Greens Senator Nick McKim

It is not unheard of for governments to be found rushing legislation through the Senate, with tense negotiations lasting all night (remember Nick Xenophon’s pyjamas?), and amendments passing between the Senate and the House of Representatives. But usually those deadlines are because it’s the last sitting day before the winter break, or the summer break, or an election is just around the corner.  

Now the government has a deadline to pass its divisive citizenship law reform, but this deadline was imposed by the Senate, after the Greens managed to pass a motion giving the government just four sitting days to debate the laws, or have them struck off the notice paper.

The original motion brought by the Greens’ Nick McKim would have struck the bill off immediately, but independent Senator Jacqui Lambie moved an amendment adding four sitting days, meaning Wednesday, October 18 is D day for the government.

The kicker? A number of government senators were absent, missing their chance to quash the motion late yesterday afternoon.

The motion was supported by the Greens, Lambie, the Nick Xenophon Team and Labor compared to only 29 votes from the Coalition, Cory Bernardi, Leyonhjelm and Hinch.

Usually government decides what legislation is on the notice paper, which includes both business for a particular sitting day, and legislation to be debated in future. Legislation sits on the notice paper until the government begins debate, or removes it from the notice paper. It’s believed that this is the first time in more than 20 years this has happened, with the last time in 1995 when West Australian Greens senator Dee Margetts moved a similar motion successfully.

The tough new changes, which involve a harder English test for potential citizens, and a longer permanent residency requirement, have been roundly criticised by legal experts and migrant advocacy groups. As reported by Crikey, New Zealanders living in Australia have held off applying for permanent residency or making decisions around higher education due to the instability caused by the stalemate around the changes.

The Greens oppose the changes and moved the motion because of the uncertainty experienced by permanent residents hoping to become Australian citizens. The bill as it stands does not contain any transition period for permanent residents, but a government majority Senate inquiry recommended watering down the English language requirements and introducing transition arrangements.

“This is a big win for the many thousands of people whose lives have been put on hold in the five months since this legislation was first announced,” Nick McKim said in a statement yesterday.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton must now negotiate with the crossbench to get the laws passed. The Greens and Nick Xenophon Team will oppose the changes, and while Lambie voted with the Greens this week, she broadly supports the laws but wants changes to the English language requirements.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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