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Thursday, 11 October 1984
Page: 1622

Senator MARTIN(10.51) —I have just discovered that clause 11 of the Bill is one which contains provisions to which the Opposition objects. I thought those matters were contained in some later clause. I refer to the required proficiency in English. I have already indicated that the Opposition is proposing three changes to the Bill. The first change concerns the oath and affirmation of allegiance; the second is the change in the required standard of English; and the third is the change in relation to length of residence. I have searched valiantly to see where the latter time provisions appear and discover that they are in clause 11. I seek leave of the Committee to have clause 11 recommitted.

Leave granted.

Senator MARTIN —The Opposition opposes two changes contained in clause 11, although I make the qualification that if we could get a satisfactory undertaking from the Government in relation to one part then we indicate that we may not oppose that. Clause 11 concerns conditions of citizenship. We support proposed new section 13, with the exception of paragraphs (d), (e) and (g) of sub-section (1). The effect of the proposed new section is, among other things, to reduce the residency requirement to qualify for Australian citizenship, stated in the simplest terms, from three years to two years. It was under the Whitlam Government that the residency requirement was reduced to three years and we supported that. We believe that the reduction from three years to two years is not appropriate. There is no comparable country in the world that requires a residency of only two years before someone can qualify for citizenship. There was some reference in the second reading debate to why people take citizenship. There has been an acceleration in applications for citizenship, which I believe is a consequence of two things. Firstly, one cannot now enrol on the electoral roll, as a new enrollee, unless one is an Australian citizen. Secondly, one cannot be employed by the Commonwealth Public Service unless one is an Australian citizen. I think those two actions taken under the Fraser Government have put a higher value on Australian citizenship.

We have said that we want progressively to raise the value we as a nation place on the privilege of citizenship. We have given people incentives to take citizenship if they qualify and, in so doing, we have put a higher value on citizenship. It is my opinion that the higher rate of applications for citizenship from certain people has been as a consequence of their needing to be citizens to have at least those two opportunities of being able to vote and be employed by the Commonwealth Public Service.

To reduce the qualification period from three years to two years is a devaluation of citizenship. I say that in terms of the requirements that other comparable countries put on citizenship. Such countries have at least three years, and in some cases considerably longer, residency requirements before someone can become a citizen. We are certainly not indicating that we think it should be longer than three years but we think that three years is reasonable. To reduce that period we think would devalue the importance of citizenship. We think a shorter period is inappropriate. I will deal later with proposed new paragraph (g).

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Elstob) —Senator Martin, if you are not going to oppose the whole of clause 11, would you indicate the paragraphs you propose to leave out?

Senator MARTIN —We oppose proposed new section 13 (1) (d) and (e), which refers to a reduction in the term of residency. I also will be speaking on paragraph (g ), but I prefer to speak to that separately. I therefore move:

Page 8, proposed paragraphs 13 (1) (d) and (e), lines 10 to 17, leave out the proposed paragraphs.