The changes to Australian Citizenship announced by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on 20th April 2017 have created turmoil in Parliament and frustration amongst thousands of future Australians. In spite of facing great opposition in Parliament, the Government decided to go ahead and implement controversial eligibility conditions for granting citizenship.
Shadow Minister of Citizenship, Tony Burke, is adamant that at least two of the changes being introduced are not acceptable: the new requirement for proof of English proficiency and the extension from one to four years for permanent resident to be able to apply.
The controversy does not stop there. The new citizenship Bill is already being applied by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. Applications submitted on or after 20 April 2017 are being required to comply with ‘the new law’ already. The proposed changes are retroactive. Turnbull’s battle in Parliament to pass the Bill goes beyond the fact that the proposed legislation appears to be extra restrictive. The fight has opened a complex debate on the limits between governing and legislating.
If on one hand applicants are feeling lost and betrayed, the opposition in Parliament is outraged. Critics of the Bill insist that, by applying the changes retroactively, the Prime Minister is exercising a legislative power that he did not and does not have. The Government is being accused of unilaterally adopting new rules without the Parliament’s approval. This debate gets even more complicated when one points out that it is still uncertain, at least at this point, whether the Parliament will pass the Bill in the coming months.
The Government, on the other hand, insists that changes are necessary to the current system in order to promote economic participation and ensure social cohesion. It hopes to achieve these goals by implementing six main measures: applicants will have to demonstrate language competency, integration into their community, adherence to Australian values, reside in Australia for 4 years, pass a citizenship test, and pledge allegiance.
In the meantime, ten of thousands of citizenship applications are piled on the desks of the Department of the Immigration and Border Protection. A few of those are from people who got caught in the legislative and political cross fire. The end of the story remains to be seen!