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Tuesday, 9 October 1984
Page: 1484

Senator MACKLIN(6.14) —The Australian Citizenship Amendment Bill is a very useful piece of legislation. It covers a very wide area of material and is not the end of the Western world as we have come to know it. It does what is necessary in the area of citizenship. If one looks at the recent history of Australia, one of the generally evolving ideas that have been presented is the notion of an Australian citizenship. Last year when we discussed the electoral legislation for the first time citizenship became the criteria for a person in Australia having the right to vote. I think that was a milestone in itself. It made an important contribution to our understanding of ourselves and where we were going as a country. On that occasion the Australian Democrats strongly supported the notion of enhancing as much as we can the notion of citizenship in this country and surrounding it with privileges that do not accrue to other people who live in this country. In other words, to become an Australian citizen must be seen as something important. The only way in which that can be done is by providing rights and responsibilities that do not descend on other people who are living here for one reason or another.

This Bill goes through a whole series of machinery items in that regard. Hence, it is a very important Bill which regularises in its scope the relationship between those people who have come to Australia and who had British citizenship, for example, or people who came to Australia and who had citizenship from other countries that still recognise the notion of dual citizenship. All these are complex matters of international law and this Bill comprehensively deals with them. It is a pity that the debate will not address itself to any of those issues, but will be concerned with the matters raised by Senator Sir John Carrick.

It is important for me to say where the Australian Democrats stand on that issue. We believe that the Queen as the head of state ought to appear in the oath of allegiance. We believe that because Australia happens to be part of a monarchy. Whether or not one wishes it to be so, it is so. That simply means that one does not have to rehearse in any way the type of argument rehearsed by Senator Sir John Carrick. Whether or not this amendment is carried, the Bill in no sense can be regarded as introducing republicanism by the back door, or creeping republicanism, or whatever else we have heard bandied about so far in this debate and doubtless, in view of the speakers who are to come, about which we will hear a lot more tonight. It is not that and cannot be that.

I appeal to those honourable senators who intend to speak after me to address themselves to the insuperable problem of the Constitution, namely, that Australia cannot become a republic without a vote of the people. If Senator Walters has a fascinating constitutional interpretation of how we are to become a republic without altering the Constitution, perhaps she would like to say so. It has bedevilled many people in this country as to how that precisely is to take place. That is the insuperable obstacle that those people who want to talk about those rather stupid silly ideas have to overcome. They must address themselves to that central point. One cannot take that step without changing the Constitution. If Senator Walters bothers to read the Constitution, she will find embedded in it the notion of the Queen as head of state, the notion of the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Governor-General and it goes on and on .

Senator Walters —You were not here in 1975.

Senator MACKLIN —That had absolutely nothing to do with republicanism. If Senator Walters wishes to address the question directly I would be happy to sit here and listen to her, but the question is: How does a country become a republic without changing the Constitution?

Senator Colston —She is going to keep it a secret.

Senator MACKLIN —She certainly will keep it a secret. Senator Walters and the rest of the Opposition contributors to this debate know it, yet they will never talk about it. There is no other way of taking that step, as they well recognise .

Senator Walters —You sit down and I will tell you.

Senator MACKLIN —I am saving the people of the other side of the chamber for those delights after dinner. They can come in here and listen to Senator Walters then. The item that we have had bandied about as introducing republicanism by the back door is the oath of allegiance. We do not find acceptable the mode contained in Schedule 1 of the Bill. I understand that is also the reasoned position of those in the Opposition parties who have spoken about this matter reasonably. That does not mean to say that one would not wish to approach some form of change in terms of the oath of allegiance. Indeed, I think that what we should be seeking is an oath of allegiance to be used in schools and on public occasions. It should be written in a way that is attractive and recognises the legal position that this country faces. In facing that legal position Australia has to face the fact that it is a monarchy, and hence the head of state will be a monarch. Whether that be the Queen or the King, under the present constitutional arrangements would depend on who is around at the time. Nevertheless, there will still be a monarch to head up a monarchy.

Presumably, at some later stage in our constitutional development there will be a reasoned debate on this issue. I hope there will be. I personally hope that we can have a reasoned debate about our form of government as we evolve into the next century. Unless we constantly address ourselves to the way in which this country is governed we run the dire risk of losing the essential elements upon which the Federation was based. Essentially, it must be based on the people of this country. At a later time the people of this country may wish to have a different form of government. If they do, they will vote that way in a referendum. We will then have a different form of government. That seems to us to be a perfectly legitimate and reasonable subject for debate. At present that is not the case. The Government has no proposals to go to the people to change this country's Constitution. We have nothing before us to indicate that the Government intends to do anything of the sort. Hence I believe, probably more as a matter of logic than anything else, that to take the Queen out of the oath of allegiance is not to do justice to our current constitutional structures.

The suggestion is made that the oath of allegiance as it appears in the Bill, which says, amongst other things 'I pledge that I will faithfully uphold the Constitution' implicitly involves the Queen, and it does. The Queen is an essential part of our current Constitution, as I have already said. I raise the argument as to why one would seek to change it. It seems somewhat odd. I understand the argument to be this: Some people may be affronted by the fact that the Queen is referred to in the oath of allegiance, hence we will explicitly take out the Queen from the oath of allegiance but, of course, she is implicitly contained within the Constitution'. That seems to me to be simply a subterfuge, a move to cover up what is clearly the case in Australia's constitutional structure. We do not believe that an argument along those lines can be or, probably more correctly, should be sustained. I do not think anyone would want to put anywhere the argument that we should put in an oath of allegiance some type of subterfuge concerned with whether or not the Queen is the head of state in the Commonwealth of Australia. Undoubtedly she is, and a pledge of allegiance should recognise that fact.

A wider question is involved here. It concerns the pledge itself and who ends up taking it. It is part of a debate which, unfortunately, has been moving into areas which I think most of us and I hope all of us in this chamber regret. It is probably in that context that one looks at this Bill in a different way from the way one would have tended to do even six to nine months ago. It seems to me that the people who take the oath of allegiance and become citizens of Australia , making it their adopted country, as I did, are quite willing to undertake whatever oath of allegiance is required for them to become citizens. I suggest that such a decision is not made on the words contained in the oath of allegiance but because one wants to adopt Australia as one's country, to live here, to see the country progress and grow and to contribute to that. In other words, a much more human decision is made. I doubt very much whether anyone making the decision to become an Australian citizen would have even seen the oath of allegiance before being asked to take it on the day.

We talk about all sorts of things in this place. It is often very useful to talk about what people actually do in real life. They do not look at the oath of allegiance and make decisions as to whether they will become Australians on that basis. They make a human decision based on human values and concerns-concerns for themselves, their families and their loved ones. Those seem to me to be very important decisions for people to make. The legalistic stuff comes along afterwards and is filled out only as a matter of course. I say quite openly that I do not even remember the words of the oath of allegiance that I took. I thought: 'At last I have become a citizen of Australia'. That was the important thing to me, not the oath of allegiance and its wording.

I do not want to put the Australian Democrats' case in a very strong form. We do not really want to get terribly hung up on the actual words. The point we want to make and the reason why we will not vote to have the current wording of the pledge changed is that we believe it is a matter of being quite open with everybody who comes to this country about the fact that Australia is a monarchy which has a queen or king as head of state and a constitutional structure that follows from that. There is nothing wrong with that. If I or anybody else who comes to this country and becomes a citizen does not feel that that is the way Australia should be organised, as soon as that person becomes a citizen he or she has 100 per cent as much right as everybody who was born here, a child of a person who was born here or a child of a child of a person who was born here, to seek to change that, to argue through the democratic forums in this country that this is an inappropriate way for it to be governed and that we ought to have a different type of mechanism. That is what every citizen gets from citizenship. I know that everybody in this place would fight to preserve the right of an Australian citizen to say how we will be governed.

Over and above Australia being a monarchy, over and above our having a Senate, a House of Representatives and everything else, Australia is essentially a vibrant democracy, one of the very few left in the world. It is a country which is run by its own people. We can tell that it is run by its own people because our Constitution can be changed only by the people. That is what makes us strong , not the words on the paper; it is our people and the fact that they ultimately have the control over their own destiny, their own lives and their own forms of government. That is why I believe that if we want Australia to move away from being a monarchy or from whatever other structures we disagree with, as citizens we should argue that in the market place of political ideas. We should not believe that we will achieve that by changing words.

I am not at all sure what the intent of this legislation was. I believe the intent was good. I believe it was to meet a number of legitimate feelings that many people who have come to Australia have had about that pledge. Although I do not accept those feelings, I respect them. However, my Party does not believe that this is the way to go about acknowledging them. As I understand it, the Government-I thought Senator Walters might be interested in knowing this but she is not-will acquiesce in that because the Bill itself is far too important to be lost simply for the wording in a pledge.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.