FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Australia’s Citizenship Bill Fails

by

This is a government that takes pride in its hard headedness and faux populism.  Knowing it would have to brave a sceptical, even baffled Senate, Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, resembling a bit dictator struggling for traction, decided to ignore the signals.

What was required, claimed Dutton, were tougher citizenship laws to govern Australia, an ironic state of affairs given the number of Australian parliamentarians facing the High court over their eligibility to sit in the chambers of Canberra.

The proposed legislation, titled the Australian Citizenship Legislative Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill, would given a good serving against large swathes of the immigrant community.

It would have required the applicant for Australian citizenship to pass a stand-alone English test involving reading, writing, listening and speaking and show a minimum permanent residency requirement of four years.

Not feeling those measures to be suitably onerous, Dutton insisted on slipping a few other measures into the package: a limit, for instance, to the number of times the language test could be taken (three); and steps demonstrated by the applicant to show forms of integration into the Australian community.  (The fumes of charred meat on an Australian sausage sizzle come to mind.)

The reasons for these changes, outlined in the government’s shoddy paper Strengthening the Test for Australian Citizenship (April 2017), reads like a stream of propaganda consciousness.[1]  Platitudes spring up from the pages like fretful children: the idea of Australia being the country of “a ‘fair go’ for all”; “the most successful multicultural society in the world”; “shared values”.

Then comes the cutting and suspicious undertone, the irresistible resort to a security rationale that casts any doubt aside. This is a government that can’t trust prospective citizens.  Nor will it.  The weeds shall be found, the pretenders rooted out.  “The Australian Government places the highest priority on the safety and security of all Australians.”  Global terrorist concerns had “caused concern in the Australian community.”

This point has always had one glaring weakness: terrorist attacks across European capitals tend to take place from European-born citizens rather than applicants.  The point is conveniently missed for matters of rhetorical effect, dividing Australian residents into the anointed and the discarded.

Opponents to the changes, among them the Nick Xenophon Team, Labor, and the Greens, did give Dutton some breathing space: a Wednesday night deadline to reach some accord and soften the hammering blow. Desperate to keep matters harsh, Dutton’s fig leaf was a poorly eviscerated one: delay the citizenship changes to commence on July 2018, as opposed to making it retrospective, and reduce the level of English expected from “competent” to “modest”.

The response from NXT senator Stirling Griff made it clear that these were far from sufficient.  “Just amending the English language test and retrospectivity is not sufficient.  We will still be rejecting the bill.”[2]  The bill was effectively struck off the notice paper by the time Wednesday’s proceedings had concluded. No vote had taken place.

The champagne corks were duly popped.  Tasmanian Greens Senator Nick McKim called it “a huge victory for multicultural Australia”, whatever that problematic concept entails.[3]  Labor’s Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus filled the chorus with his own propaganda laced glee.  “The death of Dutton’s citizenship bill is a victory for Australia and all new arrivals who wish to become part of our great country.”[4]

Media stories were duly run to fluff the victory. Pakistan-born software developer Bushra Zainuddin featured in the ABC wishing “to be part of an Australian family.” (Her husband and child are both Australian citizens.) Her timing in terms of applying for citizenship was immaculately bad: April 20, when the Turnbull government announced its efforts to revise the citizenship rules.  “I’d just delivered a baby. He’s Australian.  We thought we’d become a whole family of Australians.”[5]

The killing off this bill doesn’t entail its vanishing.  The corpse has yet to be cremated and buried.  Dutton is the sort of individual who believes in authoritarian resurrections.  Only he can defend Australia against its aliens, local and foreign.  Most Australians, claimed the irritated minister, “would be shaking their heads” at the stance taken in the Senate.

Nor can Labor necessarily be taken at face value for such remarks as that made by its citizenship spokesman, Tony Burke, who did describe the failure of the bill as “a great victory for every person who wants to pledge allegiance to this country and make a commitment to Australia.”[6]

Burke had suggested that the bill was so extreme as to require a significant historical comparison.  Not since the White Australia policy, the first legislative act of Australia’s infant parliament in 1901, had politicians seen this.  They are bound to see more.

Notes.

[1] https://www.border.gov.au/ReportsandPublications/Documents/discussion-papers/citizenship-paper.pdf

[2] http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/peter-duttons-citizenship-crackdown-quietly-killed-off-by-the-senate-20171018-gz38zv.html

[3] https://twitter.com/NickMcKim/status/920532671482048513

[4] https://twitter.com/markdreyfusQCMP/status/920737119349256194

[5] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-10-19/dutton-citizenship-changes-blocked-immigrant-family/9064600

[6] http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/peter-duttons-citizenship-crackdown-quietly-killed-off-by-the-senate-20171018-gz38zv.html

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
January 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Dr. King’s Long Assassination
David Roediger
A House is Not a Hole: (Not) Caring about What Trump Says
George Burchett
How the CIA Tried to Bribe Wilfred Burchett
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Plan B for Syria: Occupation and Intimidation
Michael Hudson – Charles Goodhart
Could/Should Jubilee Debt Cancellations be Reintroduced Today?
Marshall Auerback – Franklin C. Spinney
Boss Tweet’s Generals Already Run the Show
Andrew Levine
Remember, Democrats are Awful Too
James Bovard
Why Ruby Ridge Still Matters
Wilfred Burchett
The Bug Offensive
Brian Cloughley
Now Trump Menaces Pakistan
Ron Jacobs
Whiteness and Working Folks
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Keeper of Crazy Beats: Charlie Haden and Music as a Force of Liberation
Robert Fantina
Palestine and Israeli Recognition
Jan Oberg
The New US Syria “Strategy”, a Recipe For Continued Disaster
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
The Return of the Repressed
Mel Gurtov
Dubious Partnership: The US and Saudi Arabia
Robert Fisk
The Next Kurdish War Looms on the Horizon
Lawrence Davidson
Contextualizing Sexual Harassment
Jeff Berg
Approaching Day Zero
Karl Grossman
Disaster Island
Thomas S. Harrington
What Nerve! In Catalonia They are Once Again Trying to Swear in the Coalition that Won the Most Votes
Pepe Escobar
Rome: A Eulogy
Robert Hunziker
Will Aliens Save Humanity?
Jonah Raskin
“Can’t Put the Pot Genie Back in the Bottle”: An Interview with CAL NORML’s Dale Gieringer
Stepan Hobza
Beckett, Ionesco, and Trump
Joseph Natoli
The ‘Worlding’ of the Party-less
Julia Stein
The Myths of Housing Policy
George Ochenski
Zinke’s Purge at Interior
Christopher Brauchli
How Trump Killed the Asterisk
Rosemary Mason - Colin Todhunter
Corporate Monopolies Will Accelerate the Globalisation of Bad Food, Poor Health and Environmental Catastrophe
Michael J. Sainato
U.S Prisons Are Ending In-Person Visits, Cutting Down On Reading Books
Michael Barker
Blame Game: Carillion or Capitalism?
Binoy Kampmark
The War on Plastic
Cindy Sheehan – Rick Sterling
Peace Should Be Integral to the Women’s March
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
No Foreign Bases!
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: Across the Boer Heartland to Pretoria
Joe Emersberger
What’s Going On in Ecuador? An Interview With Wladimir Iza
Clark T. Scott
1918, 1968, 2018: From Debs to Trump
Cesar Chelala
Women Pay a Grievous Price in Congo’s Conflict
Michael Welton
Secondly
Robert Koehler
The Wisdom of Mass Salvation
Seth Sandronsky
Misreading Edu-Reform 
Ann Garrison
Full-Spectrum Arrogance: US Bases Span the Globe
Louis Proyect
Morality Tales on the American Malaise: the Films of Rick Alverson
David Yearsley
Winston and Paddington: Marianelli’s Musical Bears
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail