to keep Australia safe. Some measures in
the bill may benefit national security but they have been lost in what the
Government itself admits in the majority Government report on this issue is
'legislation by media release'.
The Government has claimed the proposed changes will improve
integration. All of the evidence heard by the committee was to the contrary.
The English language requirements could create a class of people who go their
entire working lives without the opportunity to become citizens. The fact that
someone fails the citizenship test three times they have to wait two years
before they get an opportunity to take it again means people are waiting years
before pledging allegiance to Australia.
The bill will also further disadvantage vulnerable classes of migrants,
including humanitarian entrants, without adequate resources and support for
passing the exam.
The Government has not indicated any intention to provide additional,
improved, more accessible programs to support English language training—even
though this was recommended by the Fierravanti-Wells/Ruddock report.
Recommendation 15: In view of the strong emphasis the
community places on English language, the Government should improve the Adult
Migration English Program (AMEP) and ensure new citizens have adequate (not
just basic) language ability, taking into account particular circumstances.
Labor does agree with the Government that integration is a crucial
element for promoting and fostering a cohesive Australian multicultural
society. For this reason, Labor proudly supports integration programs such as
settlement services, the Adult Migrant English Program, the National Community
Hubs Program, the Translating and Interpreting Service, as well as the range of
State and Territory services and programs aimed at increasing social cohesion
and celebrating modern multicultural Australia. These programs include the ACT
Work Experience and Support Program, NSW COMPACT, NSW and Victoria’s Multicultural
Youth Network, Queensland’s Community Action for a Multicultural Society
program, Victoria’s Settlement Coordination Unit, WA’s Multicultural
Labor Senators agree with views that find that setting arbitrary
standards of citizenship that exclude people who are committed to Australian
laws and making a contribution to our nation does nothing to enhance but rather
places at risk our social fabric.
We're concerned that Australia's inclusiveness and social
cohesion will be adversely impacted by the proposed changes to the citizenship
laws that will effectively exclude significant portions of the resident
populations from citizenship. We think that extended alienation from the
rights, privileges and belonging that come with citizenship risks increased
social fragmentation and disintegration of Australia's largely harmonious
social fabric. The settlement process, we think, ought to advance integration
by being as welcoming as possible, with migrant support, resettlement and
naturalisation to operate within an atmosphere of cooperation. Several proposed
citizenship reforms risk undermining this, putting Australia's vibrant cultural
diversity, success as an immigrant nation, and world leadership in
multicultural policy at risk. Countless waves of refugees in Australia have
demonstrated that arbitrary judgements of English or the initial integration
levels of individuals are not good predictors of future contribution or
commitment to the nation.
The Government has provided no convincing basis that this proposal in
any way measures or supports a migrant's effective integration into the
community. Rather, it proposes to disregard the valuable economic and cultural
contributions often made by migrants while on temporary visas, and their commitment
to the Australian way of life, in assessing their eligibility for citizenship.
Labor thanks the very large number of people who made submissions to
this inquiry and we are particularly grateful to the many submitters and
witnesses for their time and for sharing their expertise and most importantly
personal concerns and experiences.
The submissions and testimony provided during committee hearings
overwhelmingly show that:
the university level English test is unreasonable and snobbish;
the delay in people making a pledge of allegiance to Australia
from increased residency requirements is unfair and will not benefit Australia;
the claims by government that the proposal is about national
security and integration are not evidence based; and
prior to the commencement of this inquiry, Labor indicated it had
grave reservations about measures within this proposed legislation—in
particular, the delays to citizenship eligibility and the new English language
test—and seriously questioned the rationale given by the Government with
respect to the need for legislation for national security and integration. The
proposal is 'legislation by media release'.
Labor shares the concerns of the community in regard to the Government's
proposal and we remain committed to doing our utmost to ensure that this
legislation does not pass the Parliament.
As noted above, there are a series of other issues and measures raised
in the Bill which the inquiry has touched on at various points. Some of these
other measures may well have merit. With that in mind, should the Government
want to bring forward these other measures in a separate Bill, Labor would
consider the other measures in that Bill on their merit, based on a more
detailed examination which could be conducted at that point. As it currently
stands however, the Bill cannot be amended to make it acceptable.
That the Bill not be passed in its present form.
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