Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill 2017 (CTH)

Friday 16 June 2017 @ 1.49 p.m. | Immigration

The Parliament of Australia has seen the introduction of the Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill 2017 by the Turnbull Government on 15 June 2017. The Bill will set out to strengthen the requirements to become an Australian citizen by increasing the residence requirement and introducing an English competency requirement among other things.

The Bill

Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton, introduced the Bill by exclaiming that “Australian citizenship is an extraordinary privilege.” He stressed that the success of Australia as a nation is based on its shared values, rights and responsibilities. He said of the Bill:

“The measures contained in this bill will help us build on this success. It will ensure that we continue to welcome new Australians committed to making a positive contribution through the many opportunities our country affords.”

Mr Dutton emphasised that the Bill is a result of the 2015 “National consultation on citizenship: your right, your responsibility” which he described as indicating Australia’s support for strengthening the test for Australian citizenship. More importantly, he argued in the Second Reading Speech, the community expects that aspiring citizens demonstrate their allegiance to Australia and their commitment to live in accordance with Australian values and laws irrespective of race, of religion, of nationality or of ethnic origin.

Measures in the Bill

The Bill will introduce a number of new requirements to become an Australian citizen. Changes will include:

  • Changing the resident requirement from four years lawful stay to four years permanent residence;
  • Increasing the English language requirement from basic English to a competent level of English;
  • Requiring the signage of an Australian Values Statement prior to application;
  • Requiring applicant to demonstrate their integration into society in a manner consistent with Australian values;
  • Allowing for the Minister to determine eligibility criteria for sitting the citizenship test that may relate to the fact that a person has previously failed the test, did not comply with one or more rules of conduct relating to the test, or was found to have cheated during the test;
  • Renaming the ‘pledge of commitment’ to the ‘pledge of allegiance’ and require the applicant to pledge allegiance to the Australian people;
  • Extending the requirement to make the pledge of allegiance to all persons aged 16 and over intending to acquire citizenship; and
  • Changing the automatic acquisition of citizenship by a child born in Australia to Australian residents on their 10th birthday, by introducing the requirement that they must have retained lawful residence in Australia for those 10 years.

Overriding the Administrative Appeals Tribunal

Mr Dutton also described his concern with recent AAT decisions that have “found that people were of good character despite having been convicted of child sexual offences, manslaughter, people smuggling or domestic violence”.

The Bill proposes to empower the Minister with the ability to set aside certain decisions of the AAT if it is in the public interest to do so. However, such decisions would still be subject to judicial review in the Federal Court or High Court. The new provision does not propose to exclude or limit judicial review. Mr Dutton said:

"This bill reinforces the integrity of our citizenship program. This will help maintain strong public support for migration and the value of Australian citizenship in what is an increasingly challenging national security environment and complex global security situation."

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Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill 2017, Bill, Second reading Speech and Explanatory Memorandum as published on LawOne

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