Federal MP Maria Vamvakinou has made an impassioned plea for the Turnbull government to rethink its proposed changes to Australia’s Citizenship Act 2007.
In a parliamentary speech on Thursday, Ms Vamvakinou described the government’s intention to raise the bar for new citizens – by making ‘university-level’ English a key criteria for attaining citizenship – as “blatant racism by a government that stands to do one thing, divide the Australian community”.
The government’s planned legislation involves an English language test for citizenship applicants, requiring them to achieve a level-6 score on the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).
The Labor MP described the changes a “calculated and harsh hurdle” to citizenship for new migrants and refugees to Australia.
“These changes are divisive as they have been solely designed to deliberately exclude people – not to include them,” she said.
As the Member for Calwell in Melbourne’s north-west, Ms Vamvakinou spoke of the many thousands of migrants to Australia – including her own parents from Greece – whose successful integration was unquestioned, and who had been the builders of modern multicultural Australia – and who did so with limited English and as Australian citizens.
“. . . this bill, which purports to expedite integration because of the level of English it imposes, and to somehow protect our Australian values and cultures, and even our national security, will actually be doing the opposite,” she added.
“It will compromise the multicultural society that millions of migrants have worked so hard to build over the decades.”
Ms Vamvakinou said that the importance for new migrants in learning the English language was clear, but “the issue here is the standard of English, the IELTS Level 6 university English that is being used to decide whether or not you can become an Australian citizen. That’s the issue.”
Under the government’s proposed changes to the Citizenship Act which are currently being examined by a Senate inquiry, permanent residents will also have to wait for four years instead of one year before they can apply for citizenship.