Malcolm Turnbull turns his sights on Labor over 'Australian values' citizenship quiz

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Immigration minister Peter Dutton during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 20 April 2017. Photo: Andrew Meares  Photo: Andrew Meares
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Immigration minister Peter Dutton during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 20 April 2017. Photo: Andrew Meares Photo: Andrew Meares

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has demanded Labor support a major shake-up of Australian's citizenship laws, calling on the opposition to back new values-based questions that would focus on domestic violence, female genital mutilation and arranged marriages.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has responded by suggesting the proposed changes to citizenship laws were politically motivated to protect the Prime Minister's right flank from his predecessor, Tony Abbott, but said the opposition could back, for instance, greater English language proficiency.

Under changes announced by Mr Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, would-be citizens would have to be permanent residents for four years rather than one; a new English language test will be introduced and applicants will have to demonstrate they have integrated by getting a job, enrolling their kids in school and potentially joining a community organisation.

It is the decision to expand the current 20-question citizenship test to include "values" questions - which will go out to community consultation - the government is attempting to frame as a political test for Labor.

The federal opposition was due to be briefed on the law changes on Thursday, public consultation will run until June 1 and, Mr Turnbull said, "we look to the opposition to support this legislation".

"This is defending, reinforcing, Australian values ... what we've talked about this morning are values that we all agree with. No-one's suggested that they're wrong or mistaken. We all agree with them. We're standing up for Australian values and the Parliament should do so too," Mr Turnbull said.

"I've already heard people from the Labor Party criticising the proposition that you should have competent English. Really? Are they serious? I mean does anybody doubt that if you want to succeed, if you want to even have a chance of succeeding in Australia, you need to be able to speak English?"

Asked why the values-based citizenship questions needed to cover female genital mutilation or the forced marriage of children - which are illegal under Australian law - Mr Turnbull said, "because it's important to reinforce our values".

Mr Turnbull and Mr Dutton both admitted applicants could potentially lie on the "values" questions.

"People will lie. I mean they lie now in relation to citizenship tests and in relationship to laws that exist now. That is not an argument for us to do nothing in this space. Domestic violence is a significant issue in this country. And we shouldn't tolerate one instance of it," Mr Dutton said.

But Mr Shorten said that "Malcolm Turnbull desperate to save his own job from Tony Abbott" and that was why he had acted to change the law.

"He said it's a test for Labor. He then went on to say it's a test for Labor [on] where we stand on domestic violence, where we stand on genital mutilation or child brides. Just how desperate is this man? Just how desperate is Malcolm Turnbull?" Mr Shorten said.

"When it comes to the proposed citizenship laws, we haven't seen them. We'll have a look at them. I think it is reasonable to look for English language proficiency, and I think that it's reasonable to have some period of time, waiting time, before you become an Australian citizen."

Labor senate leader Penny Wong pointed out violence against women was already a criminal act under Australian law.

Mr Turnbull identified Australian values as mutual respect, democracy, freedom, rule of law, and a fair go. Mr Shorten nominated affordable health care, penalty rates, and access to work.

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson praised the Prime Minister for "finally acting on the suggestions I made to him about the citizenship test".

Some of the proposed changes to Australian citizenship will require legislation, but others can be done by regulation. The changes are to take effect from Thursday but are not retrospective.

It takes, on average, about nine months from the time when a person applies to become a citizen for them to sit the test.

About 130,000 people each year become Australian citizens.

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This story Malcolm Turnbull turns his sights on Labor over 'Australian values' citizenship quiz first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.