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Tuesday, 9 October 1984
Page: 1489


Senator MacGIBBON(8.25) —The Australian Citizenship Amendment Bill 1984 started out to make some relevant changes to the legislation, but unfortunately it got distorted along the way and got carried away on a wave of Labor socialist dogma or perhaps, given the present Labor leader, one might say Labor theology. The general inadequacies of the Bill have been covered more than adequately by honourable senators on this side of the chamber. I will be voting in support of the amendment moved by Senator Martin.

The first point I would like to make is that there must have been very few second reading speeches put down in this chamber as inconsistent in content or as full of contradictory statements as this one. It is so bad that I think the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr West) wrote the speech himself rather than have a clerk in his Department do it. It would not be a bad idea if in future he got someone in the Department to write his speeches if this is the best he can do, purely from a technical point of view apart from its legislative content. In the second paragraph of his speech he says:

The Government is committed to ensuring that the Act reflects the national identity of all Australians.

I simply do not know what that expression means, and I have pondered it for quite a while. Then we come to the contradictions in the speech. Paragraph 4 finishes by his saying:

. . . as well as removing what many people see as the disincentives to acquiring citizenship contained in the present Act.

He goes on to contradict that by talking about rapid increases. In paragraph 5 he says that the reasons for the rising application rate are varied and in paragraph 7 says: 'In the face of the increased rate of applications'. He cannot really have it both ways at the one time. On page 6 of his speech he talks about the knowledge of English and extols the virtue of knowing English, saying that the knowledge of English is 'essential to full participation in Australia's social, cultural and political life', but later in the same paragraph says:

The Bill therefore proposes that applicants for citizenship must have only a basic knowledge of English.

It just does not hang together. I do not want to take up too much time tonight because I have a committee meeting, but the points where I depart quite markedly from a legislative point of view--


Senator Grimes —Ha, ha!


Senator MacGIBBON —Well, there is only Senator Grimes for an audience on this side, and he is hardly worth my time for much longer. I would like to deal seriatim with the points to which I have a marked objection from a legislative point of view. The first is the oath of allegiance. At the bottom of page 9 of the speech the Minister said that he eliminates the requirement to swear allegiance to a sovereign resident elsewhere. That is a very cheap and demeaning remark which really does no credit to a person who describes himself as a Minister of the Crown.


Senator Grimes —What about Professor Zubrzycki? He said that. Don't you like him either?


Senator MacGIBBON —Professor Zubrzycki is not a Minister of the Crown. I am quite happy to listen to what Professor Zubrzycki has to say, but I am going to have my say on the same topic. The term 'sovereign resident elsewhere' really has no meaning. I do not suppose that Mr West knows it, but the Governor-General is a representative of the sovereign and the State Governors are representatives of the sovereign. Furthermore, they are present at all times in Australia. If they are absent overseas or if they are ill, official administrators are appointed in their place. Going beyond that minor pettiness, the illogicality of the statement is mind boggling because Mr West cannot deny the existence of the sovereign in Australia. We are a constitutional monarchy whether we like it or not. We need only read section 1 of the Constitution which says in part:

The legislative power of the Commonwealth shall be vested in a Federal Parliament, which shall consist of the Queen, a Senate and a House of Representatives . . .

In all our legislative processes the place of the sovereign is enshrined. The only reason for Mr West going on in the way he did was to satiate those feelings for republicanism that are so strong in the present Australian Labor Party. At present we are dealing with an ALP in the Federal Parliament which has raised xenophobia, particularly with respect to our traditional friends in the United Kingdom and the United States of America, to a height that we have never seen before in Australia. That xenophobia is particularly manifested in respect of the United Kingdom and this Bill.

There is absolutely no point in not mentioning the sovereign in the oath of allegiance because in that oath that people are swearing they are swearing to uphold the Constitution of Australia. They are swearing to renounce all former allegiance. There is a commitment to observe the laws of Australia and a declaration of new allegiance to Australia. Later on the pledge states:

I will faithfully uphold the Constitution . . .

The Constitution provides, whether we like it or not, for a sovereign. So it is an absolute nonsense and a deception for this Government to maintain that by deleting a reference to the sovereign in the oath of allegiance somehow or other we do not have a monarch in this country as the head of state.

The second point I would like to deal with relates to the reduction in the period before one can apply for citizenship. I have a very strong view, having lived out of Australia for quite a part of my life, that citizenship is not a trivial matter. I have met stateless people and I know that the privilege of holding title as a citizen of a country is something that a lot of people in this world do not have. While we have an open door policy and a non- discriminatory migration policy which accepts implicitly that all migrants who come here will become Australian citizens, it does not follow that there is an automatic entitlement to citizenship just for the asking. I believe that people have to earn that entitlement to be a citizen and one of the best ways of earning that entitlement is through the passage of time. As time passes we can assess the mutual compatibility between the migrant and the host country and we can work out the acceptability of one to the other.

To do the things we are doing in this Bill, of reducing to a ridiculously low period the residency qualifications-a reduction from three years in eight, which it was, to two years in five, or for the continuous case, from 12 months in the preceding 12 months to 12 months in the preceding two years-is, I believe, absolutely untenable. It belittles and demeans Australian citizenship. It puts the earning of Australian citizenship at a lower level than that of any other comparable country that I know of. I am forced to the conclusion that if the Government wants to go to that level why does it not sell citizenship? Why does it not have a $50 fee or something and say: 'If you migrate to Australia, pay your fee and you can be an Australian citizen'?

Make no mistake about it, there is a marked community reaction to this debasing of the requirements to be entitled to call oneself an Australian citizen within the Australian community and it is within both the migrant community and the native born population. The sole justification for this that the Minister advances is to be found in his statement:

. . . difficulty which the current requirement can cause to people in a world which is increasingly internationally mobile.

That is a fatuous statement. It applies as much to Australia as to every other country. Other countries are not saying that they will cut back their residency requirement to these ridiculously low levels.

I believe that the granting of citizenship carries some privileges with it, not the least of which is the entitlement to carry an Australian passport. It gives the bearer of that passport some respectability in the international scene and also places an obligation on the Australian taxpayer to defend his interests and look after him if he gets into trouble around the world. I do not want to dwell for too long on the mobility of the international criminal fraternity but it is well known that people do move from country to country and operate on both legitimate and bogus passports. By having weak and meaningless periods of residency we enable people to exploit the system for nefarious purposes.

The next point I turn to is the English language requirement and the reduction from an adequate to a basic standard of English. Surprisingly, what is involved in basic English is not defined in any way at all. I ask the Senate: 'Am I basic in Italian, German, Spanish or Indonesian?' I might be because I can go into shops and get what I want. I can go for a ride in a bus or in a taxi, but it is nonsense to suggest that I have a basic level of competence in those languages because I simply cannot converse and I cannot comprehend what is being said. I can read French quite well because I spent four years learning it, but I would not advance the case that I have a basic knowledge of French because I am not fluent in it. I am forced to the conclusion that, in the absence of a definition of the words 'basic English', the Minister means a person need have no English at all.

Australia has been involved in some of the biggest per capita migration programs of any country. The overall record of Australia with respect to migration is one of very great success. I believe that we have been more successful in that assimilation of migrants than any other country, certainly this century. We have been building a new Australian community. We have done that without creating disadvantaged sections in the community. But I believe that by the abolition of the requirement to have an adequate level of English we run the risk of creating a disadvantaged section in this community, even a second class of citizens in the country. The first requirement of equality in a community is that everyone have an equal opportunity to compete for a job; everyone have an equal opportunity to advance his or her career. If we do not have the ability to converse in the language of the country in which we live we are not in the event; we start with a very great handicap.

The consequence of this is that we end up with enclaves; we have communities that do not relate to the larger community. Where we get these enclaves we very often get declining economic standards and end up with ghettos as there are in the large cities in the United States. That has never been a part of the Australian scene and it is something I would hate to see develop now.

I remember talking a month or two ago to a food manufacturer who complained to me about competition in Sydney and Melbourne. The competition was coming from new migrants to this country. He said: 'I cannot compete with them on a fair basis because when the health inspectors and union representatives go into their factories they meet a blanket response from the management who say: ''Sorry, we do not speak English here. Out you get'' '. The health inspectors and the union representatives do not press the point. They take the easy way out and they leave them alone. However, they went to the person who was talking to me about the matter. He meets those standards with the economic penalties involved, and the result is he cannot compete. It is a nonsense for the Minister to talk about new citizens undertaking their civic duties as he did later on in his second reading speech. One cannot serve on a jury or be part of the larger Australian community unless one can speak English. The whole situation we have got into here is one of the tragic end points of the Labor view of what multiculturalism involves.

I move to a minor point. The Minister talked about the obtaining of citizenship through fraud and deceit. He said:

In the case of a person obtaining Australian citizenship by fraud, deceit, the concealment of information or any other dishonest means, the Minister will have discretion to deprive that person of citizenship.

My view is that where citizenship is obtained through fraud or deceit, there should be automatic revocation of that citizenship.

I close on a minor point which illustrates the extreme touchiness of the Australian Labor Party. The Minister makes a very big thing out of using the word 'alien'. He said:

The existing definition of 'alien', which is discriminatory on the grounds of nationality and country of birth, is also being repealed.

That really is enshrining Mr Al Grassby in legislation. It is an absolutely nonsensical line to follow-every bit as bad as the support of genderless speech by the ALP. The term 'alien' is an honourable and honest legal term. I have been a non-resident alien in one country, and I have suffered no embarrassment and no discrimination as a consequence of it. It is a perfectly proper legal term to use. It illustrates an extraordinary point of touchiness that the Minister should refer to it in his speech.

This Bill treats a matter of great importance to the Australian community in a very muddled and insensitive way. The Minister's second reading speech accurately reflects his whole approach to this Bill, with its woolly-minded and jingoistic style.