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Tuesday, 8 November 1983
Page: 2451

Question No. 541

Dr Klugman asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 15 September 1983:

(1) Has his attention been drawn to cases of Australian citizens of Czechoslovakian origin being charged large fees for visas to visit Czechoslovakia.

(2) Are these charges contrary to the spirit of the Helsinki Agreement of 1975.

(3) What has Australia done, or can it do, to prevent this treatment of Australian citizens.

Mr Hayden —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) Under Czechoslovakia's Government Direction No. 58 of 1977, a procedure was established whereby Czechoslovak citizens who left Czechoslovakia illegally could regularise their status. The procedure might involve the payment of a substantial fee. As I understand it, regularisation means that such citizens are offered the alternative of either a method of renouncing their Czechoslovak citizenship, or retrospective approval of their original departure. Thereafter persons concerned can visit Czechoslovakia without being treated as Czechoslovak citizens normally resident in Czechoslovakia while they are in the country.

(2) and (3) The Helsinki Accords of 1975 were the result of a Conference on European Security and Co-operation at which Australia was not represented. The Government does, however, take account of the positions adopted at that Conference in assessing the action it should take where issues of this nature arise.

The Czechoslovak authorities have said that Directive No. 58/77 contributes to an easing of restrictions on the international movement of people by permitting Czechoslovak citizens to enjoy freer movement and contacts with their families in Czechoslovakia.

In looking at any question of citizenship, it is necessary to note that every country has the right to make laws dealing with the citizenship status of its own citizens, wherever they live. Accordingly, the Australian Government does not question the right of the Czechoslovak Government to enact laws affecting persons who are regarded as Czechoslovak citizens under Czechoslovak law. The Australian Government would, however, be concerned about any punitive, arbitrary or coercive effects such laws might have on Australian citizens of Czechoslovak origin.

In the six years since the making of Directive No. 58/77 my Department has received a small steady stream of complaints about its implementation by the Czechoslovak authorities in Australia, indicating a degree of dissatisfaction among Australians of Czechoslovak origin over some facets of its implementation. Investigations into these complaints have, however, not indicated a need to date for formal representations to the Czechoslovak authorities about specific issues arising from the application of the directive itself. The matter is, however, kept under constant review.