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Wednesday, 5 June 2013
Page: 5491

Mr MORRISON (Cook) (13:01): The coalition is pleased to support the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Special Residence Requirements) Bill 2013. The bill proposes amendments to the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 to enable granting of citizenship within a shorter qualifying time period in exceptional cases where it is in the national interest to do so. Currently, there is a general residence requirement under the citizenship act that a person must reside in Australia for four years before they are eligible to apply for Australian citizenship. The act also provides for special residence requirements for persons engaged in activities that are of benefit to Australia or for persons in particular kinds of work requiring regular travel outside Australia. These special residence requirements allow the conferral of citizenship under the reduced residency requirements set out in sections 22A and 22B of the act.

The key effect of the bill is to increase the flexibility available in exceptional cases under these special residence requirements by providing the minister with the discretion to invite an application for citizenship where a person has been a permanent resident for at least the preceding 90 days and several other criteria are met. This power can be exercised only by the minister. The minister cannot be compelled to use the power; nor is it subject to appeal. It can only be applied in a case which demonstrates a clear national interest. The bill rightly ensures transparency in the use of this power by requiring the minister to table a statement in parliament within 15 sitting days from the date a person becomes an Australian citizen through the use of the power. The coalition recognises that a range of circumstances can emerge where the additional flexibility set out the bill clearly will be in the national interest. Individuals engaged in specialist work or sporting activities which involve extensive overseas travel and activity based outside Australia can find it difficult to meet citizenship requirements. Representation in Australian sporting teams can be limited if citizenship requirements are not met before selection processes occur.

Circumstances can also occur where very senior business executives, highly specialised scientists and medical specialists or those who have held a distinguished talent visa, for whom the granting of citizenship would clearly be in Australia's interests, fall short of meeting existing residency requirements. These are exceptional cases, but are cases where Australia's interests are clearly best served by the provision to the minister of a discretionary power whose use is clearly transparent to the parliament.

In supporting this bill we have had discussions with the government. We have sought to ensure that this is bill deals broadly with the potential uses of this new non-compellable power for the minister so that it is not limited just to areas of sporting endeavour but right throughout the cultural, scientific and business fields as well.

Our immigration and our citizenship system needs occasionally some flexibility, but where that flexibility is used it is important there are clear transparent processes where the minister using those powers must disclose to the parliament his or her decision and the reasons for doing so. That is what this act does.

The coalition, in supporting this bill, are not taking a particular position on any subsequent decisions a minister might make in relation to how he or she might use the powers under this new provision. That is a matter for the minister and that is a power the minister would have to exercise judiciously. In providing support for this bill those matters will certainly be left to the minister to make at a subsequent time, if they ever wish to use these powers. So we are pleased to support this bill. We are pleased to have been part of the process that has brought it to the parliament and we endorse this bill.