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Tuesday, 9 October 1984
Page: 1502

Senator GRIMES (Minister for Social Security)(9.57) —I thank the honourable senators who contributed to this long debate. The length of my speech will not be in proportion of the number of speeches or, I hope, the repetition. I particularly thank this evening Senator Macklin and Senator Harradine for what I consider very thoughtful speeches on this subject. I cannot say the same for all the others. I think it unfortunate, as Senator Harradine said, that in debates of this type we end up getting repetition of the sorts of things we have just heard from Senator Crichton-Browne tonight. As Senator Macklin pointed out- I do not mind quoting someone from the other side of this place-Australia cannot become a republic without changing the Constitution. We cannot change the Constitution without a referendum.

Senator Crichton-Browne —Kick the crutches away first.

Senator GRIMES —That interjection is typical. We cannot change the Constitution without a referendum. In light of the fact that that is the constitutional situation in this country, the debate, the arguments and, with respect, the second half of the amendment about this legislation being creeping republicanism are nonsense. The fact that so many Opposition speakers spent most of their time talking about attempts to get republicanism by the back door demonstrates the paucity of their arguments, how they are absolutely bankrupt of ideas in their approach to this debate tonight and that what they really are about and continue to be about is trying to score political points out of the argument. It is clear to the Government that the majority in this place wish to retain the reference to the Queen in the oath or affirmation of allegiance. We did not need 19 speakers or whatever number we have had in this debate to indicate that to us. We think the rest of the legislation is very important. We think it important that we pass this legislation. We accept that the Senate will pass the proposed amendment and that the legislation will be passed with that amendment.

To suggest, as many speakers tonight have, that that provision was put into the legislation because somehow the Government wants to bring in republicanism by the back door when there is a constitutional requirement to have a referendum in this country is nonsense. I think the great tragedy-Senator Harradine implied this-quite apart from this legislation is that we cannot have a decent debate about republicanism in this country because people such as Senator Crichton- Browne and Senator Sir John Carrick in particular persist in insisting that anybody who suggests that it may be better to have a republic in this country is disloyal, is a traitor and all the other nonsense that we hear. In other words, no one in this country can advocate such an idea without copying the sort of abuse that they have copped here tonight.

The legislation has in it a provision to change the oath and affirmation of allegiance and it was introduced as a result of national consultation which was conducted by the previous Fraser Government. That consultation was held all around this country. Meetings were held all around this country and the former Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Mr Hodges, went to every one of them. Professor Zubrzycki, who cannot be considered an extreme lefty in this country, brought down a report which was published by the previous Government. The report was entitled 'National Consultations on Multiculturalism and Citizenship'. Senator Archer tonight described everyone else as huffing and puffing. I do not know what he was on about. He read quotes which he attributed to Mr West but which were quotes of Mr West quoting from this report, quoting from Professor Zubrzycki. However, no Opposition honourable senators would admit that. They all attributed those words directly to Mr West when Mr West was quoting this report.

Senator Watson —The Fraser Government didn't endorse that report.

Senator GRIMES —I did not say that the Fraser Government endorsed that report; I said that the ideas from that report came from a consultation which Senator Watson's Government conducted.

Senator Townley —Where is the Minister who did it now?

Senator GRIMES —The Minister who did it is not here now. I will quote from Professor Zubrzycki's report. On page 23, in a section on the oath of allegiance , the proposal was that the oath or affirmation should be reworded. The report stated:

The strongly-held and predominant view emerging from the consultations was that swearing allegiance to a sovereign, and especially to a named sovereign resident elsewhere, was inappropriate in Australia at its present stage of history. This view was shared by persons from a variety of backgrounds, including holders of Imperial awards and persons who maintained that they were not republicans. No hostility was expressed towards Her Majesty, though one speaker did pose the conundrum as to where her own allegiance would lie if Britain came into conflict with Australia. Few speakers were in favour of retaining a mention of the Queen in the Oath of Allegiance, and spoke mainly to register their support, rather than to advance a reasoned case for its retention.

To accuse, as has been a thread through this debate tonight, all those people who came to those consultations and expressed honest views of being disloyal-and according to Senator Crichton-Browne stupid-is not debate; it is just personal abuse. To carry on with this nonsense and to have some sensible debate--

Senator Peter Rae —Be fair. He did not say that.

Senator GRIMES —Senator Rae should read Hansard and the words Senator Crichton- Browne used to describe Mr West and people who oppose this measure. He said that the statement that people had trouble swearing allegiance to a queen who was resident elsewhere was stupid and meaningless, and so did Senator MacGibbon. That is absolute nonsense.

Senator MacGibbon —Madam Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. I will not be wilfully and maliciously misrepresented on statements of fact by any Minister in this place.

Senator GRIMES —I will not put up with abuse from someone who owes his allegiance to a republic overseas, and he knows about it.

Senator Crichton-Browne —What does that mean?

Senator GRIMES —He knows what it is about and I notice that he is not jumping up about it. I point out that this provision was put into the legislation after consultation with the migrant communities in this country.

Senator Townley —Madam Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. On occasions in this place we have seen Ministers make accusations against honourable senators on this side when they cannot always defend themselves without looking as if they are protesting too much, as the Minister is now about his wanting Australia to be a republic. I object to the way in which Senator MacGibbon has been maligned. To say that a member of this Senate--

Senator MacGibbon —It does not apply to me.

Senator Townley —The statement was applied to you.

Senator MacGibbon —I definitely take a point of order then.

Senator GRIMES —If the cap fits--

Senator Townley —Excuse me, let me finish mine.

Senator GRIMES —I did not mention anyone, but if the cap fits. You sit down. I thought you were protesting about yourself.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Coleman) —Order! A point of order is before the Chair.

Senator Townley —I find that the making of that kind of inference against anybody-I think it was directed at Senator MacGibbon-on this side of the chamber is totally against what should happen in this place and should be immediately withdrawn. Perhaps it should have been noted by the Chair.

Senator Martin —Madam Acting Deputy President, Senator Grimes made a statement about someone on this side owing allegiance to an overseas republic. It appeared that it was a reference to Senator MacGibbon because he had just been on his feet. During Senator Townley's intervention Senator Grimes indicated that he had not named the person. It is a very serious allegation to say that somebody in this chamber owes his allegiance to another country. Senator Grimes should either indicate of whom he is speaking and have that judged on its merits or withdraw it.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Grimes, I ask you to withdraw the statement .

Senator GRIMES —I have no problem withdrawing, but if Opposition senators are going to interject all the time they have to cop it back.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Grimes, I have asked that you withdraw the statement that was offensive.

Senator GRIMES —I have withdrawn.

Senator Townley —Madam Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. I do not want to question your ruling but the slight is now against everybody on this side of the chamber that they have an allegiance to a foreign country.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Grimes has withdrawn the statement that was considered to be offensive at the time, Senator Townley. I now call the Minister and ask him to continue his remarks.

Senator GRIMES —Madam Acting Deputy President, I must say that if honourable senators interject and are not willing to cop it back--

Senator Crichton-Browne —Are you canvassing the ruling?

Senator GRIMES —No, I withdraw. I do not ask people to withdraw things that are said about me. I am not the sensitive one; Senator Crichton-Browne is. However, as it happens, this part of the legislation was included after consultations by the previous Government with groups at large meetings throughout the country. As swearing allegiance to the Constitution-the Queen is part of the Constitution- seemed to remove the difficulty that some people had, it was thought by the Minister and the Government that this measure was reasonable. If the Senate does not agree with it and, as is suggested, amends the legislation in this way, we think that the rest of the legislation is sufficiently important for us to accept that amendment, as I have said before. In doing so we will take the legislation back to the House of Representatives so that we have this important piece of legislation through the Parliament. I repeat: It is most unfortunate that we cannot have reasoned debate on subjects such as this in this place without the jingoism and chauvinism that we have heard here tonight. I certainly do not intend to go on with it any more. I believe it is a pointless exercise when, as Senator Harradine and others have said, there are far more serious things to debate and there will be for a considerable time. Therefore I will not go into details about the amendment. The first part, paragraph (a), of the amendment moved by Senator Martin, that the Senate 'disagrees with the Government's action in seeking to remove to Her Majesty The Queen from the oath of allegiance and the affirmation of allegiance,', is obviously an accurate statement of the numbers in this place. I accept that, but part (b) of the amendment refers to:

(i) the Government's deliberate evaluation of the importance of the honour of Australian citizenship,

(ii) the Government's overall failure to comply properly with the people of Australia before bringing into this Parliament such radical republican legislation proposals, and

(iii) the Government's refusal to put such a fundamental change in citizenship to the people of Australia in a referendum.

We reject that part, and I think that Senator Martin will demonstrate that the Opposition realises the stupidity of that second part of the amendment in a procedural motion that she will put later.

Senator Martin raised the serious question of the change in the legislation from an 'adequate' knowledge of English to a 'basic' knowledge of English. First , the word was changed from 'adequate' to 'basic' because it is believed that the word 'basic' better reflects the test of English that is required. Before I get to that point, Senator Martin, in the second reading debate, suggested that the Australian second language proficiency rating 1 + would be a better measure of the adequacy of English of the potential citizen. These ratings were developed by the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs for use in an adult migration education program, and they are now widely used throughout the country. The '1 +' described survival English, and there are four parts to that test, to each level of that scale. One is spoken; two is listening; three is reading; and four is writing skills. Reading and writing skills have never been required in tests of English language in this country, and nor should they be required. Senator Crichton-Browne said that people who cannot speak English do not deserve to be citizens of this country except under special-

Senator Crichton-Browne —Come on, Pinnochio.

Senator GRIMES —Let me finish-except under special circumstances, such as provisions for age, et cetera. I heard Senator Crichton-Browne say that; I am accepting that he said that. It does not say much for him.

Senator Martin —I said 'speaking and listening'.

Senator GRIMES —Just a minute. I am talking now about Senator Crichton-Browne. It reflects his attitude to those Aboriginals in this country who happen not to be able to speak English; but we will pass that over. Senator Walters said that people should be able to write, should be able to fill out driving licence forms , et cetera. That has never been a requirement, under any government, for citizenship in this country. Senator Martin says, quite rightly, that she wants speaking and listening skills but ASLPR 1 + also includes reading and writing skills. That is why I am saying that one cannot put into the legislation the requirement that people do the test.

What the handbook currently in use to decide what is now described as an adequate knowledge of English-and the change is only a word change, to 'basic' knowledge-provides is that an adequate knowledge of English should mean an ability to respond in simple English to questions in simple English about personal particulars during the citizenship interview. They should be able to answer yes or no or in simple English to factual questions on responsibilities and privileges of Australian citizenship. They should be able to respond in English when taking the oath or affirmation of allegiance. An ability to read or write English is not required. It is particularly stated that an applicant's ability to respond to questions is not to be confused by the interviewer's use of complex words or sentence structures. It is essential that where an applicant 's proficiency in English is limited, interviewers speak slowly and carefully, saying each word clearly but without losing the continuity of sentences, and look directly at the applicant when speaking.

Those are the basic provisions in the legislation. Those are the provisions that are required of people who are applying for citizenship. It is believed that the term 'basic' refers better to that test than the term 'adequate'.

Senator Walters —What is 'basic'?

Senator GRIMES —You were not here, Senator. I was just describing what was basic .

Senator Walters —You were saying nasty things behind my back.

Senator GRIMES —No. I said-and I believe that Senator Walters will agree-that she believes that before people become citizens they should be able to do things such as filling out forms for drivers' licences, et cetera. I am pointing out that under no government has a skill in reading or writing English ever been a requirement for citizenship. Senator Walters may believe that it should be a requirement, but there are plenty of people in Australia who were born here and who cannot read and write. I am pointing out that it never has been a requirement, and it is not a requirement in this legislation.

Senator Archer —What about jury service?

Senator GRIMES —A requirement to serve on a jury is not a requirement for citizenship; it never has been. It was not a requirement under previous governments and it is not a requirement under this one.

Senator Martin —It is a consequence of citizenship.

Senator GRIMES —It is a consequence that people may have to serve. They might have to serve, but there would, surely, be an exclusion for people who could not understand what was going on. Is the honourable senator saying that a person has to have sufficient English to understand what is going on in a jury trial before he or she can become a citizen? There would be an awful lot of people in this country who would not become citizens in those circumstances.

Senator Harradine raised matters about proposed new sub-sections (6), (7) and ( 8) which are part of clause 4 which refers to methods of artificial insemination . I am informed that the proposed provisions are consistent with similar provisions which are already in other Commonwealth legislation; the health insurance legislation, at least. I am unsure about the family law legislation. I doubt whether in vitro fertilisation is in that, although artificial insemination by donor probably is. They are believed necessary for purposes of removing any doubt as to the legal relationship between the child and his or her mother and father. With reference to citizenship by dissent in particular, the proposed provisions bring certainty into the legislation. I emphasise that they certainly do not seek to give any value judgment as to the desirability of artificial insemination or otherwise, nor do they seek to provide a legal basis by the back door, I suppose some people may say. I understand and respect Senator Harradine's views on this matter, but I assure him that there is no intention in doing this, other than to provide some certainty in the legislation as to the legal relationship between the child and the parents, and it is certainly not attempting to get round the very real legal difficulties which we face in this area and which I believe we shall continue to face for some time.

It seems to me that the only other section of the legislation to which people objected was the reduction of the residence requirement to two years for application for citizenship. As Senator Macklin said, the decision to become a citizen of a country is a personal one, whether or not the country is a monarchy . The decision to take that step is usually made within that time. The aim of this legislation is to simplify the procedures, to make them easily understood and to recognise that people who become citizens have obligations and that the country has obligations to those who wish to become citizens. The legislation was therefore introduced for these purposes. To suggest that the legislation is in some mystical way a means of introducing republicanism by the back door is, as both Senator Macklin and I have suggested, a nonsense. However, I know that people will insist on using that sort of rhetoric in these sorts of debates. I wish we could have this sort of debate without that kind of rhetoric for party political purposes, but I suppose that we all indulge in that sort of thing occasionally in this place.

I urge honourable senators to support the legislation. The Government certainly opposes the amendment, particularly the second part, part (b), which I believe is nothing more than something thrown in for some perceived political advantage. As Senator McIntosh says, it is largely humbug. I thank honourable senators for their contribution to the debate and urge them to give the Bill a speedy passage so that we can get it back to the House of Representatives and get legislation of this type, amended or otherwise.