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Monday, 26 February 2007
Page: 102

Senator LUDWIG (5:35 PM) —by leave—I move together:

(4)    Clause 22, page 30 (line 4), omit “4”, substitute “3”.

(5)    Clause 22, page 30 (line 8), omit “4”, substitute “3”.

(6)    Clause 22, page 30 (line 15), omit “4”, substitute “3”.

(7)    Clause 22, page 31 (line 3), omit “4”, substitute “3”.

I note that there are what seem to be equivalent Australian Greens amendments, but I will leave that for the Australian Greens. Alternatively they may choose not to move them. I have spoken at some length in this chamber in my speech to the second reading debate about how this government has seemingly—you could only say to score cheap political points—flouted the advice of ASIO in departing from the residency requirements of three years that Labor had agreed to. This bill seeks to change the period to four years of residency and the government still have not answered the primary question: where is the advice that four years is in the best interests of this nation in terms of national security? If they seek to underline it with, ‘Four is better than three,’ then it is no argument at all.

What they need to be able to do is substantiate the argument about why they say precisely four years is the required number. Where is the ASIO advice? Does it in fact exist in the first instance? And is it the best balance between the importance of needing to integrate migrants into our community and needing to ensure that citizenship is not something that is easily achieved or taken up lightly? Why does the government say that four years strikes that balance? Labor urges the government to heed the original advice provided by ASIO by making the residence requirement three years. It is a sensible amendment. I think, and Labor thinks, that it went to four years because of what could only be described as opportunistic political point-scoring by this government on a bill that does not need it.

As I think the Senate committee first said in their explanation of the bill itself, it is a bill that intends to replace the Australian Citizenship Act 1948. It has broad support. Its main proposals include the restructure of citizenship law to make it more coherent, accessible and easy to use. It will also increase access to citizenship by simplifying provisions and changing the laws relating to citizenship by descent and resumption of renounced citizenship. It aims to strengthen the protection of national security by extending residence requirements by 12 months, to three years. Amongst the areas I have mentioned, there are two in which the government has it wrong: resumption of renounced citizenship and the extension of residence requirements by 12 months.

On many of the other provisions the government have it right, and Labor agrees with those positions. What the government are now seeking to do is use what would otherwise be a bill that would be broadly supported to find cheap political points of differentiation. This is but one of them. The government should and can—even as late as today—say: ‘We think we’re wrong. We don’t have advice. We did seek to make cheap political points on it and we were wrong about that. And, for the sake of ensuring that this bill does get through the Senate with bipartisan support, on this issue we agree with Labor’s amendment.’ That would be the sensible path to take. I am not under any illusion. I do not think the government will do that. They should do it, and perhaps deep in their hearts they too know they should do it. I am a realist: they will not do that. But I have moved the amendment. Having said all of that, it is disappointing to see that the government have used these provisions to again try to score cheap political points.