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Tuesday, 8 March 2005
Page: 79


Senator BARTLETT (5:51 PM) —I also want to speak on the report entitled They still call Australia home: inquiry into Australian expatriates. I agree with Senator Tierney that it is very timely. The Senate committee process once again demonstrates how valuable this area is. I note that the 16 recommendations were widely accepted by all senators, including government senators, in the vast majority of cases. I urge the government and senior ministers—including Senator Vanstone, seeing as she is in the chamber and has responsibility for some of the issues covered in this report, and Minister McGauran, the Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs—to treat the Senate committee report and its recommendations seriously. These areas are important and are part of what is desperately needed, which is to really change our thinking about what it is to be Australian in the modern world of the 21st century and to migrate and be part of what is widely recognised as a rapidly shrinking global community.

It is a little-recognised fact that if you ask the simple question, ‘How many Australians are there?’ you cannot get a precise answer. Firstly, how do you define what is an Australian? Even taking a simple definition and asking how many Australian citizens there are on the planet is problematic. In terms of getting a clear piece of information about how many Australians are dual citizens—citizens of Australia and another country—which I have tried to do a number of times, it is very hard to get anything other than a very general estimation. As this report shows, trying to estimate how many Australians there are overseas is also very difficult. How long do you keep counting them as Australian? If you are talking about what is in Australia’s interests, I would argue that it is in our interests and in almost all cases in the individual’s interest to continue to try and count them as Australian for as long as possible and to do what we can to maintain links.

We have been debating in recent times whether we should be getting short-term skilled workers into this country to undertake various tasks. We often do not think nearly as much about how many Australians are going overseas as skilled workers, as working holiday visa holders, as visitor visa holders or as family reunion people—all of whom are doing a similar thing but are retaining their links with Australia. We have had too narrow a focus over many years by simply thinking about people when they are standing within Australian boundaries; when they are outside of Australian boundaries they are out of the picture. We need to change that thinking in the same way that we need to change our thinking about what constitutes a migrant to Australia. People are flowing in and out of Australia and in and out of other countries much more regularly and frequently, for periods of time—for three years, for five years, for 10 years. I think that is healthy; it is certainly happening anyway. We need to make sure that we keep those connections with people who have contact with Australia much more skilfully and consciously than we have done.

I am disappointed that I was not able to participate much in this committee inquiry. I attempted to do so as a participating member a couple of times but was not able to because of other commitments. However, I did read some of the submissions. I note that there were over 650 submissions, which is an indication of the level of interest and the number of people that are not only touched by this issue but touched by it sufficiently significantly for them to want to put a submission in to a Senate committee.

To anybody that is further interested in this issue, I very much recommend a look at the work of Professor Graeme Hugo in particular. He has been looking at the changed nature of migration to Australia—the much more temporary nature of it—as well as the nature of emigration, of people moving out of Australia for short-term and long-term periods. I also recommend looking at the work of the Southern Cross Group, which has developed in recent times to give a voice to that very large expat community of around one million people, at reasonable estimates.

We would all know people from our own families or experience who have moved overseas for short or long periods of time. I have an aunt who I think departed Australia in the 1960s and has lived in a large number of countries and gained a lot of experience. She has lived in the US, the UK, Hong Kong, the Maldives and Cyprus and will probably end up moving back here—she is already spending a lot of time here—and contributing to the Australian economy and community with all her skills and experience. It is because of the links she has maintained with Australia that we are able to make use of that individual.

We have perhaps one of our most famous expats in Australia at the moment. I offer a big strong Aussie welcome to good old Princess Mary, who is in Canberra at present. Of course it is Princess Mary of Denmark I am speaking of, who until recently was an Australian but, I believe, had to give up her citizenship—I guess giving it up for love is an admirable thing. But clearly a lot of Australians still believe that Princess Mary retains a lot of Australianness about her even though she is no longer a citizen and believe that she is an ambassador for our country in another part of the world. Indeed, government ministers have spoken of what a great contribution she is making as an ambassador for Australia in another part of the world and of how she is doing a good job of it. That is perhaps an unusual example, but it is one example of how an Australian or an ex-Australian can still make a positive contribution to our country. It obviously benefits us to keep those links alive.

In more practical terms, beyond changing the way we think about these issues, there are legislative changes that we need to consider. We also need to improve information flows, particularly in the areas of the Australian Citizenship Act and the Commonwealth Electoral Act. This is a group of people, as is said right at the start of this report, who are a market, a constituency, a sales force and an ambassadorial corps. But in many ways they do not have a voice. Most of them are disenfranchised. Obviously there are issues about how long people retain the right to vote when they are no longer living in the country, but we should be aware of some of the approaches taken in other countries.

People may remember—I am sure Acting Deputy President Bolkus remembers—the story of the Melbourne based Greek-born man who went all the way back to Athens to vote in the recent Greek elections even though he had lived in Australia for a long period of time. Indeed there is a growing community of Greeks who migrated to Australia decades and decades ago and are now returning to Greece, to the place where they were born. But they are returning very much as Greek Australians, not as Greeks. That is a reverse linkage, if you like: they are leaving Australia and going back to Greece but they are still retaining that linkage to Australia.

There are things we need to change with the Commonwealth Electoral Act, and also with the Australian Citizenship Act, and there are recommendations about this. Recommendations 6 and 7 say that the Citizenship Act should be amended to ensure that children of people who renounced their citizenship under section 18 of the Citizenship Act, or children of people who previously lost their citizenship under section 17, should be eligible for Australian citizenship by descent. The committee also expressed concern that Australians living overseas may continue to be forced to renounce their citizenship while section 18 remains in the Citizenship Act—


Senator Sherry —I had to do that.


Senator BARTLETT —Senator Sherry had to do that, and obviously it would have been a massive loss to the country if that had continued. I am sure he has sorted it out since and has not just given himself away. We should not be disenfranchising people. I have written to the Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, Mr McGauran, and said that I would support those changes to the Citizenship Act.

I would also say that it is long overdue that we amend our Constitution. I know that is a lot more difficult. We have more and more dual citizens, but every one of them is disenfranchised in that none of them can run for parliament. I think that is an anachronism that must be removed as soon as possible. I know it requires a referendum but it is something that all parties would support, and need to support, because that is a massive and growing pool of talent. Perhaps 20 per cent to 25 per cent of Australians are dual citizens, and they are missing out on potentially being part of the federal parliament.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.