Opposition opposes gov't reforms to Australian citizen law

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton in Question Time on Monday

Opposition multicultural minister Tony Burke slammed the changes to English proficiency requirements, arguing they demanded a 'university level of English'.

The fate of the Turnbull government's citizenship overhaul now lies with the Senate crossbench after Labor rejected the changes, saying the English test was a "snobbery".

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Labor should recognize that citizenship needed to be more than an "an administrative tick-and-flick form-filling process".

Linking the tough new laws to national security, the government wants prospective citizens to wait four years as a permanent resident, rather than 12 months, pass a standalone English test, pledge their allegiance to Australian values and demonstrate they have integrated into society.

Labor will back a Senate inquiry into the Bill.

He also said the changes had nothing to do with national security as claimed by the government. "It is a very silly game, and a very unsafe game, because he is not just playing with some random law here or there, he is talking about the thing that defines who we are as a nation".

"Now that is a big change in how this country operates and it's a change that Labor can not support", he added.

Labor MP Anne Aly previously told Fairfax Media the proposed English test was "unfair and unreasonable" and should be opposed by Labor, while others including Linda Burney and Lisa Singh have also questioned its fairness.

Mr Burke said the government was already able to revamp the citizenship test to reflect Australian values with questions on domestic violence and respect for women without needing parliamentary approval.

The Labor caucus voted unanimously to oppose the changes in parliament following earlier public criticisms of the proposal from figures within the party's Left.

"Once you set the test at a level by definition large numbers of permanent residents will never reach, no matter how hard they try, that changes our country".

The government will introduce new citizenship laws this week and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says they'll focus on English language competency and more thorough background checks.

That pathway seems open, with Senator Hanson having crowed about the citizenship plan since it was announced, and Senator Xenophon previously indicating he was "broadly supportive" of the proposed changes.

But the politics were quickly exploited by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who doubled down by insisting national security was at stake and accusing Labor leader Bill Shorten of being "mugged by the left of his party".

"It's perfectly obvious if you're going to get on and succeed and do your best in Australia, you need to have English - you're doing people a favor by making it a requirement", Turnbull said.

Turnbull said the title, and the role of Australian citizen, "is the most important in our democracy".

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