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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 49

Mr HARDGRAVE (12:08 PM) —I am pleased to be associated with the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Testing) Bill 2007 and commend the member for Watson—or is it Tanck?—for his fine contribution to this debate. I share many of his views, as expressed here this morning, and would share some concerns if there was any question about the opportunity for bipartisan nation-building, which is what citizenship and immigration are all about, and I would certainly urge the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship to put that to bed as well. I note that the member for Reid is in the chamber and is due to speak after me. He and I shared many of the platforms—I sound like I am an old man, at 47, reminiscing—of citizenship and multicultural affairs over a number of years at a very difficult time in Australia’s history. I was appointed the first ever citizenship minister in this place immediately after the September 11 atrocities—a time when I think Australia could have gone pear shaped. I say on the record that the member for Reid, in the advocacy within his party ranks—and I would like to believe that the member for Berowra, as the senior minister, and I—played a part in helping communities work together and build together in finding common ground rather than turning to things that could divide us and cause our nation to fall apart.

As the member for Watson has reflected, that is what this legislation is all about. Citizenship is the glue which essentially holds our family, our society, together. Yet, out of 21 million people in this country, something like one million plus are not citizens. It is extraordinary to me, as a former minister for citizenship, that about 60 per cent or more of those are from either the UK or New Zealand. These are people who come from countries similar to Australia and who live here for decades but choose not to be citizens. In the mid-1980s further changes were made dealing with the recognition of British subjects within Australia’s electoral framework. There are something like 200,000 British citizens—not Australian citizens—who are able to vote in this country. I find that offensive. I hope that all of those in my electorate who are now offended by that comment will still support me at a later point in the year.

I make the point that there is a real ambition by the government to draw everyone together under the reasonable challenge of signing up not just to the rights but to the responsibilities. The citizenship ceremony is a public statement of signing up to the responsibilities of being an Australian citizen. It is about saying very plainly that we believe in the rule of the law. As the member for Watson said, tolerance is not good enough; it is about respect—that we accept there are people in our country who come from a divergent range of cultures and backgrounds and if we do not have some time for respect in our heart we will have fights in our streets every day of the week. We do not want that.

Some of the worst people at understanding that are those who have been in this country for generations. They say: ‘I don’t know who that person is over there. They’ve got dark skin and they wear different clothes.’ There is not a dress code in this country. I do not care whether somebody wears a hijab or a chador. I find it very confronting, I must confess, when all you see is an eye-slit and somebody’s eyes. But it is not a religious practice; it is a cultural practice. I hope that over time they will wear down the practice. Too many Australians stand on their side of the street and forget to cross the street and say: ‘You’re new. You’re welcome. Find out about what is going on in Australia. Let me help you.’ My big challenge out of this morning’s debate morning is to say again that more Australians need to cross the street. They need to see that person they have never met before, they need to see that person who is dressed differently and they need to show them the way. Do not criticise them. Do not say: ‘They never talk in English. They talk in their own lingo. They keep to themselves.’ The message they are getting from too many Australians is: keep to yourself; talk in your own language. As the member for Watson said, the government is challenging those who are newer to Australia to get the confidence and the credentials to participate. With that sense of confidence and that competence you get a connection which allows you to have a sense of ownership about this country.

In the post September 11 environment some very fine words were said about those in various parts of the world who have no ambition of citizenship of any country. They are the big threat in the world. They do not care about any country. Those people are the problem, not those who perhaps take citizenship of two or more countries. I was very proud to introduce a bill, which became law, where we saw dual citizenship being possible in this country—where those born in this nation could travel to another country, become a citizen somewhere else and not lose their Australian citizenship. There are probably a million people around the world—certainly hundreds of thousands—who lost their citizenship of Australia because they took out citizenship somewhere else. Australia has grown up. Australia is no longer its own self-imposed victim of a cultural cringe that we are not good enough and are not capable enough.

Australia also is the most culturally diverse nation in the world. Twenty-five per cent of our current population were born in another country and between 20 and 25 per cent have at least one parent who was born in another country. There is no other nation—save for Canada, where about 19 or 20 per cent of people were born outside the county—that matches our 25 per cent in both those categories or that comes close to the sorts of challenges we have. We could disintegrate as a nation, we could balkanise, we could go into lots of little tribes. There is plenty of banter in this place. I am two parts Irish, two parts Scottish, and one part English and I have joked publicly that this means that I like a drink, but I want someone else to pay for it. But I am proud of my family’s history. One part of my family has been here for over 200 years. We did not come as convicts—I am envious of the member for Watson—we came as free settlers. I am proud of my family’s history: I like to do things Irish, I like to do things Scottish and I like to do things British. I also enjoy the fact that there are so many people from other countries who are proud of their cultures and traditions and who find new ways to share.

I am enormously blessed by a cultural diversity in my electorate that is so strong and yet so mature, so dedicated to Australia. There are people in my electorate who are going to be directly impacted by the citizenship test, if they want to be citizens, and who feel perhaps as though they are victims of a test that, as the member for Watson said, has been set up as a way of excluding people. But this test, as he said, is not about excluding people; it is about challenging people. It is about inviting people. It is about encouraging the many Australians who seem afraid to cross the street and welcome new faces into their neighbourhood. They seem afraid to do as The Bible says: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. This test is saying to those people, ‘These people have passed all the tests we have put in front of them. They passed our character test, our security test, and our health test to get here in the first place, Now they are going to pass this citizenship test.’ We are resourcing in record numbers—510 hours of the adult migrant English program, plus further hours, are given to people who, as the member for Watson said, are not even literate in the language they speak, the language of their childhood; they cannot read and write. Many of those people are refugees from war-torn African nations, where the opportunity to learn was never there. The government is putting record amounts of money into this.

This is the big problem—and the officials can brief their minister if I am wrong. My recollection is that only about 180 hours of the 510 hours of the adult migrant English program are actually used by the people who participate in it. My genuine concern is that unless people take up what is offered to them there is a chance that they are not going to fully equip themselves for life here. Some people from Indo-Chinese backgrounds—and I have seen it on television; it must be right—who work in the market gardens around the back of Sydney airport have never spoken anything but Cambodian or Vietnamese in their entire time in Australia and they have been here for decades. That is not to say that all Vietnamese or Cambodians would fit that category. They are amongst the most articulate, capable and achieving of Australians.

It is important to see this as a test built around giving credibility to those migrants. This is not a test that is built around trying to exclude people. It is about trying to satisfy the half of the Australian family who do not have a direct first or second generation experience when it comes to migration—the groups of Australians who want to brief the rest of society, it seems, against those they perceive to be different, people with a different skin, with a different religion, with different dress codes or whatever. We tend to go through this as a country—we tend to test different migrant groups. The key Australian value is the sense of a fair go, but the key Australian challenge is the test of whether you are fair dinkum. I know it all sounds very colloquial but, at the end of it, that is what we do to generation after generation. I am old enough to remember the sixties. As a kid, the ‘odd’ ones in the school grounds were those whose names ended in ‘opolous’—the Greeks—and also the Italians. They are all very much, and very proudly, part of the mainstream now. The grandchildren and the great grandchildren of those early Greek migrants, who have suffered their entire lives speaking English with a Greek accent, now go off to Athens speaking Greek with an Australian accent. That is the way Australia has evolved over the years. The same thing has happened to the Vietnamese and the Taiwanese and the Chinese in my electorate. These people have their ABCs. They are Australian-born Vietnamese, Taiwanese or Chinese. They have the broadest of Australian accents, but Asian faces.

The same now is beginning to happen in the early part of our response to the needs of African refugees coming to this country. Knowing the stories that I know, knowing the people I know in the electorate of Moreton, and having visited the Kakuma camp in Kenya in 2003, I know that you can put whatever test you like in front of these people, and they will pass it. The first people to take up citizenship, no matter whether they had to wait one year, two years, three years or five years, are those who have been rejected by their old country. They have been through hell and back and worse. I do not need to labour the point about the atrocities they have had to endure on a personal level, on a family level and on a society level. They are tough people. They are people with a burning desire to win. That may be at the most elementary levels, but it is going to lift them up from the absolute despair they have been in. You can set as tough a test as you like—they are going to bust a gut to pass it, to prove something. They have the burning desire to belong. The sense of belonging that comes from being an Australian citizen brings a tear to your eye. You have to be tough stuff if you are not moved by the sheer emotion of grown-up people who have been through hell and back, grabbing hold of that Australian citizenship certificate and kissing it. The government is not going hard on them.

There are those who like to try and create trouble in these debates, to over-ethnicise society, to divide it up into lots of little chunks rather than to see it as threads of a marvellously strong social fabric, who try to break it up into little pebbles rather than see the fact that we are all part of the mainstream: the first Australians; those Australians of longer standing, such as my family who came in the 1790s on Mum’s side and the 1840s on Dad’s side; those who were part of the massive nation building exercise in the post Second World War period, where the Poles and the Germans, people who were opposing each other in war, came together in peace to build this country; the Italians; the Greeks; the Turks. All these people have come to Australia since the Second World War. Part of the energy and strength of this country, part of the reason this country is economically so successful and the society is so successful is that all of those people have come here to advance.

I have said it before and I say it again: nobody ever leaves their country of birth to go backwards. Whether you are the poorest refugee or the richest business migrant, you come to do better, and that is part of the energy in Australian society today. And, as I said, some people still do not get it. The fact that a million people who could be citizens—350,000 British and something like 240,000 New Zealanders—see it as an optional extra is astonishing. I think the next biggest group is 8,000 or 10,000 Italians. We need to challenge those of longer standing with English skills and those who have been here for a long time to sign up.

We need to make sure that those of us who have been here for many generations find a way of giving a sense of welcome to everybody. One of the things I have noted at many citizenship ceremonies—I have presided where there has been one person; I have presided where there have been 5,000, in the Exhibition Building in Melbourne a few years ago—is the affirmation of Australian citizenship. As my father always said, ‘I was born here, my father was born here, my grandfather was born here and my great grandfather came here. How come I can’t say something about my commitment to Australia?’ So over the last five, six or seven years, the government—at the instigation of the member for Berowra, Mr Ruddock, when he was Australia’s longest serving immigration minister—brought in this affirmation of Australian citizenship to give those of us born here a chance to stand with those who have just become citizens and say: ‘We feel as passionate about this as you do.’

So I welcome this test for the same reasons the member for Watson welcomes this test: it is a nation-building exercise, consistent with the expectations that society has. Since 1949 there have been a variety of criteria and tests to be met. Canada, as I said, is the only really comparable country to Australia. America has about 10 per cent overseas born, Canada has about 20 per cent and we have 25 per cent—hence my focus on Canada. I believe Canadian authorities make you wait five years, that you undergo intensive compulsory training in societal values and that you have to learn either English or French. If you are in Quebec, the Quebecois will insist upon French. Either way, it is then put before an independent third party, a citizenship judge. I saw the supreme judge of the citizenship court in action in Canada a few years ago. There is a huge, amazing sense of achievement for new Canadian citizens: ‘Hey, look—all the tests, all the barriers, all of the questions have been asked of us, and we’ve passed!’

For this particular test, 60 per cent is the pass mark. There are 20 questions randomly selected from a computer grouping. For the AMEP students, the ones who come from a non-English-speaking background, there is an opportunity to do sample papers to understand the test. In every possible way, what we are doing here is very consistent with our long-term ambition for nation building. It ensures that the people in society, indeed the people in this place, who do not get it can in fact be put in their place on this.

 The member for Watson and I are going to be at one on a lot of these things, but I say to the member for Watson it is important for him to brief some members of his caucus about their comments. On 29 November last year, Senator Faulkner said in the Senate that he was very concerned about this. He said:

Language and civics tests will tell us nothing about the fitness of new arrivals for citizenship and its rights and obligations.

…         …         …

Just how social cohesion is promoted by applying pointless tests for full entry into the life of the country is not explained.

The member for Banks said just a month ago, on 21 May:

The test is the first thing that should be repealed when there is a change of government; it should not decide who becomes an Australian citizen.

The member for Swan is also on record in the Hansard being critical about this, as is the member for Canberra. Lindy Nelson-Carr, the Queensland Minister for Multiculturalism, who is more adept at branch stacking in my electorate than anything else, says this test is divisive and unnecessary. Their words are a complete contrast to what the member for Watson said. I would like to believe that the member for Watson’s comments are more consistent with good social cohesion and good nation building, as is this bill, than those of other members I have named. I call upon him to bring them into line. I really do recommend this bill to the House. I say to all members to remember that this is about nation building. It is not about excluding; it is about including.