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Current attempts to strengthen citizenship requirements not supported

Strengthening of English language requirements for Australian Citizenship have been quashed with key crossbench Senators announcing they will not support proposed amendments to the Government's Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 in its current form.

Law Council President, Fiona McLeod SC, and Migration Law Committee members David Prince and Carina Ford presented evidence to the Parliamentary Committee inquiry late last month.

Concerns were raised about the necessity to raise the level of English required for citizenship, a lack of clarity around new citizenship eligibility criteria with details to be determined by legislative instruments and not included in the Bill, the introduction of a limit to the number of times a person can take the test and the proposed inclusion of a ‘good character’ requirement for minors.

Proposals to increase the Immigration Minister’s powers to set aside decisions of the Administrative Appeal Tribunal on public interest grounds and revoke citizenship on the grounds of fraud or misrepresentation were also cautioned against.

Ms McLeod told the Committee that the Bill must be assessed in the context if a citizenship policy which affirms the rule of law and provides the right balance between executive power to act in the national interest and the rights of individuals who are subject to that power.

“There is a question of balance here,” she said. The role of Australian citizenship in fostering social cohesion and promotion of an inclusive and democratic society was acknowledged, as was the potential for the introduction of tougher English language requirements to disadvantage particular groups, especially refugees and humanitarian entrants who may not have had the benefit of education or for whom learning a language may be made more difficult by trauma or experiences of torture.

“The English language testing thresholds should be lowered, in our view, from the level proposed in the Bill, with alternate methods to formal testing made available,” Ms McLeod said.

“A definition of the relevant English language threshold should be included in the Bill, not in a legislative instrument.

Exemptions from the requirement to take the test should be broad and flexible, with no limit on the number of times a person can take the citizenship test.”

Ms McLeod said if a character requirement for applicants aged 18 years or under is to be introduced the good character requirement should apply to applicants only aged 10 years and older.

“These are children we’re talking about, we would prefer not to see that test for minors,” Ms McLeod said. The Law Council will continue to work with key Parliamentarians as the Bill is debated in the Senate.

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