Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 9 May 1984
Page: 1829

Senator MARTIN(3.06) —Australian citizenship is both a right and a privilege, whether one is born to it or acquires it. There is no more important subject that we could debate in the Parliament than citizenship. There are some that are as important, but none more important. The Australian Citizenship Amendment Bill 1984 is very important and the provisions in it are ones that deserve, and will be given, very close scrutiny by the Opposition. As the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Grimes) and the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Chaney) have indicated, we have agreed to a two-hour debate on this Bill this afternoon. In concert with that, we have voluntarily agreed to reduce the time of our speeches. Therefore, as I understand it senators- certainly including me-will speak for less than 30 minutes. That means that all of us will say less than we might have expected to say at this stage of the debate. I therefore give an indication to Government members about a certain matter in view of the debate that took place on this matter in the House of Representatives. In the House of Representatives the Opposition was extensively misrepresented in regard to its attitude to this Bill. It was claimed that, because certain issues had not been debated, therefore, the Opposition was not interested in them. I suggest to Government senators who will speak in this debate that they do not misrepresent omissions from the debate and that they do not misrepresent the Opposition's view.

The origins of these amendments lie with the Fraser Government. A review of the Australian Citizenship Act was undertaken when the Fraser Government was in office. On 6 May 1982 the then Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Mr Ian Macphee, made a statement to the House of Representatives in which he gave to the House and to the public a list of proposals for change to the Citizenship Act and made a statement on the then Government's point of view in relation to a number of those proposals. That statement is still an accurate representation of the views of the Liberal Party and the National Party. If some points of issue are omitted from this debate, such as the elimination of discrimination, I refer all Government and Opposition senators to that speech, which represents our point of view, and we stand by it. However, it will be necessary for the purposes of the time constraints of this debate that I have indicated for me to concentrate, when speaking on behalf of the Opposition, on our differences of opinion.

Those proposals for change which were put forward by Mr Macphee and to which I have referred led to two reports which have been tabled in this Parliament. The Human Rights Commission prepared a report on the Australian Citizenship Act 1948 in which it reported on the human rights aspects of the Australian Citizenship Act as it then stood. The proposals for change were sent for national consultation. A number of public meetings were held under the auspices of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and a report entitled 'National Consultations on Multiculturalism and Citizenship' was tabled in the Parliament in May of last year. Those two reports are basic to the debate. I do not have the opportunity in the time available to me to refer to them at any length. However, in the Committee stage, when we look at items in detail, I shall take the oportunity to refer to them.

As I said, Mr Macphee's statement summarised our view well at the time, as it does now. There is no reason for us to depart from it, because it is an excellent statement. I shall quote from that speech to show what the basic objectives of that review were. Mr Macphee said:

The amendments to the Act which I am suggesting for consideration are directed broadly at the four goals: firstly, to remove all discriminatory aspects which give preferential treatment on the basis of national origin, sex or marital status; secondly, to eliminate anomalies and reduce subjectivity in criteria for citizenship; thirdly, to clarify and simplify administrative requirements in the application of the Act and remove provisions which are no longer relevant; and, fourthly, to provide for independent review of decisions to deny persons citizenship. At the same time, there are a number of technical and other minor amendments which ought to be made in order to update the Act.

Mr Macphee incorporated in Hansard a document which listed all the items which were proposed for change. They were the basic objectives of the change. They are the basic changes to the Act which come before us now.

However, we have a difference of opinion with the Government regarding three aspects of this Bill to amend the Act. We will oppose the change in the oath or affirmation of allegiance which removes reference to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen of Australia. We will oppose the change in the standard of English required from 'adequate' to 'basic'. We will oppose the residential requirement which is at the moment three years, and which it is proposed will be reduced to two years.

The Opposition supports the retention of the requirement that we swear allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen, the Queen of Australia, in the oath or affirmation of allegiance. The Government is proposing that those who take citizenship, having migrated to this country, should not have to swear allegiance to the Queen. It is proposing that for a number of reasons. I raise with the Senate today the consequences of such a change. Those of us who were born in this country and who have our citizenship by right of birth owe allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen. The Constitution makes clear where sovereignty in this country lies. It is vested in the Queen, the Senate and the House of Representatives. We could not support a situation wherein there was a suggestion that there are two different types of citizens in this country, those who owe their allegiance to the Queen and those who do not. There is, of course, a very large number of people who have taken citizenship in the past and who have sworn allegiance to the Queen. That oath or affirmation of allegiance stands. Nothing in this Bill retrospectively changes that. So progressively we will have a situation whereby people will have sworn different allegiances.

Senator Grimes —Oh, my God!

Senator MARTIN —It is a fact. The Minister, in his second reading speech, made this statement:


that is, the Opposition-

have been supported by a minority in the community which does not appear to accept the reality that Australia is now a multicultural community and also an independent nation. People will simply be asked to swear allegiance to Australia and its laws and Constitution. The two forms of the pledge, both religious and non religious, that I have proposed allow all people, whatever their view or religion, to make a full commitment of allegiance to Australia. Neither form differentiates between Australians on the basis of their attitude to the monarchy. While there may be legitimate differences of views on this issue, they should not in the Government's view, be invoked in an Australian citizenship ceremony.

Mr Deputy President, I put it to you that the differences of view certainly should not be invoked in the Australian citizenship ceremony. However, by removing reference to Her Majesty the Queen, we will have institutionalised two points of view, those who have an allegiance to the Queen as the head of our system and those who do not. The Government itself has opened up that division. I disassociate myself entirely from any extremist views on this matter. The Opposition puts itself in a certain position, as did Mr Macphee in his speech on 6 May 1982. We believe that we owe allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen and we will not have the nature of citizenship and allegiance diluted by way of a schedule to the Citizenship Act which will apply only to a number of people-that is, of course, perhaps the Government has something else in mind, unless it has in mind a view that Australians, at some time or other, will not have any allegiance to the Queen. The fact that the Government may have a republican intent has been raised. It was raised fairly. The reasons that were given by the Government for this very profound change simply do not cut ice. If it is part of a process, the Government ought to say so. If it wants to say: 'We believe that Australia should move towards a republic and this is one of the steps', it should say it. If that is its belief, it should say so. The Prime Minister, Mr Hawke, has said that he believes that ultimately Australia will be a republic. I believe that he said he thinks it is quite a good idea but he recognises that that does not have majority support in Australia today. We recognise that it certainly does not have majority support. This slide towards that point of view is one that we will not allow. If the Government wants to settle the issue it can have a referendum; it can find out. There have been public opinion polls. Let it have a referendum. Let the people decide. But let us not, in this terribly important Act, our Act of citizenship, enshrine a principle which is in conflict with the principles of citizenship and the notion of sovereignty in this country.

The Minister further said:

Many people genuinely wish to become Australian citizens and assume the associated rights and responsibilities as soon as possible after entering Australia. On the other hand, an estimated 1.2m non-citizen residents who have lived here for more than the present minimum residential period of three years have not applied to become citizens. The Government wishes to encourage both groups of people to become citizens. We believe that the package of measures contained in this Bill will assist those who wish to become citizens as soon as possible after settling in Australia as well as removing what many people see as the disincentives to acquiring citizenship contained in the present Act.

Despite the large number of residentially eligible people who have not taken out citizenship, the number of persons applying to become citizens has increased rapidly in recent years-from 78,000 in 1981-82 to 101,000 in 1982-83. A similar rate of increase is occurring this year.

The Minister cannot have it both ways. He cannot say, as he does, that swearing allegiance to the Queen is a disincentive and yet talk about the increase in applications at the same time. He did not mention it, but it was mentioned later on in the debate by other speakers and he acknowledged it in his reply during the second reading debate, that 800,000 of those famous 1.2m people are British. They already owe their allegiance to the Queen. It may well be, and I would think if far more plausible, that the reason that many of those 800,000 have chosen not to take citizenship is that they have not been given sufficient incentive to do so. It is interesting that, as we have moved towards a requirement that one must be an Australian citizen to be a new enroller on the electoral roll, and as we have introduced the requirement that one must be an Australian citizen to be a member of the Commonwealth Public Service, there is now this rapid rate of increase in the taking of citizenship, which I think is excellent. Maybe they are the sorts of incentives that are necessary. One member of the House of Representatives-I am afraid I do not know his electorate-a Mr Gear, offered this novel explanation for those people:

Currently, there are 1.2 million residents of Australia who could become citizens. I wonder how many of them will become citizens now we have removed that part of the oath of allegiance?

that is, as the Government has tried to by this Bill-

A number of United Kingdom citizens have questioned the swearing of allegiance to the Queen because they already owe their allegiance to Her Majesty as a person, if not in her role as sovereign of Australia.

I suggest that they owe her allegiance because she is sovereign of the United Kingdom and not because she is a 'person' in the United Kingdom-

A number of United Kingdom citizens serving in the Australian Army who have applied to become Australian citizens have expressed strong feelings at the requirement again to pledge their allegiance to the Queen. A number have said they find the requirement offensive to their commission or to their original oath of allegiance on joining the Army.

I wonder whether Mr Gear found it offensive to swear allegiance to the Queen when he was sworn in as a member of the House of Representatives. As a citizen, he already had that allegiance. To enter this Parliament, he was required publicly to state and swear it. There is no difference. There is no harm, there is no offence, on a particular occasion, in taking an oath or making an affirmation swearing allegiance to someone to whom one already owes allegiance. I suggest that Mr Gear really stretched the point.

Again, in the debate in the House of Representatives, the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr West) said:

The declaration of allegiance made at the time that Australian citizenship is granted is, quite properly, regarded as of singular importance by many people. It incorporates three separate elements: The renunciation of former allegiance, a commitment to observe the laws of Australia and the declaration of new allegiance to Australia. There has already been considerable community discussion on this issue. There was strong support at the national consultations for wording which is distinctly Australian in character, which expresses full commitment to Australia, its laws and the Constitution, and which avoids the requirement to swear allegiance to a sovereign resident elsewhere. The report on the consultations makes it clear that these views were shared by people from a variety of backgrounds including holders of imperial awards and persons who expressed in other ways a wish to maintain a link with Britain. The honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Macphee), as Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, drew attention in May 1982 to the confusion caused to many new settlers by this aspect of the existing oath and to the resistance of many people to taking such an oath.

That goes very close to misrepresenting what Mr Macphee's views were, as stated on 6 May 1982. He recognised that there was some confusion about what one was doing when one renounced previous allegiances. He said that this was an issue which would have to be addressed. He indicated that he would support a changing of the oath or the affirmation in that way, but at no stage did he indicate support for a change which took out the swearing of allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen. Not only did he not indicate that; he specifically said that he did not support that. By lumping together all those points of view and then generally attributing them to Mr Macphee, there was some misrepresentation of the previous Government's view and specifically that of its Minister.

I find the objection to a sovereign 'resident elsewhere' to be strange, particularly when it is echoed by members of the Australian Labor Party. It was, after all-and full credit to it-a Labor government which took the action which resulted in Queen Elizabeth becoming Queen of Australia. It was appropriate. So, whilst we have the notion of residence 'elsewhere', she is the head of our Commonwealth. It also conveniently overlooks the presence of the Governor- General and the various State governors who represent her in her absence from this country. It is of a piece, really, with what has happened regarding the anthem. The Government could take all heat out of the anthem question if it would only say that God Save The Queen was for vice-regal occasions, not just for royal occasions, and recognise that the Governor-General and the State governors represent the Queen and should be treated as the Queen in her absence from Australia. It is of a piece with that.

It is highly indicative of the Minister's view and of how the issue has been fudged that he put out a statement on 2 May 1984 when the Australian Citizenship Amendment Bill was passed by the House of Representatives. His statement relevant to the removal of reference to Her Majesty the Queen, goes as follows:

The significant amendments in the Bill include-

inter alia-

a new pledge of Australian citizenship, which can be taken in either a religious or secular form.

Full stop. There is no mention of the significant change in allegiance. That is hidden. That is fudged; it is not pointed out. That is not something of which the Minister, Mr West, is proud in that proud list of achievements that he outlines in that Bill.

The Opposition will also oppose the reduction of the standard of English required from adequate to basic. What does this mean? Mr Macphee, in his statement and in the material incorporated, gave an indicative point of view for the purposes of discussion of a standard of English that might be reasonably required. It is the requirements of the Australian Second Language Proficiency Rating, Speaking and Listening, Level + 1. The Minister has given no ruling on what standard the Government will bring in. When pressed on the matter in the debate in the House of Representatives, he said:

I have been asked by certain members of this House and the Senate to spell out what is meant by 'basic English'. We-

that is, the Government-

will be very pleased to put down exactly the policy guidelines on what 'basic English' means . . . To ensure a consistency of interpretation of meaning, my Department is already developing guidelines. These guidelines will be published and made available to the public, as with other guidelines, in the citizenship handbook.

It is that vagueness, that reluctance to say what the Government has decided, that has led to alarm. The Minister could so easily say that it is the ASLPR Level 1 +; or else he could say that it is the ASLPR Level 1, which appears more likely. We all know what that means. These standards are objective. Why must we wait for some guidelines which are to be issued subsequent to the passage of this Bill? Why does the Minister not state it?

There are duties of a citizen which require English. Jury duty is one that has been pointed out. One of the Government members in the House of Representatives suggested that if the English standard was too low for someone who had taken citizenship to do jury duty, maybe that person ought to be exempted on the same basis as Aborigines are exempted. Is that really what the Government has in mind -that because of that change, it will make consequential changes, which will mean that different groups of citizens in this country will have different responsibilities?

Reducing the period of residence required from three years to two years simply debases the currency. There is no other comparable country that grants citizenship in under three years. It is almost a new stage of the cultural cringe. It is virtually a citizenship cringe. Do we value citizenship of this country so low that we place on it lower residence standards than are required by any other country?

The agreed time for my speech has expired. On behalf of the Opposition, I move an amendment to the motion that the Bill be now read a second time. I move:

At end of motion, add 'but the Senate-

(a) disagrees with the Government's action in seeking to remove reference to Her Majesty The Queen from the oath of allegiance and the affirmation of allegiance; and

(b) views with concern-

(i) the Government's deliberate devaluation of the importance of the honour of Australian citizenship,

(ii) the Government's overall failure to consult properly with the people of Australia before bringing into this Parliament such radical republican legislative proposals, and

(iii) the Government's refusal to put such a fundamental change in citizenship to the people of Australia in a referendum.'