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Issue #1774      April 26, 2017


Shared values

Amid continued rhetoric of “Australian values” and national identity, the Turnbull government has said it is overhauling Australia’s citizenship laws, including abolishing 457 visas and replacing them with two new visas.

The changes to Australian citizenship laws announced by PM Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton mean migrants will need to pass tougher hurdles, including a stand-alone English test, having to have lived in Australia as a permanent resident for a minimum of four years, and will need to demonstrate “the steps they have taken to integrate into and contribute to the Australian community”.

The new citizenship requirements include:

  • Applicants pass a stand-alone English test, involving reading, writing, listening and speaking (Relevant exemptions will apply, such as for permanent or enduring incapacity and for those under 16 years of age);
  • Extending the time an applicant must have lived in Australia as a permanent resident from one year to at least four years;
  • Strengthening the citizenship test with “new and more meaningful questions that assess an applicant’s understanding of – and commitment to – our shared values and responsibilities”;
  • Applicants demonstrate steps they have taken to integrate into the community, such as getting a job, joining community organisations and ensuring their children are enrolled at school;
  • Limiting the number of times an applicant can fail the citizenship test to three – currently there is no limit;
  • Automatically failing people who cheat during the citizenship test.

“The Turnbull government will strengthen Australian citizenship by putting Australian values at the heart of citizenship processes and requirements,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s office said.

“Membership of the Australian family is a privilege and should be granted to those who support our values, respect our laws and want to work hard by integrating and contributing to an even better Australia.”

An almost immediate response to the 457 visa change came from India, which made clear that the Australian government’s decision to replace the 457 skilled worker visa may affect trade negotiations. Indians make up a quarter of 457 visa holders, the most of any nation.

India wanted to expand approved skill categories to allow more Indian professionals to work in Australia. In response to the government’s changes, India’s Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement, saying that it was “examining the consequences” of the new policy, adding that it would look at the matter “in the context” of trade negotiations.

One of the “Australian values” questions is, “Do you support female genital mutilation?” Who would answer such a question in the affirmative? What is its purpose? Dog whistles, directed to xenophobes and in particular Islamophobes.

Stealing polices from One Nation – a practice begun by former Coalition PM John Howard – is now standard procedure for the Liberal-Nationals. Maybe it’s time to question what might happen if they as current Australian citizens don’t share Turnbull’s values.

How about the “values” embraced and practiced by the current and previous governments in handing over Australia’s sovereignty and independence, giving up the northern part of the country to foreign military forces in preparation for participation in yet another US-instigated war?

What about the values behind the dispossession and attempted assimilation and genocide of Australia’s First People? Where are the values of basic human rights in the prolonged abuse and torture of men, women and children on Nauru and Manus Island, and here on the mainland? Religious intolerance; Christianity only? All good Aussies should love coal and see climate change as a hoax?

Social division based on fear and ignorance is the real agenda of this government. If you’re for fighting against poverty, climate change and inequality, and believe in striving for social justice, you are not on the government’s “Team Australia”.

On this coming May Day everyone needs to come out and march and show the flag, the one with the call, “Workers of all countries, Unite!”.

Next article – From penal powers to … penal powers

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