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Australian citizenship

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MEDIA STATEMENT Philip Ruddock MP Federal M ember for Dundas Shadow M inister for Immigration

and Ethnic Affairs

Electorate Tel: (02) 858 1011 Fax: (02) 804 6739

Parliament House Tel: (06) 277 4343 Fax: (06) 277 2062

Embargoed until Sunday, January 26 1992


The Australian Citizenship Act is in need of fundamental review.

- it requires a clear statement of purpose outlining the rights and obligations of citizenship;

It is appropriate on Australia Day to reflect on the meaning and importance of citizenship. In many citizenship ceremonies around the country today people will be pondering the nature of the commitment they have made to this nation and just what it means.

It is said the act of gaining citizenship bestows upon people equal rights and duties, liberties and constraints, powers and responsibilities.

The Australian Citizenship Act (1948) is the place where one would expect a comprehensive statement about the nature of these obligations and entitlements.

Regrettably this is not the case. The Act does contain technical details on how a person may obtain, lose, regain, forfeit or renounce Australian citizenship. It tells us that there is a citizenship ceremony; that applicants are required to say they will faithfully observe the laws of Australia and fulfil their duties as an Australian citizen, but nowhere does the

Act say what those duties are. Nowhere does it say what rights are achieved.

Such a shallow concept of citizenship begs the question: What does it mean to be an Australian.

In most public documents, Australia is identified as having a community commitment to various institutions and values; these include parliamentary democracy, the rule of law and equality before the law, freedom of the individual, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, equality of women, equal opportunity for all and universal


Such values are fundamental to us. But it is not clear that they are overriding in relation to some values brought from elsewhere.

Some are enshrined in our constitution such as freedom of religion, the separation of powers doctrine and some aspects of parliamentary democracy. Others are in discreet legislation, such as discrimination laws, while others are in policy statements such as the National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia. .





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But nowhere in legislative form are these brought together.

The Citizenship Act should be a framework of law identifying these values against which we can build a sense of national identity that is meaningful to all Australians. Such a law could demonstrate the importance we place on values such as equality, social justice, acceptance, personal freedom and tolerance.

The Government of the day must be seen to be upholding, preserving and extending these values to all who seek to live permanently within these shores as citizens of this country.

These are reciprocal obligations, a commitment, to this nation first and foremost. It is this two-way commitment which binds us together and gives us our identity as Australians; the very thing that makes people want to come here in the first place.

If this two-way commitment is expected to be binding in more than a personal sense, then the obligations and entitlements of the people who accept these institutions and values ought to be spelt out quite clearly in the Citizenship Act.

In re-writing the Citizenship Act, the Coalition suggests a statement about rights and obligations.

The Government's national agenda for a multicultural Australia, stripped of its overtly political rhetoric, does set out some matters that might very well be dealt with in a citizenship document, particularly in its statement of objectives.

It outlines rights and responsibilities, and discusses the importance of participation and social cohesion, all the necessary elements to the preservation of community and a national identity.

In that definition of multiculturalism, these points were made.

- cultural identity: the right of all Australians, within carefully defined limits, to express and share their individual cultural heritage, including their language and religion;

- social justice: the right of all Australians to equality of treatment and opportunity, and the removal of barriers of race, ethnicity, culture, religion, language, gender or place of birth; and

- economic efficiency: the need to maintain, develop and utilise effectively the skills and talents of all Australians regardless of background.


The provisions often overlooked, and essential to the definition are:

- multicultural policies are based upon the premise that all Australians should have an overriding and unifying commitment to Australia, to its interests and future first and foremost;

- multicultural policies require all Australians to accept the basic structures and principles of Australian society - the Constitution and the rule of law, tolerance and equality, parliamentary democracy, freedom of speech and religion, English as the national language and equality of the sexes; and

- multicultural policies impose obligations as well as conferring rights: the right to express one's own culture and beliefs involves a reciprocal responsibility to accept the right of others to express their views and values.

It is clear that if we are going to have a Citizenship Act which is understood, which is meaningful; if we are going to place a value on what it is to be Australian, then in some place the objectives of citizenship ought to be clearly stated.

These are the sorts of issues which we should be contemplating on this Australia Day, particularly at citizenship ceremonies, so that those people who have come here have a full appreciation of the value and meaning of becoming an Australian citizen.

January 26 1991