If a costly postal vote on marriage equality was not irregular enough of a move from the part of the legislative body to ask public approval for a piece of legislation, the Senate is moving forward deeper into novelty, setting up a SurveyMonkey online poll to check how voters feel about toughening up the laws regarding Australian citizenship.
The issue has already debated – and blocked by the Senate – last year, as the government’s proposals to require that migrants pass high-level English tests as a citizenship and that eligible visa holders should be permanent residents for four years before they apply, were met with fierce political and public opposition.
“As long as you are creating a situation that we have a permanent underclass of non-citizens, permanent residents who never get to become citizens, you are changing Australia from a multicultural society to a segregated society,” Tony Burke, Shadow Minister for Citizenship had told SBS in October, after the government’s proposed legislation was overturned by the Labor Party, the Greens and Nick Xenophon Team.
Now, seven months later, a new bill – almost identical to the government’s one, bar from the change of year in its name – has been introduced by the leader of One Nation party, Pauline Hanson.
“I believe people should prove their loyalty to Australia, that they should be prepared to assimilate, that they don’t have any criminal records of bad character,” Hanson told Sky News. “I want more stringent tests on becoming an Australian citizen.”
Her bill, the ‘Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Commitments for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill 2018’ aims to amend the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 and Migration Act 1958 in relation to strengthened citizenship requirements, and enable the use and disclosure of personal citizenship information, among other provisions. The main difference from Peter Dutton’s failed proposal, is that it includes an even tougher restriction on migrants to become Australian citizens, specifically raising the Permanent Residency requirement to eight years – at the moment, an applicant should be living in Australia for four years, but only have permanent resident status for twelve monhts, in order to be eligible for citizenship. Other than that, Pauline Hanson’s bill is word-for-word identical to the government’s proposal.
This fact led the Senate legal and constitutional affairs legislation committee to the decision of refraining from holding yet another inquiry, opting instead to act on a member’s suggestion and set up a SurveyMonkey online poll, asking voters to have a say on the issue, before it files its report in December. The poll consists of one question: “do you support the provisions of the Australian citizenship legislation amendment (strengthening the commitments for Australian citizenship and other measures) bill 2018?” – it also provides a link to the government’s website, where people can access the bill.
This way to conduct an open consultation is extremely irregular, not least because SurveyMonkey is a US-based online data collection company, providing users with a platform to run surveys via web, email, and social media such as Facebook. Anyone wishing to respond to the poll can go to to this address, where they will be required to provide a name and an email address (albeit without any process of verification, in regards to genuineness, nor restrictions to the number of submissions one can enter).
It is understood that the result of the poll will not be binding on the committee, nor on the parliament, while there is nothing to suggest that the Senate’s stance over the issue has changed since October, making the bill’s ratification extremely unlikely.