CANBERRA -- The parliament stands divided on proposed changes to Australia's citizenship process, with Labor poised to block the government's plans to raise the bar and immigration minister Peter Dutton slamming the opposition leader Bill Shorten for his "weak and spineless" stance on the issue.
But while our politicians bloviate in Canberra, debating whether the current citizenship process is too hard, too easy or just right, there's one group we haven't heard much from -- that is, the people who would actually be impacted by the changes. Potential and aspiring citizens.
Take, for example, Usman Khawaja. A star cricketer for Australia and the Sydney Thunder, Khawaja was born in Pakistan. His family migrated to Australia when he was young, and he developed into a cricket prodigy. He was the first Muslim player ever to represent Australia, and has since played 23 Test matches (scoring five centuries) and 18 one-day internationals.
By all accounts, Khawaja is a terrific guy and a wonderful cricketer, a true model of how many would hope migrants would embrace and contribute to their new community in Australia. But he fears that, under the new citizenship model proposed by the government, he may never have become an Australian citizen in the first place.
Khawaja's Tuesday afternoon tweet shot around the internet, racking up nearly 800 retweets by publication time. It's a symbol of the opposition to the citizenship changes, criticised on Tuesday by Labor's citizenship spokesman Tony Burke as "snobbery".
"A very large number of people who are born here will never reach the level of English in this test. What sort of snobbery needs a Government to say, say, 'unless you reach university level of English, we'd rather you weren't here," Burke said.
"This legislation, the main thrust of it, will always be wrong, the rationale of it will always be wrong and Labor will be opposing it."
Central to Labor's opposition to the changes has been a claim that new language requirements would ask potential citizens to reach a university-level standard of English before being granted citizenship. However, Dutton hit back at the claims on Wednesday, accusing Labor of fudging the truth.
"Labor's claims that the Citizenship legislation currently before the Parliament will require applicants to have a "university" level of English language skills is nothing more than a smokescreen," Dutton said in a media release.
"The Citizenship legislation requires those seeking Australian citizenship to be "competent" in English. Competent equates to Level 6 of the International English Language Testing System."
Dutton said there are two levels to the IELTS, the higher standard of 'academic' and the more basic 'general' level. He said Labor's claims about "university" level English were based on the 'academic' standard, while the government is only asking potential citizens to meet the 'general' requirements.
"Contrary to Labor's false claims, the IELTS Academic test is not required for migration or citizenship purposes. The General Training test is accepted," Dutton said.
"Level 6 of the General stream focuses on "basic survival skills in broad social and workplace contexts". The Coalition makes no apology for asking aspiring citizens to develop English language skills – it is in their own best interests and the interests of the cohesion and prosperity of our nation."
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