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Issue #1785      July 12, 2017

Restricting citizenship

The politics of exclusion proceeds apace. Just recently we were informed that Australian citizenship would become harder to acquire: “The new measures would see migrants face a tougher citizenship test which will assess their commitment to Australia and their attitudes to religious freedom and gender equality”. [ABC News 2017-04-21].

Not only “values” will be emphasised; there will be a much tighter English language requirement. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton made it clear that a “significant change” would be made. Henceforth an English proficiency equivalent to IELTS Level 6 would be needed.

As Henry Sherrell, Research Officer in the Development Policy Centre at the Australian National University commented: “This is not just a significant change; it is a fundamental break”. [27 April 2017 Inside Story].

He reported that in 2015, ACIL Allen Consulting evaluated the Adult Migrant English Program, or AMEP. Its report is the most up-to-date assessment of the English literacy of recent migrants. Just 7 percent of clients exit at ISLPR 2 (social proficiency, the equivalent of IELTS 4.5) after receiving 500 hours. Of the AMEP attendees who completed 500 hours of training between 2004 and 2012, 0 percent of new migrants reached the level required for the new citizenship test.

The implications of this are clear. Sherrell writes: “But the practical effects of imposing this standard are immense. It amounts to the deliberate exclusion of thousands of new migrants from Australian citizenship. Back in 2015, on the same topic, I wrote: “The worst outcome is permanent exclusion from society because barriers to entry are too high. An English language test for citizenship would be such a barrier. This exclusion would occur despite an indefinite right to remain in Australia. A tiered, broken system of residency with little long-term hope.”

Thus we are witnessing the Liberal National Party in the process of establishing an underclass of people who will be denied citizenship, which will grow year after year in the Australian population. This underclass will be denied the right to take part in the full political life of the nation. It will be the death of an inclusive democracy.

A non-citizen underclass

That is not a new situation for this country. First there was the 1901 Immigration Restriction Act, enforced by a dictation test which did not openly proclaim racial superiority in order not to offend non-British subjects of the empire and the Japanese ally. Then came the 1903 Naturalisation Act which provided that applicants for naturalisation could not be natives of Asia, Africa or the Pacific Islands (except for New Zealand).

Men who had worked in Australia for over a decade would never be acceptable as citizens. One case study is that of Jan Mahomet, a 35-year-old Afghan storekeeper and camel-driver, who had worked in South Australia for nearly four years, Coolgardie for over a year, and then in Murchison, near Geraldton WA, for eleven years.

He received his rejection of naturalisation from the Department of External Affairs in Melbourne in October 1906, about three weeks after submitting his papers. The only sign in the archives of his response is a curt telegram to the Department on 25 October asking for the return of all his papers. He was not European, not white enough. Such non-acceptable residents were excluded from the age pension and other social welfare benefits which were gradually introduced over time.

There is a discernible trend in Australian government policy towards exclusion of refugees and non-English speaking immigrants from national life. This is a break with the non-discriminatory immigration policies that have dominated since the election of the Whitlam government in 1972, continued by the Fraser government of 1975.

Our country has commenced a decline into what could well be a very unpleasant, undemocratic and culturally exclusive future, at the same time as we seem to be permitting the intrusion of foreign-sponsored political corruption into national life.

The Beacon

Next article – Philippines – NO to marshal law

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