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Australian Citizenship Amendment Bill 1993



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House: Senate Portfolio: Immigration and Ethnic Affairs

Purpose The Bill will replace the current oath or affirmation of allegiance with a pledge that will not include a reference to the Monarch.

Background The Australian Citizenship Act 1948 (the Principal Act) deals with the situations where a person is taken to be an Australian citizen, which include citizenship by birth or adoption and the granting of citizenship to permanent residents who have been in Australia for at least two years. Where citizenship is to be granted, section 15 of the Principal Act requires the person desiring to become a citizen to make an oath or affirmation of allegiance. The current oath and affirmation are contained in Schedule 2 of the Principal Act and are in the following form:

`I swear by Almighty God [or in the affirmation `I solemnly and sincerely promise and declare] that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Australia, Her heirs and successors according to law, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Australia and fulfil my duties as an Australian citizen.'

The reference to the Queen is also contained in a number of other oaths and affirmations. For example, when enlisting in the Defence Forces members are required to make an oath or affirmation that they will serve Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her heirs and successors. Under section 42 of the Constitution, Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate are required to make an oath or affirmation of allegiance before they take their seat. The form of the oath or affirmation is contained in the Schedule to the Constitution and, again, requires allegiance to be given to the Queen, Her heirs and successors.

The steps that need to be taken to alter an oath or affirmation depend on the instrument that gives force to the requirement to make the oath or affirmation. In the examples given above, the oath or affirmation for citizenship can only be changed by altering the legislation (as this Bill seeks); the oath or affirmation in relation to enlistment in the Defence Forces can be changed by regulation (section 36 of the Defence Act 1903); while any change to the oath or affirmation made by Members of Parliament will require a referendum to alter the Constitution.

The proposal to remove the reference to the Queen, Her heirs and successors in the citizenship oath is not new. In 1973 and 1983 Bills were introduced that, if passed, would have had this effect. Both passed the House of Representatives but were rejected by the Senate. The arguments for and against those Bills were very similar to those raised in relation to this Bill. Arguments for the change include that the proposed oath or affirmation would be distinctively Australian, would reflect the multicultural composition of Australia and would allow people to pledge allegiance to Australia even though they hold beliefs that would prevent them from pledging allegiance to a Monarch. Arguments against the proposal largely centre it being a first step in a process to make Australia a republic, Australia's historical and cultural links with the Monarchy and that such a move should be subject to a referendum or plebiscite rather than a vote in Parliament.

The proposed oath and affirmation of allegiance was announced by the Prime Minister on 17 December 1992. In the Press Release announcing the proposal, the Prime Minister stated that the new oath and affirmation would better reflect the contemporary reality of Australia and our national aspirations.

Main Provisions The Bill will commence 60 days after it receives the Royal Assent (clause 2).

Clause 3 will insert a preamble into the Principal Act which states, amongst other matters, that citizenship represents membership of the community of the Commonwealth of Australia and that citizenship involves reciprocal rights and obligations.

Section 15 of the Principal Act will be amended by clause 4 to remove references to the oath or affirmation and replace them with a reference to the new pledge contained in proposed Schedule 2 which will be substituted into the Principal Act by clause 8.

The proposed pledge takes two forms, with the only difference being the inclusion or exclusion of the words in brackets below:

From this time forward [under God], I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey.

Other amendments contained in the Bill are consequential to the change of the oath/affirmation to a pledge.

Bills Digest Service 12 May 1993 Parliamentary Research Service

This Digest does not have any official legal status. Other sources should be consulted to determine the subsequent official status of the Bill.

Commonwealth of Australia 1993

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Published by the Department of the Parliamentary Library, 1993.