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Thursday, 31 March 1966

Mr OPPERMAN (Corio) (Minister for Immigration) . - I move -

That the Bill be now read a second time. It is over five years since the Nationality and Citizenship Act was last amended. This Act is fundamental to our national status, and from it stem the concept of Australian citizenship and the rules under which our citizenship may be acquired.

It is natural that, with the passing of time and changing circumstances, adjustments become necessary in a law of this kind. The Bill which I now introduce to the House proposes a number of amendments to the main legislation, some of them of a minor machinery nature, but two of them representing positive and desirable amendments to the naturalisation process which is so important to the many thousands of settlers who have come here from non-British countries. I think it is desirable that I deal with these two amendments first.

Clauses 6 and 7 of the Bill give effect to the first of these two changes. Under section 15 (4) of the Nationality and Citizenship Act, the Minister for Immigration is empowered to grant naturalisation to the spouse of an Australian citizen without any of the usual statutory requirements being met. In practice, and as a matter of policy, concessions under this section have been made in relation to the residence and language requirements. As regards residence, the situation is that where a husband or wife is qualified but the partner is not, the eligible party is granted naturalisation and the non-qualified partner, as the spouse of an Australian citizen, then becomes eligible for naturalisation without completing the normal five years' residential qualification. Much the same procedure operates in respect of the language requirement except that the concession is granted only to the wife. Our nationality law does not, however, at present make provision for a married couple in either of these cases to be naturalised together; one has to wait while the other has completed all of the formalities and then attend a separate ceremony. The Government has therefore decided that in these circumstances a man and his wife should always be able to become naturalised at the same ceremony. It is much more suitable that the couple should receive their Australian citizenship together. Clause 6 of the Bill will effect this improvement, whilst clause 7 will ensure that the unqualified partner does not take the oath of allegiance before the qualified partner.

The second important amendment is dealt with in clause 11 of the Bill and concerns the present practice of requiring applicants for naturalisation to renounce allegiance to their former countries before swearing allegiance to our Queen. In its present form the renunciation is a prominent and separate part of the naturalisation ceremony, but we have decided that the essential words of renunciation should now be incorporated as part of the oath of allegiance to the Queen. The change will simplify and shorten the naturalisation ceremony and enhance its dignity, and will also,

I believe, eliminate the emotional disturbance felt by candidates due to their natural and rightful love of their homelands. The change has been effected by means of clause 11 of this Bill, which amends the prescribed oath of allegiance by the addition, after the applicant recites his name, of the words " renouncing all other allegiance ".

The other clauses of the Bill are, as I said earlier, mainly of a minor or technical nature. I shall deal with these in the order in which they appear in the Bill. Clause 3 amends the existing definition of the term "Australian Consulate". This has become necessary because some doubt was cast upon the legal effect of a register of births of Australian citizens born abroad which is kept at the central office of the Department of Immigration in Canberra. The amended definition places the point beyond doubt.

Clause 4 of the Bill seeks to amend section 10 of the Act in relation to children born in Australia of fathers who are here as members of other countries' diplomatic and consular staffs in Australia. The Act at present recognises the generally-accepted principle that such a child should not become an Australian citizen simply by birth here, unless the father is an Australian citizen. It is considered that a child should not be debarred from citizenship if the father is one of our migrants who has merely been locally engaged to work at an embassy or consulate. Clause 4 ensures this. The clause also takes account of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations which seeks to end the present situation whereby all the staff of a diplomatic mission have the same immunity from suit as the head of the mission. This situation forms the basis of present wording of section 10 (2) (a) of the Nationality and Citizenship Act, and the new wording now proposed by clause 4 of this Bill will ensure that, if Australia becomes a party to the Vienna Convention, there will be no need for a further consequential amendment of section 10.

Clause 5 of the Bill is an amendment to help those Australian citizens living abroad who fail, within a reasonable time, to register the births of their children born whilst they are away. At the moment, section 11 of the Nationality and Citizenship Act says that the birth may be registered within one year of its occurrence or, in special circumstance, within such extended period as the Minister allows. In the past, the view has been taken that the words " in special circumstances" permitted late registrations to be accepted where the failure to register within one year was due to ignorance of the provisions of the Act. I have been advised that ignorance of this kind might not always be regarded as " special circumstances ", and, as it is not desired to refuse such late registrations, clause 5 amends the Act by omitting the words " in special circumstances" and substituting the word " further " for the word " extended " in relation to the period of time in which a late registration may be made.

As I have already dealt with clauses 6 and 7, I move on to clause 8. A person born abroad prior to the commencement of the Nationality and Citizenship Act in 1949 who was a British subject in 1949 and whose father was born or naturalized in Australia becomes an Australian citizen immediately on entering Australia, under section 25 (3) of the Act. Even if he had become naturalized in a foreign country between 1949 and the date of his entering Australia, he still becomes an Australian citizen automatically on his entering this country. Clause 8 of this Bill inserts a further provision whereby the person must have remained a British subject right up to the time of entering Australia.

The second amendment which has become necessary because of Australia's ratification of an international convention is dealt with in clause 9 of the Bill: Having acceded, in 1961, to the Convention on the Nationality of Married Women, Australia has an obligation to ensure that the alien wives of its nationals may acquire the nationality of their husbands through specially privileged naturalisation procedures. The Nationality and Citizenship Act takes care of this obligation in respect of the wives of Australian citizens and the wives of Australian protected persons, but it does not provide for persons who, under our citizenship law, are British subjects without citizenship and whose association is with Australia rather than Britain or any other British country. Clause 9 of the Bill will amend section 26 of the Act to allow such alien wives to acquire the same national status as their husbands by making application to the Minister for Immigration and by taking a simple oath of allegiance as prescribed by clause 12 of the Bill.

Clause 10 of the Bill is a small amendment to ensure that section 34 of the Nationality and Citizenship Act as it stands at present does not restrict the possible wider application of sections 89, 90 and 91 of the Marriage Act 1961 in relation to the legitimation of children. Finally, the opportunity has been taken in clause 13 of the Bill to convert the prescribed penalties for non-observance of certain sections of the Nationality and Citizenship Act into decimal currency.

Mr. Speaker,I know that honorable members of both sides of this House will endorse the changes in our basic citizenship law which this Bill contemplates. They are changes which will assist those aliens in our midst who are worthy of Australian citizenship and who are most anxious to become Australians, and changes which will also enable the department of Immigration to administer the law with greater efficiency. I commend the Bill to all members of the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Daly) adjourned.

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