The decision by Turnbull and Dutton to strengthen tests required to be passed by applicants for Australian citizenship is clearly designed in part to improve Coalition polling and to attempt to convince the electorate that Turnbull himself has adopted a more conservative approach, both generally and on immigration policy. Whether this happens in next Monday’s Newspoll (when my wife and I will be driving to Canberra for the music festival in which my daughter is playing) will be of some interest. Shorten has not yet given any substantive response.
Polling aside, it is a welcome initiative as regards immigration policy, particularly in emphasising the importance of immigrants accepting Australian values and being able to speak English competently (see joint press release below on Citizenship Tests).
For the most part the joint statement appears to be limited to a strengthening of the tests, which is nonetheless important given that the existing arrangements appear to have been only loosely applied. This emerged in the Press Conference held by the two ministers (see Citizenship Tests – Transcripts), with Immigration Minister Dutton acknowledging the inadequacy of tests of whether children have been sent to school and of checking whether applicants have criminal records. That existing checks on criminal backgrounds are, for example, described by Dutton as “clearly insufficient” is alarming in itself. Note also his claim that under Labor’s 457 temporary visa arrangements there was “essentially… no testing”(that was changed earlier this week).
The statement also contains what appears to be an important test that is additional to the existing. This does not appear in either the Press Release or the Transcript of the press conference. But the Discussion Paper issued under the names of the two ministers states that
“In addition to existing police checks which are undertaken as part of any application for citizenship, an applicant will also be assessed for any conduct that is inconsistent with Australian values, such as domestic or family violence, criminality including procuring or facilitating female genital mutilation and involvement in gangs and organised crime” (see Citizenship Tests Paper Issued by Turnbull & Dutton).
This appears to be the reason for the statement to be regarded as targeting Muslims, which has been explicitly denied by Dutton but which the Australian’s editorial effectively affirms in stating that
“Given concerns over Islamist terror around the world and the radicalisation of young people in schools such as Punchbowl Boys High in southwest Sydney, it is appropriate that new rules will target religious extremism. The attitude of some Muslims to husbands beating their wives, occasional instances of under-age “marriage”, and problems such as the genital mutilation of girls and the restriction of girls’ education are anathema to Australian values. It is only fair, to potential newcomers and the rest of the nation, that Australian values be made clear from the outset”.
The Discussion paper invites the public to “provide your views to Government via email to the citizenship submissions mailbox at email@example.com. You have until 1 June 2017 to provide your views”. This provides an opportunity to further expand the tests. Note that “the Government will introduce new citizenship related legislation into the Parliament, informed by responses to this paper, by the end of 2017. The package of reforms will apply to applications received on or after the Government’s announcement on 20 April 2017”.