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Tuesday, 9 October 1984
Page: 1500


Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE(9.42) —We are debating the Australian Citizenship Amendment Bill 1984. This Bill represents one of the Labor Government's most blatant moves in the direction of a republic for Australia. If this Government wishes to turn Australia into a Republic it should come out and categorically and clearly state that this is its aim and allow the Australian public to express its views on the matter. Of course, the Government knows what the outcome of such a move would be, which is why it resorts to taking steps by stealth towards such an end. I am, of course, referring in particular to the proposed change in the oath of allegiance contained in this Bill. The current oath or affirmation of allegiance, which I remind honourable senators was given its present form by the previous Labor Government, if my memory serves me correctly, requires intending citizens to state:

. . . will be faithful and bear allegiance to Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Australia, Her heirs and successors according to law, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Australia and fulfil my duties as an Australian citizen'.

This Bill proposes to change this oath to a pledge of Australian citizenship, requiring the intending citizen to state:

I renounce any current citizenship and all allegiance to any state other than Australia. I pledge that I will faithfully uphold the constitution, obey the laws of Australia and fulfil my duties as an Australian citizen.

The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Mr West tells us that this pledge is 'distinctly Australian in character', and 'it avoids the requirement to swear allegiance to a sovereign resident elsewhere', a requirement he described in a letter to the Age newspaper on 28 March this year as 'confusing'. Where is the confusion in recognising the fact-it is still a fact, however much the Australian Labor Party would wish otherwise-that Queen Elizabeth II is the Queen of Australia, and has a full time representative in Australia; the Governor-General. As such the Queen is the Australian head of state. Surely no one would disagree that she is an exemplary head of state without peer in the world. As long as she is the head of state in Australia intending citizens should recognise the Queen as such. Not only is the Crown an integral part of our laws, institutions and the constitution, but also the monarchy represents those values of freedom and justice that Australians have come to accept as their birthright. It ought to be remembered that many migrants come to Australia because it offers them the civil and political liberties so lacking in their countries of origin. In affirming their allegiance to the Crown they are, in their own way, embracing those values.

There is no constitutional argument for removing the reference to the Queen from the oath of citizenship. In pledging their allegiance to Australia, it is quite natural for people to direct that allegiance to the head of state, who ought to be the focus of their loyalty and who embodies the values and spirit of the nation. It is interesting to note that Canada and New Zealand, the two other Commonwealth nations which have the most in common with Australia, still retain reference to the Queen in their citizenship oaths. Intending Canadian citizens are required to swear or affirm that they will:

. . . be faithful to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, her heirs and successors according to law . . .

Likewise, people wishing to become citizens of New Zealand must swear that they will:

. . . be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the grace of God, Queen of New Zealand . . .

Evidently these countries do not believe that the requirement to affirm allegiance to the Queen is an impediment or a cause of confusion to people wishing to affirm citizenship. Indeed, they recognise the value of their heritage and wish to preserve their Commonwealth links.

In support of this Bill, the Government has advanced the argument that many of the 1.2 million residents of Australia who are eligible for Australian citizenship, but have not taken it out, are unwilling to take the oath in its present form. It is interesting to note that in 1982 the report of the Human Rights Commission into the Citizenship Act suggested that it was the requirement to renounce all other allegiance that was:

. . . felt to be an impediment in the way of taking out Australian citizenship by substantial numbers of immigrants. These people do not wish to renounce 'all other allegiance', although they wish to become loyal Australian citizens.

If the Government's real motive in deleting reference to the Queen from the oath was indeed to remove impediments to acquiring citizenship, as it claims is the case, why does the renunciation of all other allegiances remain? In November 1983, Jonathan Kelley and Ian McAllister from the Australian National University published the results of their research into the factors which are likely to influence the decision to adopt Australian citizenship. Their conclusion was:

Age and length of residence (are) the major influences on the decision to become an Australian citizen.

Clearly, the real motive behind deleting reference to the Queen in the citizenship oath, and certainly the effect of such a step, is to bring Australia one step nearer to a republic. It is an attempt to promote a narrow Australian nationalism by severing our links with Britain. I quote from a recent speech by the Honourable Justice Kirby who said:

We do not advance Australia by ignoring our history, overlooking our majority population and denigrating fine institutions inherited from Britain.

The concept of multiculturalism has been mentioned during the debates on this Bill, as if the changes proposed will advance the cause. In my view, when we sever ties with Britain, we are moving away form the aim of a tolerant multicultural society. Britain has a record of tolerance and freedom which we in Australia have inherited. Again I quote Justice Kirby:

The tolerant principle of multiculturalism actually flourishes best in a country which derives its institutions, laws and basic culture from Britain.

I think it a great shame that this Government sees fit to deny Australia's inheritance in this regard in pursuit of its socialist republican aims.

This Bill, of course, also seeks to make substantial changes to the criteria by which a person is judged eligible for citizenship. The English language requirement has been reduced from 'an adequate knowledge of the English language ' to 'a basic knowledge of the English language'. Of course, we all know and understand that the Act presently provides and will continue to provide exemption for people in certain age categories. Until now, as I understand it, the age limit has been 60. Under this proposed legislation it is to be reduced to 50. I think there are very obvious, reasonable and compassionate grounds for the age limit to be 60, but I would have thought that 50 is not an age which necessarily requires those compassionate grounds. I notice that in reply to a ministerial statement on the Australian Citizenship Act on 6 May 1982, Dr Theophanous told the House of Representatives:

It is the policy of the Australian Labor Party to remove the English language requirement for citizenship.

At least on this occasion we are fortunate that this Government shows little regard for Labor Party policy. Of course, such a stance is quite inappropriate in a country whose national language is English. Indeed, I believe there is no justification for any lowering of the English language requirement. Australian citizenship carries certain rights and responsibilities with it, including jury service, the right to stand for elective office and the right to vote. It would be impossible to carry out these duties and rights without an adequate knowledge of the Australian language or the English language. These days the distinction is becoming more and more apparent. Indeed, an adequate knowledge of English is vital for any person wishing to integrate with the community and to undertake his or her proper role as a citizen of Australia. The requirement of an adequate knowledge of English language as part of the criteria of eligibility for citizenship is a good incentive for new migrants to equip themselves with this skill. I believe that lowering the English language requirement in this regard is a retrograde step.

This Bill also seeks to reduce the length of time for which a person must have been resident in Australia to qualify for a grant of citizenship. The previous requirement of a total residency period of three years has now been reduced to two years. In addition, the stipulation that a person must be resident in Australia for 12 months prior to the grant of citizenship has been removed. In its place it is proposed that periods of residence totalling 12 months in the two years before the grant of citizenship are deemed to be sufficient. The argument for this change is that we live in an increasingly internationally mobile world. While this undoubtedly is the case, I do not believe that that fact is sufficient justification for such a radical reduction in the number of years a person must spend in Australia before being entitled to claim citizenship.

The decision to become a citizen of a new country is an important one in the life of an individual. Migration involves a tremendous and traumatic upheaval in many cases and the process of settlement is invariably lengthy. A new home must be found and a new job established. Time must be spent in making new friends, learning local customs and perhaps on many occasions learning a new language. It is quite proper that sufficient time should be allowed for this process before people make the final commitment of becoming Australian citizens. If we believe that Australian citizenship is a valuable acquisition, which I trust most of us do, it is quite reasonable to ask that the applicant should have spent sufficient time in Australia to demonstrate a commitment to and association with the nation. After all, no other country has a shorter residency requirement. The United Kingdom, the United States of America and Italy, to name just three, require applicants to have residency totalling at least five years. Canada and New Zealand, I understand, require a residency period of at least three years. Frankly, I cannot understand why this Government should think it necessary to reduce the residency requirement in Australia to only two years. I believe that if the Government wishes to provide greater flexibility in this regard the proposals of the previous Government outlined in the ministerial statement on Australian citizenship on 6 May 1982 offered a much more satisfactory solution. At that time it was suggested that the residency requirement be changed to specify that:

. . . an aggregate period of three years would need to have been spent in Australia over a period of . . . five years, but including a period of 12 months in the two years preceding the grant of citizenship.

This, I believe, would allow for adequate provision for the problems of people who, for example, are in jobs requiring frequent travel abroad while still requiring a sufficient period to be spent in Australia for an informed decision about citizenship to be made. As it stands, the Government's proposal to shorten the residency requirement will have no demonstrable benefits and, by requiring less from applicants, will tend to debase the vital and intrinsic value of citizenship of Australia. Australian citizenship is a privilege and ought to be regarded as such by those who acquire it. This Bill will do nothing to enhance the meaning and the value of that citizenship. This Government is simply using this Bill to further its own ends in forcing Australia towards a republic in an insidious, pernicious and devious way which tends to circumvent the will and the wishes of the great majority of Australians. If the Government had the courage of its convictions and was prepared to put these sorts of things to a referendum , it would be ignominiously defeated.