The changes to citizenship laws proposed by the Turnbull government are a cynical move designed to promote nationalism and wind back political and civil rights. The government framed the changes as part of the so-called ‘war on terror’ but these changes will do nothing to deter terrorism. Instead they will be used to further divide migrants and local workers. They need to be opposed.
The changes will see an increase in the amount of time a permanent resident needs to wait before they can apply for citizenship, from one year up to four years. The government claims that this will push migrants to prove “their commitment to Australia” before becoming citizens but it is actually a punitive measure that will force people to wait longer for certain rights like the right to vote and participate in parliamentary politics.
Having Australian citizenship also means markedly better travel freedom and a certain level of protection for migrants that may face persecution in another country, so this change also has the potential to put people in danger.
Another proposed change is the need for people to pass a stricter English test – the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Those wanting to qualify for citizenship will need to achieve band 6 proficiency. This is the level required for admission to many undergraduate courses at Australian universities. The current citizenship test already requires people to achieve band 5 proficiency, which means the candidate is a fluent English speaker.
This requirement is designed to marginalise people who have not had good access to education and a way of discriminating against poor people. While the government sees migrants as potential labour to be exploited for profit, they do not consider that they, or their big business backers, should have to pay for their training or education. The English test also discriminates against the poor in that it will cost $330 and no lessons or study support will be offered.
In announcing these policies, the government hopes to look “tough” on immigration suggesting that stricter border controls are somehow connected to better living standards for the majority of people. This is a conscious strategy to divert attention away from the real sources of people’s problems, like government cuts to social spending, businesses sacking staff and slashing hours and landlords, speculators and banks forcing up housing costs.
As these issues begin to affect people more and more people will likely move into action to stop the attacks on their living conditions. The government will increasingly use divide and rule tactics like the scapegoating of migrants to play different sections of the working class off against each other. Having a section of the population with less rights helps them immensely in this regard.
Significantly, these proposals followed Trump’s proposed nationalist policies such as the travel ban against people from Muslim majority countries. For Turnbull, while he wants to take attention away from the problems created by the capitalist system, and pit people against each other, he also wants to try and outflank his political opponents like Pauline Hanson. Labor for their part have supported the key changes.
Citizenship is a basic democratic right and we should not allow it to be undermined in any way. If the government is allowed to get away with this it will only give them confidence to attack other rights like the rights of workers and welfare recipients.
Socialists strive to win full and equal rights for all workers. We consider that we have more in common with migrant workers than we do with bosses who seeks to exploit us. We want to build unity amongst working people from all backgrounds so that we are better placed to win a bigger share of wealth. We call on unions and community groups to come out against Turnbull’s citizenship changes and to embrace migrant communities – both drawing them in to local struggles and taking up their specific causes.
By Tim Tran