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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 70

Mr GAVAN O’CONNOR (1:49 PM) —The process by which the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Testing) Bill 2007 has come to the floor of this House clearly demonstrates the moral bankruptcy of a tired government grasping for an issue with which to play wedge politics yet again and on which to divide Australians under the guise of uniting them. Let me say from the outset that my concern with this legislation stems not from any objection to a more formalised citizenship test, as long as it is reasonably structured, but from what we know of this government’s history of using and abusing sensitive community issues purely for its own political advantage, regardless of the cost and consequences to our community.

The process of this bill’s formation is cynical politics at its worst and an indictment of any government that claims to govern for Australians. When the Prime Minister announced in December 2006 that the government would introduce a citizenship test, he stated that that migrants wanting to become citizens would be required to sit a formal exam in English and answer 30 questions about Australian values, traditions, institutions and history which would be drawn from a pool of 200 questions. I note the presence in the chamber of the honourable member for Corangamite, who comes from the Geelong area, as I do. I would say that he would have difficulty answering 30 questions from a list of 200 from a resource book. But, be that as it may, we are going to have 30 questions about Australian values, traditions, institutions and history, and they will be drawn from a pool of 200. Knowing the government’s ugly history of attempting to deliberately manipulate these sensitive community issues for its own political purpose, the opposition requested a copy of the proposed test, a copy of the 200 questions on the aforementioned matters and a copy of the resource documents from which the government had drawn its 200 questions.

Mr McArthur —In English.

Mr GAVAN O’CONNOR —Not surprisingly, Member for Corangamite, none were available. So we have the Prime Minister of this country saying to the migrant population of Australia: ‘It is time that you took a test; you are going to be tested out of 200 questions and you are going to have to answer 30 with a pass mark of 60 per cent and it is all going to come out of a resource book. But, by the way, we haven’t even done any of that. We don’t even know which values we are talking about. We don’t really know which historical questions there will be,’ et cetera. I think that at that point the process of this bill coming into existence was exposed. There is nobody in this chamber who would deny that citizenship is a very important source of identity for us all. When we travel, we love to be considered as and let everybody know that we are Australians. Indeed, when citizenship ceremonies are held, we welcome those people who have made that momentous decision and we encourage and support them in making that great decision to become citizens that enhances their identity as Australians. Nobody has argument with that particular proposition. What we on this side of the House have argument with is a government that seeks to deliberately manipulate this issue for its own political purpose.

As I said, the Prime Minister made the statement and then, when we asked him to front up to the crease and bat out some questions that were involved in the test, he could not even answer them. The Prime Minister is asking people who want to take out Australian citizenship to answer questions that the government has not even thought about or thought through in proposing this legislation. The facts of the matter were that there was no test devised, there was no reference list of 200 questions and there was no base document from which the questions were sourced. So the fraudulent behaviour and confected concerns of members of the Howard government were exposed for us all to see. The government was prepared to risk community division and deliberately cause anxiety and concern among our migrant communities—all for the sake of wringing the political rag to pander yet again to the more ugly and destructive elements of its conservative constituency. The people of Geelong and the rest of the nation deserve better.

I want to share with members of government and my side of the House aspects of the Geelong experience. It is something of which our community is extremely proud. We are a multicultural community in Geelong and proud of it. I have been the member for Corio since 1993 and have seen my community mature and grow in tolerance and understanding over that time. As each new wave of settlers has sought sanctuary in Geelong to build a better life for themselves and their families, through their efforts, those migrants have made an enormous contribution to the economic prosperity of the region, and they have enriched its social and cultural life immensely. On behalf of the wider community, I thank each and every one of them for choosing Geelong as their home and for their personal contribution to making Geelong the great city and wonderful place to live that it is. Geelong’s diverse ethnic communities come together under the umbrella of the Geelong Ethnic Communities Council, which, since its inception, has played a very constructive role in giving each community an opportunity to formally have its say on issues affecting migrants and the provision of services to migrant families. Not only that, it is a major promoter and supporter of Geelong’s great Pako Festa, a multicultural festival that is now acknowledged to be one of the best in the country.

It is not only in the economic, cultural and social fields that migrants have made a great contribution. There has been one in the sporting field as well. Members of this House will note that Geelong is on the top of the AFL ladder.

Mr Nairn —Hear, hear!

Mr GAVAN O’CONNOR —The member for Eden-Monaro has entered the chamber. I know what a diehard supporter of Geelong he is. As he would appreciate, in the current team are ‘Bomber’ Wojcinski, Kane Tenace and Travis Varcoe—an Indigenous player of great skill and potential. Past players with ethnic backgrounds include Peter Riccardi and Brent Grgic. Of course, we can go back in history to the great Peter Pianto and Paul Vinar and in doing so we are getting back to the era of the honourable member for Corangamite. If we go to soccer, Josip Skoko, Steve Horvat and Joey Didulica are great current or immediate past contributors to Australian national and international soccer. And, while I am on my feet talking about the importance of sport for the region of Geelong—and I note that the Prime Minister has entered the chamber—we will be approaching the government for a $26 million contribution to Skilled Stadium. I hope the Prime Minister will look quite favourably on that request, because Geelong is an important, iconic foundation member of the Australian Football League and Kardinia Park is a community complex. We want to secure it long term for the total population of Geelong and improve its capacity to serve those great ethnic communities that have made important contributions to the Geelong Football Club and the AFL and to soccer in Australia.

In respect of the substance of the bill, I note that the Geelong Ethnic Communities Council, through the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria, the ECCV, has expressed its opposition to the new proposals in the bill on the basis of their judgement that the discussion paper Australian citizenship: much more than a ceremony, which underpins what the government is doing in a policy sense, fails to demonstrate a convincing case for the need to overhaul Australia’s citizenship requirements. I have read the ECCV’s submission and I must say to the House that the views expressed are logical, coherent, substantial, well articulated and deserving—

The SPEAKER —Order! It being 2 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 97. The debate may be resumed at a later hour and the member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.