Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has ramped up pressure on Labor to support the Government’s sweeping changes to citizenship laws which aim to prioritise “Australian values”.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the changes in April, declaring that migrants must prove their commitment to the nation with a tough new citizenship test and more stringent English language test.
There have been differing views on the proposal within the Labor caucus and Mr Dutton today took up the issue in Question Time.
“What has become evident over course of the last five weeks is that on a fundamental issue you would have thought the Labor party could unite, but they haven’t,” he said.
“And Mr Speaker what is evident is that just as on their boats policy we’ve seen on this policy the left and the right are completely divided.
“[Mr Shorten] needs to state his position, Mr Speaker. Is he in favour of the citizenship changes? Or is he not?”
Lateline understands the policy was informed in part by confidential National Security Commission documents, obtained by the program last year.
The documents urged stronger controls over access to citizenship, pointing to Lebanese migrant enclaves to illustrate potential community safety and national security risks associated with unsuccessful integration.
New test includes university-level English
Under the Government’s proposed changes, migrants would have to pass an IELTs 6 test, which is university-level English that includes writing an academic essay.
Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs Zed Seselja is the son of Croatian migrants, but he is a firm supporter of the changes.
“For that first generation, if they haven’t learnt English there can be a struggle communicating sometimes with their own kids or grandkids. That’s not ideal. I wouldn’t want to see that with my parents or grandparents,” he said.
He said workplaces have changed from previous generations, when English skills weren’t as necessary in some industries.
“Working today in a factory is more complex than working in a factory 40 years ago,” he said.
“There’s more computerisation, OH&S standards have changed so it is a different work environment and while it’s never been ideal I would put it to you that it’s certainly harder now if you don’t have a good level of English to get most of the jobs on offer.”
English standards and radicalisation
Senator Seselja said raising English standards could reduce isolation, and hence the risk of radicalisation.
“We know that where there are high levels of isolation there is a danger of radicalisation. We know that’s one of the dangers,” he said.
“To the extent that people feel part of a community, to extent they are able to get along with fellow citizens, interact with their fellow citizens, I guess radicalisation is less of a risk, whilst I do acknowledge there are far more complex aspects to radicalisation as well.”
But Labor MP Anne Aly, who is an Egyptian-born counter-terrorism expert, disagrees.
“To suggest that having academic-level English is some kind of magic panacea to radicalisation I think grossly misunderstands radicalisation,” she said.
“There is absolutely no empirical evidence to suggest there is any relationship between an individual’s English language competence and their propensity to become radicalised to any form of violence.”
Dr Aly also used to teach English and believes level 6 IELTs for citizenship sets a high bar.
“Do we really expect people to be able to do that? Do all jobs require you to write an essay?” She asked.
Watch the story on Lateline tonight at 9.30pm on ABC News or 10.30pm on ABC TV.