CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The Australian government said Thursday it was prepared to relax its proposed English language test for new citizens as a compromise to get other tough new restrictions on attaining citizenship through Parliament.
Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton said his conservative government was prepared to reduce its proposed English-language skill threshold from "competent" to "modest:" a level of basic communication with many mistakes. The change would be from level six to five on the nine-level International English Language Testing System scale. Language skills are not currently tested in the Australian citizenship process although some English is required.
"We believe very strongly that the proposal that we've put forward is moderate, it's sensible," Dutton told reporters, adding that the new rules would enable the government to cancel the visas of convicted criminals who could otherwise become citizens under the current rules.
The Senate had set a deadline of Wednesday for the legislation to be debated. The government let that deadline pass because there was no chance of the legislation being endorsed by the upper house. The government has only 29 senators in the 76-seat chamber and wants to strike a deal with the center-left opposition Labor Party to get the support of its 26 senators.
Labor has condemned the language test as a "bizarre act of snobbery" that "guarantees we will have a new permanent underclass."
Activist group GetUp accused the government of adopting the policies of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigration minor political party One Nation through the new test.
The new rules would also increase the minimum period of Australian residency for prospective citizens from 12 months to four years and require evidence of integration, such as a job.
Dutton would also have the power to override bureaucrats' decisions on who was eligible.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten suggested the government abandon the changes.
"If it's bad for the interests of ordinary people, we won't vote for it," Shorten told reporters.