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Tuesday, 9 October 1984
Page: 1496

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN(9.10) —I wish to make some personal remarks about the Australian Citizenship Amendment Bill and express my support of Senator Martin's amendments to the second reading motion. I want to pay particular attention to some aspects of the Bill which I find most disturbing. I preface my remarks by stating at the outset that I believe those of us who are privileged to be representatives of the Australian people in this place, and in the other place, have a great responsibility with regard to this piece of legislation. I know that honourable members on the Government benches feel that it is all very matter of fact and probably not worth everybody getting stirred up about. But, to me, it is a matter that is very important indeed. I feel that we are at the crossroads. I consider that this piece of legislation will go quite a long way towards further adding to or detracting from-depending on the way one looks at it- the way Australians perceive themselves and the country in which they live.

I believe the Australian public is being treated like a group of second class citizens. The attitude is: 'Don't worry about it, we know what is best for you'. I did not agree when the Government took away our national anthem. It might be said that the Government had a referendum for a national song. I feel that had people thought they were voting for a national anthem they could quite easily have voted differently. I think the national anthem should be there for royal occasions and also vice-regal occasions. The Governors of each State represent the monarch and the Governor-General does likewise. I have been to many functions where both anthems are played. At Country Women's Association functions in particular a cassette containing the national anthem is played and then Advance Australia Fair. Those attending are asked: 'Let us stand while the band plays Advance Australia Fair'. If it is fair enough to call it the anthem, I suggest that people should learn the words. I am sure there are many people who would not be able to sing it anyway because they would not know the exact words.

I feel very strongly about the way this Government has altered the oath of allegiance to God and the Queen. I think they are very important national decisions and to my way of thinking the people of Australia most certainly have a right to be consulted. Before our eyes the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), and the Labor Government are severely altering the face of Australia, changing nearly 200 years of hard work and tradition, with the stroke of a pen and a lot of watered down rhetoric.

The Bill that is now before the House contains some very far reaching amendments to the Australian Citizenship Act-the Act by which new Australians pledge their commitment, their allegiance and their energies to the country which they believe to be the best in the world. The first point I want to make is that the Bill reduces the qualifying period for Australian citizenship from three to two years, and in doing so the Government has discounted the process of citizenship to the extent where a person needs to spend an aggregate of only 12 months during that two-year period to qualify. I certainly do not believe that that is a desirable amendment at all. Who is to stop shady businessmen, or drug runners, or other such undesirable characters from using Australia as a base for their operations over the two-year period? Why should we allow people who are not prepared to make a commitment in terms of their residency in our country to become permanent citizens? If it is good enough for them to want to become Australians, I feel that it is good enough for them to reside here for at least three years, on a continuous basis.

The Bill will also amend the requirement that an applicant for citizenship demonstrate an adequate knowledge of the English language. Not only is it debatable as to what constitutes 'an adequate knowledge' of the language, but I feel it is also important for Australia to require its immigrants to have the basic skills required for assimilation into our Australian way of life-and most certainly I feel that a good grasp of our English language is essential to assimilation. With regard to the treatment of those of British origin, the present Australian Citizenship Act allows the automatic acquisition of Australian citizenship by British subjects resident in or with close connections with Australia in 1949, when that Act came into force. This amendment appears to be deliberately discriminatory and biased against British and European migration . This Government is certainly in a very big hurry to get rid of everything to do with Great Britain. It has removed the reference to the monarchy from the oath. It has changed the national anthem. The Government started out to remove the Queen's Medal last year, but changed its mind.

I feel, too, that it is gearing up for a change in our flag. In a debate last week the Minister for Social Security (Senator Grimes) said that the Government did not intend to change the flag and was quite happy with the present one. I hope that is the Government's view after the election is over. However, there is concern that the Flags Act of 1953 is not adequate to ensure the preservation of the national flag. Most certainly if one can believe what Mr Hawke said in 1979 in his Boyer Lectures-'I would prefer to break the link with the British crown and have our own President as head of state'-I am sure people would not have too much trouble in guessing who would be the future President; but that, as we know , is the policy of the Labor Party.

Senator Harradine —King Malcolm of Nareen, of course.

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —He unfortunately has gone now, and I am afraid we are looking towards a President of a republic.

Senator Harradine —King Gough of Blue Poles, then.

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —Probably, by the bicentennial. I do not know why the present Labor Government has this urgent need to rid Australia of its very proud history. When one looks back in our history one realises that it is less than 200 years since Captain Arthur Phillip came over here. In fact, we shall celebrate the bicentenary in 1988. One knows what tremendous progress has taken place in our country over that period of years. When I was in China earlier this year I saw the Great Wall of China that was built some 2,500 years ago. One looks around China and comes to the view that that country is not as well developed as Australia is now. It has certainly done a lot better as far as people are concerned. However, China itself seems to have stopped, yet Australia has developed and done so many things in the past 200 years. I feel that our history is in many ways connected with the links we have enjoyed with Britain.

Then, of course, there is the deletion from the oath of allegiance of reference to the Queen of Australia. The removal of this reference to the Queen removes the protection of the citizen against any government of the day. This Government is removing the constitutional position of the Queen, which I feel is important to the citizen. It can reduce the so-called oath to a pledge. I accept that councils are given two choices when swearing in new citizens at the ceremonies at council chambers. One choice is to make an affirmation and the other is to refer to God and the Queen in the oath of allegiance. Unfortunately, so many councils place the affirmation first. This oath is really the most insignificant oath that any citizen in the world could take. I say it is meaningless by international standards.

The Government has no mandate to delete the reference to the Queen from the citizenship oath, given that the oath is the most important aspect of a migrant' s new life in Australia. I consider that this is just another step by the Government in eventual creation of a republic of Australia. I feel very strongly indeed about the need to maintain our traditional values, values which are based on Christian foundations. I feel that we are not interested in change just for change's sake. As far as I am concerned, these amendments chip away at the very core of the commitment to the traditional way of life-our heritage, our culture, our belief in this wonderful country-and at the history that has made this country what it is today. It is a commitment to a heritage of which we are proud and it saddens me that on the whim of this Government, the very fabric of our society can be changed. Any alteration of the respect for and commitment to the constitutional monarch, the Queen of Australia, to the flag, to the anthem and to the values placed on the citizenship of this great country is to be deplored.

The Labor Government may be able to take the Queen out of the oath but it will get more than it bargained for if it ever attempts to take the Queen out of the State which I am proud to represent in this chamber, the sovereign State of Queensland. I certainly support the amendments that have been moved to the motion for the second reading of this Bill by Senator Martin.