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Tuesday, 9 October 1984
Page: 1495


Senator KILGARIFF(9.00) —In speaking in this cognate debate of the Australian Citizenship Amendment Bill 1984 and the Aliens Act Repeal Bill 1984, I address my remarks in particular to the Australian Citizenship Amendment Bill. This Bill is designed to make some substantial changes to the Australian Citizenship Act 1948. Those changes include the reduction of the qualifying period for citizenship from three years to two years, allowing for appeals to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal where citizenship has been denied; reduction of the standard of English required from adequate to basic; the repeal of the definition of British subject status and the removal of reference to the Queen of Australia from the oath or affirmation of allegiance.

With most of the changes, including some not mentioned above, I have no argument. However, as with other Opposition senators I take offence at a number of proposed other changes to the Act. I refer particularly to the elimination of reference to the Queen of Australia from the oath or affirmation of allegiance, a matter mentioned by many honourable senators on this side during this debate. I also object to the reduction of the residence eligibility period for citizenship from three years to two years and the amendment which will reduce the requirement that an applicant for citizenship have an adequate knowledge of English to a basic knowledge of English.

With the removal of reference to the Queen from the oath of allegiance it is clear that the Government has taken a decision while having no mandate whatsoever for it from the Australian public. Yet again this Government and Prime Minister of consensus are proceeding on a politically emotive and divisive issue on which there has been no consultation. This is a presumptuous pro- republican move, a part of the playing down of the monarchy already demonstrated by the changing of the national anthem. That was another example of the refusal of the Government to take into consideration the wishes of the Australian people . The imposition of this unwanted national anthem continues to be flouted by those Australians who, given the opportunity, would certainly not have supported this Government's actions in a referendum.

If the Government wants to dismantle the institutions which are such an integral part of our system of constitutional monarchy it should state its intention in its party platform. As I see it, Mr Hawke has the perfect opportunity in the forthcoming election to set straight once and for all his Government's intentions as regards our relationship with Britain and our constitutional ties with that nation. Of course, as we have heard, we will have an election in the next two months, so there the Prime Minister has the opportunity. I believe that Mr Hawke should be honest with the electorate as to his republican intentions-as they appear-or else he should provide some real justification for his actions in changing the national anthem, doing away with the imperial honours and now removing reference to the Queen from the oath of allegiance-changes which have hurt very many people of Australia.

At the same time the Prime Minister may care to explain to the Australian people why it is that he has proceeded in these matters, riding rough- shod over the wishes of the electorate. Despite all his ideals of consensus one wonders just where the consensus is. Of course, the simple fact is that had he taken the democratic course and consulted the Australian people on their views by having a referendum on the issue he would have had to face the fact that the Australian people do not want the republic towards which he is obviously working. If the wishes of the majority of Australians had been followed we would still have God Save the Queen as our national anthem; we would still have imperial honours and we would still have an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen of Australia. The Government's actions in this matter are anti-British. It is the clear intention of Mr Hawke and of this Government to wind up in the position where the Queen of Australia will be a constitutional anomaly. It appears to me that this Government's intention is to eliminate all references to the Queen of Australia and, where possible, all connections with Britain.

As I see it the Government's actions will create two classes of Australians- those who owe allegiance to the Queen and those who do not. Those of us born here owe allegiance to the Queen by right of birth. However, there are very many of us who have chosen to take that oath and have taken it with pride. It is very obvious when one goes to the citizenship naturalisation ceremonies. I would have thought that a government that campaigned on a policy of bringing Australia together would see the irony in this proposed change, which will result in pulling Australia apart.

The Government's amendments will not stop there in creating two classes of Australians. The Government's proposal to reduce the requirement that applicants for citizenship have an adequate knowledge of English to a basic knowledge will mean that we will have two classes of Australians-those who speak English and those who do not. Here I am talking about the ordinary migration system because at the same time I acknowledge, of course, the responsibilities of Australia in accepting refugees from war-torn areas of the globe who would, of course, have some difficulty with the tests. However, I look upon the accepting of these refugees as an exceptional circumstance, although perhaps it is not so exceptional these days with the problems of Indo-China and other regions. Because of the refugees' lack of English I would expect Australia to continue to provide even better educational facilities for refugees.

I have no argument with the proposal that applicants for citizenship over 50 years of age be exempted from the language requirement. I acknowledge the difficulties many older persons have in learning a new language. However, surely if a younger person intends to take the significant step of adopting a new country he or she could be expected to accept that an adequate knowledge of the language is required. I do not put too much emphasis on the word 'adequate' although I do believe that he or she should have an adequate knowledge of the language.

I refer also to the responsibilities of citizenship. Citizens are expected to know the laws of their country. Our laws are in the language of our country, which is English. It is not good enough to confer citizenship on someone ill- equipped to deal with the responsibilities that go with it. Indeed, it is far from fair for the people concerned.

The Government's proposed reduction of the period of eligibility for citizenship from three years to two years is very controversial. I believe it amounts to a devaluation of the importance and honour of Australian citizenship. In knocking around Australia as I do I see that it is our much valued latterly arrived citizen looking for a new home and accepting Australia as such saying that a shorter period ignores the value of Australian citizenship. As I have said, I find indeed that in discussing this aspect of the Bill with the older Australian and with the latterly arrived Australian it is the new Australian-the person who has arrived in the last few years-who knows the value of being in Australia and who queries why it is that Australia wishes to reduce the period from three years to two years. Australia already has one of the shortest qualifying periods for citizenship in the world. As I said, currently it stands at three years. The United States of America requires five years qualification for citizenship recognising in that longer period that many new settlers take at least a year or so to settle and to make up their minds as to whether they wish to take out citizenship. I suggest that the same situation apply in Australia. As I said at the outset of my speech these are the amendments that many find difficulty with.

I have no hesitation, however, in supporting the other changes which include provisions for appeal against decisions of the Minister. This, I believe, is part of our democratic life. It is another way of saying that if a decision goes against a person he has the means of applying to a type of ombudsman. I believe that they have that right. I support the amendments moved by Senator Martin and I believe that some common sense should be applied to the amendments. Indeed I suggest that in some of its actions the Government in this instance has gone too far.