Magazine of the Socialist Party, Australian section of the CWI

Changes to citizenship laws defeated

The cynical changes to citizenship laws proposed by the Turnbull government were recently defeated in the Senate. This was yet another blow to this crisis ridden government.

The main changes they wanted to push through were an increase in the waiting time before being eligible for citizenship, a stricter English test, and extra powers for the Immigration Minister to override appeals.

The longer waiting time would have meant that permanent residents had to live in Australia for four years without basic democratic rights like the right to vote. It would have also denied many people the better travel freedoms and protections that come with Australian citizenship.

These changes would have applied retrospectively to all applications in the last six months. It was estimated that about 80,000 people could have been affected.

On top of the punitive measures aimed at migrants, the overriding powers that the Immigration Minister was seeking are what made this bill a truly draconian package. It is extremely undemocratic to concentrate power in the hands of one person instead of having the process of appeals through a tribunal.

The government had hoped to use this bill as a way of looking “tough” on immigration. They wanted to sow the idea that stricter border controls are connected to a better standard of living for those already living here.

The economic problems Australia faces are caused by the profit driven system of capitalism, not migrants or refugees. It has been the policies of both the major parties that have left our education and healthcare systems crumbling and underfunded.

Both the major parties have allowed rampant property speculation while tens of thousands of people are homeless. And it has been the major parties, in the service of big business, that have refused to invest in decent jobs.

Because they don’t intend to fix any of these problems, they attempt to divert our attention away from the real issues and towards scapegoats like migrants and refugees.

The government’s proposed citizenship changes would have reinforced divisions amongst ordinary people and for that reason the defeat of this bill should be seen as a minor victory. That said, it is likely that they will attempt to reintroduce their changes in the future.

While Labor and the Greens have blocked the bill for now, they really have no principled opposition to these types of changes.

After all, Labor agree with denying refugees their rights, while the Greens were the most steadfast supporters of the undemocratic clauses in the constitution that deny millions of people with migrant backgrounds from sitting in parliament. Their opposition to these particular changes were more about shoring up the votes of migrant communities.

Both Labor and the Greens agree with limiting the intake of migration on the basis that population control is the only way to sustain Australia’s “limited resources”. This is simply not true.

Australia is one of the richest countries on earth but most people don’t have access to its wealth and resources: it is estimated that the richest 10% of households own at least 50% of the wealth. The real problem is that society’s wealth is undemocratically controlled by a super-rich minority.

Socialists argue that it is important to defend citizenship rights. We strive to win full and equal rights for all workers who have common interests regardless of their place of birth. By building unity amongst working people from all backgrounds, we are in a much more powerful position to fight for a bigger share of the wealth.

By Triet Tran