Citizenship changes are risky, says Australian Human Rights Commission | The Guardian

Valid reservations, with clear impact on some groups:

The Australian Human Rights Commission has warned the Turnbull government to tread carefully with its citizenship changes, saying the Coalition needs to be mindful of a perception Australia is departing from a non-discriminatory immigration policy.

Members of the commission, including the new president, Rosalind Croucher, appeared before a Senate committee on Wednesday to outline concerns they had about the controversial citizenship overhaul being proposed by the immigration minister, Peter Dutton.

The race discrimination commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, told the committee Australia was a remarkable international success story when it came to the integration of immigrants, and he said if changes were contemplated to the citizenship regime, the case needed to be “compelling”.

He said there was a danger of the government sending a negative signal with onerous new requirements, including an English test requiring university-level language proficiency, which could deter people from taking out Australian citizenship.

“Care must be taken to ensure the wrong signal isn’t sent,” Soutphommasane told the committee.

The race discrimination commissioner also argued the task of managing civic integration was not one that should be confined to aspiring Australian citizens. He suggested there was also scope for improving the civic literacy of Australian-born citizens.

The Turnbull government proposal, which has been badged a national security measure, makes a number of changes to the current citizenship regime.

The legislation 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 didn’t think the decisions were in the national interest, and also give the minister power to decide whether or not the applicant had integrated into the Australian community.

A written submission from the AHRC to the Senate committee examining the legislation recommends that the government’s proposal not be passed in its current form.

It says the government proposal will make it harder for a number of vulnerable groups to become Australian citizens, including children born in Australia to asylum seeker or refugee parents, even after those children have been lawfully in Australia for up to a decade.

“These proposed sections would deny citizenship by birth to certain children born in Australia solely based on the immigration status of the child’s parents,” the submission says.

“The child may have held valid visas and been lawfully present in Australia for his or her entire life, but will be denied citizenship under the 10-year rule because his or her parents arrived in Australia without a valid visa”.

As well as raising concerns about the impact of the citizenship overhaul on children, and people with disabilities, the submission also says the harder English language test will have a “considerable” impact.

The submission notes many Australia-born citizens “would not possess a written or spoken command of English equivalent to this standard”.

It is unclear whether the government’s overhaul will pass the parliament. Labor has raised substantial objections, and the Nick Xenophon Team has also raised concerns about the impact of particular measures.

Source: Citizenship changes are risky, says Australian Human Rights Commission | Australia news | The Guardian

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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