On the 20thApril 2017, former Prime Minister, Malcom Turnbull and former Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, announced proposed changes to Citizenship policy and regulations.
What Were The Changes Announced?
These changes would impact anyone wishing to apply for Citizenship, as they were to be retrospective and affect any applications received on and after the 20th April 2017.
Under the proposed changes, applicants would be required to demonstrate a minimum of four years in Australia as a permanent resident immediately prior to applying for citizenship, with a maximum of 12 months residing outside of Australia in this four year period.
Currently, applicants for citizenship need to be resident in Australia for four years, but they only need to be a permanent resident for one year. Under the proposed change, applicants would need to have been permanent residents for four years.
This change would affect those who entered Australia on temporary work or humanitarian visas. These people would no longer be able to count this time as temporary residents towards the residence requirement for citizenship.
Applicants would also need to demonstrate Competent English language listening, speaking, reading and writing skills before being able to sit the citizenship test.
Additionally, applicants would be required to demonstrate their integration into the Australian community.
Under these proposed changes, applicants would need to evidence:
- for those who can work, that they are in fact working, are actively looking for work, or are seeking to educate themselves;
- that they are contributing to the community by being actively involved in community or voluntary organisations;
- that they are properly paying their taxes and ensuring their children are being educated as required.
An applicant’s criminal records would also be relevant.
There were also proposed changes to the Citizenship test, with the addition of new test questions about Australian values, and the privileges and responsibilities of Australian citizenship.
Citizenship application forms were also to include a reference to allegiance to Australia, and require applicants to make an undertaking to integrate into and contribute to the Australian community.
And finally, applicants would have three attempts to pass the citizenship test. After their third attempt, their application would be rejected and a two-year bar imposed on making a new application for Citizenship after having a previous application refused.
What Has Happened Since The Changes Were Announced?
The proposed changes, which sought to tighten the eligibility requirements for citizenship, were contained in the Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill 2017. The Bill proposed various changes to the criteria for citizenship by conferral (or ‘naturalisation’), including a higher English language threshold, extension of the minimum permanent residency period from 12 months to four years, and a new requirement that applicants have ‘integrated into the Australian community’. The Bill also provided greater discretions to the Minister to grant, refuse and revoke citizenship.
In arguing for these changes, the Government claimed that the new measures aimed to promote integration and safeguard national security. However the proposed legislation was met with criticism by multicultural groups and migration policy experts as potentially undermining integration and social cohesion, by creating a significant bar to citizenship for many permanent residents.
Other parliamentary parties issued dissenting reports opposing the legislation. The Bill passed the House of Representatives, but was not debated in the Senate and was discharged in October 2017.
A new similar Bill was introduced into the Senate in 2018, but it was not debated, and lapsed in April 2019.
Although attempts to pass these changes were ultimately unsuccessful, a number of these issues could potentially re-emerge in the future.
Have There Been Any Citizenship Changes Implemented?
Despite the above proposals not having been enacted to date, there have been other changes which have been introduced.
So, what has changed?
Changes to the Australian Citizenship Test
On the 17th September 2020, the former Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, Alan Tudge, announced that the Australian Citizenship Test would be updated to include a new section on Australian values.
The new questions cover freedom of speech, mutual respect, equality of opportunity, the importance of democracy and the rule of law.
The updated test comprises of 20 multiple-choice questions, five of which are on Australian values, and which must all be answered correctly to pass the test.
Additionally, an overall test score of at least 75% is required to pass the test.
These changes to the Australian Citizenship Test came into effect from 15 November 2020.
What Type of Australian Values Questions Can Be Asked?
Here is a sample of the types of questions that could be asked on Australian values.
Which of these statements best demonstrates Australian values about freedom of expression?
- Everyone can peacefully express their opinions within the law
- People with different views from me need to keep quiet
- Only approved topics can be discussed
Should people in Australia make an effort to learn English?
- People in Australia should speak whichever language is most commonly spoken in their local neighbourhood
- There is no expectation to learn any particular language in Australia
- Yes, English is the national language of Australia and it helps to get an education, a job, and to integrate into the community
In Australia, can you encourage violence against a person or group of people if you have been insulted?
- Yes, if you do not intend to carry out the violence
- No, it is against Australian values and the law
- Sometimes, if I feel very offended
Should people tolerate one another where they find that they disagree?
- It is against the law to disagree with one another
- No, people only need to treat each other with respect if they agree with one another
- Yes, peaceful disagreement reflects Australian values in relation to mutual respect
Which of the following is an example of contributing to the Australian community?
- Volunteering or fundraising for a charity is a great opportunity to strengthen our community
- I should not make any effort to get to know other people
- People in Australia should not contribute to the community because Australia is a free country
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Australian Government – Department of Home Affairs – Immigration and citizenship – Australian citizenship – Citizenship interview and test – Read Our Common Bond booklet
Australian Government – Australian Citizenship – Our Common Bond – Booklet
Parliament of Australia – About parliament – Parliamentary departments – Parliamentary library – Research publications – Parliamentary library briefing book – Citizenship – Claire Petrie, Law and Bills Digest
Australian Government – Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet – PM Transcripts – Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia – Turnbull, Malcolm – Press Conference with the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, The Hon. Peter Dutton MP – 20/04/2017
Australian Government – The Hon Alan Tudge MP – The Hon Alan Tudge MP – Former Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs – Focus on values in updated Australian Citizenship Test – Thursday, 17 September 2020