About 200 people rallied at Town Hall Square to protest the federal government's proposed new citizenship laws. The new laws extend the residential waiting period for citizenship and raise the standard of the English-language test.
The existing law requires a minimum of four years of continuous residence, with at least one further year as a permanent resident, to qualify for citizenship. The new law would require people to wait four years after becoming permanent residents.
Immigration minister Peter Dutton has also chosen to implement these changes from April 20, the date of his speech to federal parliament and months before the legislation was even introduced to the house.
The bill requires applicants to pass a university-level English language test involving reading, writing, listening and speaking. But most migrants have already had to pay for and pass multiple English tests to get their visas.
Applicants will also be required to show the steps they have taken to integrate into and contribute to the Australian community and can only fail the citizenship test three times. Finally, the bill gives the minister unprecedented power over who becomes and remains a citizen, even allowing the minister to overturn the decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
Chairperson of the Ethnic Communities Council of NSW Peter Doukas told the rally the new bill was “the most damaging law to Australia's standing internally and externally ever”.
NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge said: “We totally reject Peter Dutton’s vision of Australia and reject his citizenship bill. We remain a melting pot of nationalities, and we will defeat this bill.”
Labor Senator Sam Dastyari said this move by the government “represents the politics of fear, of division, and of disunity, intended to wedge us and to divide us. We need to ensure this bill is rejected.”
State president of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) Rita Mallia explained that her union was under attack from the government, and opposed measures aimed against other sections of society. “This government has launched an all-out attack on our democratic rights. You have full support from the CFMEU and the whole trade union movement,” she said.
Refugee Action Collective spokesperson Ian Rintoul stressed the connection between racism against Indigenous people in Australia and against refugees. “Once you are here, you are part of the community,” he said. “We should reject the claims of the racists: migrants don’t take our jobs; they are not terrorists or criminals. This bill will go down and the Turnbull government will go down too.”