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Monday, 20 June 1994
Page: 1703

Senator McKIERNAN —My question is directed to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. Yesterday morning on the Channel Nine Sunday program the minister referred to plans for a government campaign to encourage about one million eligible permanent residents of Australia to become Australian citizens. I ask the minister now whether he will give the Senate any further details of that campaign, and perhaps also explain why citizenship is so important in a multicultural society like ours.

Senator BOLKUS —I thank Senator McKiernan for this question. The issue of citizenship is one that I am sure he knows is important. It is a key ingredient to any society. It is particularly important to Australia where the concept of citizenship not only has its normal meaning but also acts as a unifier. In Australia citizenship does in fact unite people who have come here from all over the world—from, according to the last census, some 240 different places of origin.

  I think also we recognise, as does Senator McKiernan in his position of chair of the parliamentary committee, that in Australia, unlike other parts of the world, we have an inclusive approach to citizenship, one which is quite basic in managing a culturally diverse society. In our society citizenship is a right available to anyone after two years permanent residence.

  The importance of citizenship emanates on two levels. It is important in terms of the rights that one carries when one becomes a citizen—the right to vote and the right to stand for parliament. It also has symbolic values which are even greater still because, by taking out Australian citizenship, one is declaring a commitment to the country in which one has chosen to live and acknowledging publicly that commitment and that being Australian carries responsibilities as well as rights.

  The government has looked at ways of ensuring that take-up rates can be improved in this area. For instance, in the 1991 census we were told that communities have extremely high rates of citizenship. For example, in the Greek community the take-up rate is 95 per cent; 98 per cent of those who are Ukraine-born are citizens; 96 per cent of those from the former Baltic States are citizens; 91 per cent from the former Yugoslavia are citizens; and 90 per cent from Laos are citizens. The Vietnamese community has probably the highest take-up rate after a 15-year incoming period with 96 per cent of that community having become citizens, whereas the mean across the board for other communities is only 72 per cent.

  As I said on the Sunday program, the government is concerned that about one million Australian people who are permanent residents have not become Australian citizens. Some have lived here for several decades. In fact, half the number of permanent residents have come from the United Kingdom and New Zealand, and only 53 per cent of the eligible UK-born community has taken out citizenship. I am sure Senator McKiernan would recognise that many others were of Irish origin, although the new pledge of commitment introduced on Australia Day this year has already encouraged hundreds of Irish permanent residents to take out citizenship here. In fact, only this month we saw 99 Irish-Australians, including the editor of Irish Echo, become citizens at a special ceremony at the Hyde Park Barracks.

  There is a need to do more. The government committed $3 1/4 million to a campaign this financial year, in the 1994-95 budget. It will be a multimedia campaign, and I look forward to launching that later this year. In addition, $450,000 a year will be allocated for the next three years to follow up with a range of community activities and strategies. The campaign will be targeted specifically at non-citizens, and the specific objective of the campaign will be to get the take-up rate increased.