Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has brushed off suggestions he is channelling Donald Trump as the government embarks on a wider immigration and citizenship crackdown.
Mr Turnbull announced changes to Australia’s citizenship and immigration laws on Thursday, two days day after the government unveiled a new “Australians first” overhaul of the 457 visa scheme.
Mr Turnbull declared that new arrivals must prize “Australian values” and prove their commitment to the nation while announcing the sweeping changes to the citizenship laws.
Under the changes, migrants will face a tougher citizenship test that will assess their commitment to Australia and their attitudes to religious freedom and gender equality.
People with a history of family violence or organised crime could also be barred from citizenship.
Applicants will be asked to demonstrate that they have integrated into Australian society, for example by joining clubs or by providing evidence that they are employed and their children are in school.
A more stringent English language test will also be introduced, which will include “reading, writing and listening” components.
Migrants who become permanent residents will have to wait four years before they can apply for citizenship — instead of the one-year wait they face at the moment.
If an applicant fails the test three times they will have to wait another two years before they can sit it again.
Any conduct inconsistent with “Australian values” will be considered part of the citizenship process.
Mr Turnbull on Thursday said the federal government was “putting Australian values at the heart of citizenship processes and requirements.”
“Membership of the Australian family is a privilege and should be afforded to those who support our values, respect our laws and want to work hard by integrating and contributing to an even better Australia,” he said.
Mr Turnbull earlier flagged that Permanent Employer Sponsored Visas would be reformed with the maximum age reduced from 50 to 45.
Amid speculation over the changes Wednesday the Prime Minister faced claims his new “Australians first” push echoed the rhetoric of Mr Trump, who this week announced his own foreign worker visa crackdown and campaigned on an ‘America First’ platform.
Asked about two tabloid newspaper front pages that portrayed the PM as the US President, Mr Turnbull said the 457 visas changes were a “commitment to putting Australians first”.
In an interview with ABC Radio, he said “commentators can make whatever comparisons they like”.
— David Sharaz (@DavidSharaz) April 19, 2017
Labor leader Bill Shorten, who has also been fond of saying “Australians first”, said he was skeptical about the Turnbull government’s two new skilled worker visas, which will replace the 457 program.
“These jobs should be going to Australians, full stop, and I am worried that Mr Turnbull’s – and I’m sceptical that Mr Turnbull’s crackdown is actually a con-job, and it’ll make no real difference,” he said.
Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said the government resorted to “hardline, nationalist rhetoric” with “vague allusions to Australian values” whenever it was “in trouble”.
What is the citizenship test?
In February, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton had signalled the government was considering reforming citizenship laws.
The new rules could include tougher criteria, such as whether the person has a criminal record, as well as changes to the 20-question citizenship test migrants must pass – with a score of 75 per cent – in order to become citizens.
Introduced by John Howard, the test is intended to ensure new citizens have a basic knowledge of both English and Australia.
On Thursday Mr Dutton said the Government wanted applicants to view citizenship as a “big prize”.
“Our country shouldn’t be embarrassed to say we want great people to call Australia home. We want people who abide by our laws and our values and we should expect nothing less,” he said.
The Coalition will have to pass the changes through Parliament — but says if they are successful then the new system will come into force from April 20.
On Wednesday, New Zealand adopted a ‘Kiwis first’ immigration policy similar to measures being adopted in Australia and the US.