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Wednesday, 20 April 1966

Mr BARNARD (Bass) .- The Parliament has before it three Bills concerned with immigration and immigrants. As the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) said earlier, the Opposition has no quarrel with the Government on the matters that are now before the House, although it is true that we propose to move an amendment to the Nationality and Citizenship Bill. The reasons for this have already been given by the honorable member for Grayndler and I hope to refer to them later. I think the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Opperman) will agree that this discussion has been well worthwhile. Very little criticism has been levelled at either the Minister or the Department of Immigration. On the contrary, I believe every honorable member would pay a tribute to the officers of that Department for their initiative and enterprise in applying themselves to immigrataion matters. I want to join with the honorable member for Sturt (Sir Keith Wilson) and refer later to one or two matters that he dealt with in this debate and in respect of which T found myself in complete agreement with him. When the honorable member speaks in this House on immigration matters he speaks with a great deal of authority. I pay a tribute to him as Chairman of the Immigration Advisory Council for the way in which he devotes himself to immigration matters, not only in this Parliament but also outside it. He has made a fine contribution to immigration matters generally as Chairman of that body.

As I have already intimated, honorable members on this side of the House have no criticism to offer concerning these proposals. The Nationality and Citizenship Act has been amended on a number of -occasions since I became a member of this Parliament. It was last amended in 1960. I believe that each time it has been amended the Government's intention has been to improve its provisions in respect of naturalisation and associated matters. All honorable members who have from lime to time devoted their attention to immigration matters wish this subject to be one of common ground between honorable members on both sides of the Parliament. Generally, there is a consensus between honorable members on both sides in immigration matters. We believe that this is the spirit in which these matters ought to be debated. Nevertheless, Mr. Speaker, there are some matters in respect of which the Opposition believes that it is entitled to disagree, and ought to disagree, with the Government when a debate on a measure such as this presents the opportunity to voice disagreement.

This is one of the occasions on which the Opposition has taken the opportunity to state its attitude concerning the oath of renunciation of allegiance to another country. I am aware that Government supporters who have already spoken in this debate have suggested that the Opposition proposes something new when it states that the oath of renunciation should be completely abolished and that provision requiring it to be taken ought not to have been incorporated in this Bill in terms which require it to be taken as part of the oath of allegiance. During the consideration of the estimates for the Department of Immigration last year, the Opposition proposed that the oath of renunciation be no longer required of migrants when they become naturalised. During the present debate, as on other occasions, we have contended that the oath of renunciation is redundant. We believe that in this opinion we are supported by organisations that have been associated with immigration matters, either directly or indirectly, over a long period.

As I have said, Mr. Speaker, we concede that the measure now before us is designed to improve procedures relating to naturalisation by simplifying them and making them much more adaptable to the needs of applicants for naturalisation. I refer particularly to clauses 6 and 7; which as the Minister for Immigration has pointed out, will ensure that in the future the spouse of a new Australian who applies for naturalisation, and who is qualified for it, may be naturalised at the same time though lacking the necessary qualifications. A previous speaker asked the Minister whether this would apply to a husband who was not eligible for naturalisation because he had not the necessary period of residence and whose wife was being naturalised. I understand that under the terms of this Bill, provided the husband can satisfy the language test imposed under the terms of the principal Act, he will be eligible for naturalisation at the same time as his wife. We on this side of the chamber believe that this is correct and proper. For some time, of course, the Minister has been able to extend a concession by reducing the required period of residence for the spouse of a new Australian who was qualified for and was undergoing naturalisation. I believe that this has been done on many occasions. Further concessions in this respect will be made possible by this measure, and the naturalisation procedures will be simplified for many new Australians. For these reasons, the Opposition naturally supports the Bill.

No-one would deny that our immigration programme has been very successful, Mr. Speaker. It has resulted in a great increase in our population since the Second World War. I have no doubt that the immigration programme will continue to be successful. But we should take every opportunity that presents itself to simplify the naturalisation procedures. It has been suggested in this debate that there are a great many new Australians who have not yet sought naturalisation. I am one of those who do not believe that we should be unduly concerned about this. I consider that people come forward to be naturalised because they want to accept the full responsibilities of citizenship of this country. I do not believe that we should unduly concern ourselves if they are not prepared to accept those responsibilities. We all know that the Department of Immigration takes every available opportunity to bring to the attention of new settlers the obligations and also the advantages that flow from naturalisation as Australian citizens. The Department can do no more than that. It undertakes to inform every new settler, at a certain time after his arrival here, that he has the opportunity to accept the full responsibilities of Australian citizenship. By doing this, the Department accepts full responsibility for providing opportunities for new settlers to acquire Australian citizenship with its attendant responsibilities.

It is true, however, that a great many new Australians have not accepted the full responsibilities of Australian citizenship. Indeed, I believe that approximately 34 per cent, of those eligible for naturalisation have not been naturalised. The percentage differs according to the country of origin. A very high percentage of new settlers from some countries undertake naturalisation. Only 38.6 per cent, of Dutch migrants have not sought naturalisation, and only 9:9 per cent, of Estonians have not sought it. The percentage is even lower for Ukrainians, of whom only 7.2 per cent, of those eligible for naturalisation have not been naturalised. So I believe that we should not be unduly concerned about the new settlers who are not prepared to accept the full responsibilites of Australian citizenship. We can encourage them to become naturalised by showing them the advantages to be gained and by providing them with the opportunity to become Australian citizens. I suggest that we should be prepared to leave it at that.

It has been suggested during this debate, Mr. Speaker, that one of the reasons why new Australians have not been prepared to undergo naturalisation is that, as part of the naturalisation ceremony, they are required to swear the oath of renunciation of former allegiance. Because this is so, both the Opposition and other organisations that have some responsibility in these matters have suggested that the oath of renunciation is completely redundant. On other occasions, we have proposed that it be abolished completely and no longer form part of the naturalisation ceremony. I believe that the Minister himself supports this attitude, and that at the 1965 Australian Citizenship Convention he intimated that he was impressed by the arguments advanced in favour of the elimination of the oath of renunciation. Many delegates who attended that Convention and who had an opportunity to address themselves to this matter stated quite clearly that in their opinion there was no need for the oath of renunciation and no reason why it should be retained. In 1965, the Opposition took the opportunity to move an amendment during the Committee stage of a debate and fully expected that the Minister would abolish the oath of renunciation as soon as he could do so. Now we find in this Bill that the oath of renunciation has been incorporated in the oath of allegiance. The Government has sought to delete part of the original oath of allegiance and has incorporated in it part of the oath of renunciation. Although the original oath of renunciation is no longer used, it has not been completely removed from naturalisation ceremonies. The Opposition believes that this oath should be abolished. We do not believe that the modification introduced in this Bill by the Government will meet the requirements of those people who did not hesitate to state their point of view at the 1965 Australian Citizenship Convention. For this reason, the Opposition has moved its amendment.

I agree with the honorable member for Sturt, who was supported in this view by the honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters), that the residential qualification for migrants who seek to be naturalised should be reduced from the existing five years. There is a good deal of common sense in the view put by the honorable member for Sturt. As the honorable member for Scullin said, why should it remain at five years? Is there any necessity for the Government to require a qualifying period of five years? The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Cleaver) said that this qualifying period applied in the United States of America. I hope that that is not the reason for its retention by the Australian Government. Our experience of immigration extends over more than 20 years and surely we should now be in a position to know what is required of new settlers who come to this country, who seek naturalisation and who want to accept the full responsibilities of citizenship. I believe that the period of five years should be reduced. I do not suggest the period that should be retained as a qualification, lt could be two years or it could be three years. But certainly I think that five years is far too long. The length of the qualifying period may be one of the reasons why people who are entitled to be naturalised are not seeking this privilege. I agree with the honorable member for Sturt on this point and I certainly agree with the sentiments expressed by the honorable member for Scullin.

There are many other ways in which naturalisation ceremonies could be simplified and there are many alterations to our procedures that we could adopt to encourage new settlers to come forward for naturalisation. The qualifying period is one and the elimination of the oath of renunciation is another. We all know that naturalisation ceremonies are held in the most pleasant circumstances. They have improved vastly since the original Act was introduced by the then Minister for Immigration, Mr. Calwell. I do not enjoy the privileges that are apparently extended to the honorable member for Scullin in his electorate. Apparently some councils still like to play politics when naturalisation ceremonies are to be held, but fortunately this is confined to only a very few councils.

The honorable member for Scullin said that he is invited to naturalisation ceremonies and is given the opportunity to speak to the candidates. I, as a member of the Parliament, no doubt for political reasons, have never been invited to speak at a naturalisation ceremony in the city of Launceston. On rare occasions I have been invited to attend ceremonies - probably the issue of the invitation depended on the mayor who happened to be in office at the time - but it would be two years or more since I have been invited to speak at a naturalisation ceremony. Arrangements of this nature, of course, are not the responsibility of the Department of Immigration. The Department leaves the local councils to arrange naturalisation ceremonies and I suppose one must concede that the local councils are perfectly entitled to invite whoever they want to address the candidates. Again my experience is different from that of the honorable member for Scullin. The councils in my electorate never fail to invite a Government senator. Some people still like to play politics. Nevertheless. 1 concede that the ceremonies are held in very pleasant circumstances and the councils generally try to make the candidates for citizenship as comfortable as they can.

There are many ways in which the Nationality and Citizenship Act can be improved. I have no doubt that from time to time the Minister will act to correct anomalies and to provide concessions to migrants who seek naturalisation. I hope that the next time the Minister introduces a Bill of this nature he will give effect not only to the suggestions that the residential qualification period be reduced but also to the suggestions that the requirement for migrants to have a knowledge of the English language be eased. A knowledge of the English language is essential for those who seek naturalisation, and I think the Government is entirely wrong in continuing to impose this requirement. In my opinion, it is not necessary for a new settler who wants to accept full citizenship responsibilities to have a perfect understanding of the English language. Frequently, it is not possible for a migrant to become perfect in this language. At naturalisation ceremonies, I have seen many new settlers who have barely been able to repeat the oath of allegiance and the oath of renunciation. This shows that the Department understands the position, but I believe that the Government should adopt a more sympathetic attitude. If a new settler came forward for naturalisation, although he was not completely familiar with the English language, his action would seem to show that he was prepared to settle down and learn the English language. If he was not, he would not be willing to accept the full responsibilities of citizenship, to become an Australian citizen and to make his home in Australia. As time goes by, he would undoubtedly become more familiar with the language.

I think this is another reason for the reluctance of some new settlers to seek naturalisation. I agree with those honorable members who have preceded me in the debate and who have made these points. I agree with the honorable member for Grayndler that we should abolish the oath of renunciation. I believe that we should reduce the present residential qualification of five years and that we should sympathetically consider easing the requirement that people seeking to be naturalised should be familiar with the English language.

May I refer again to cases involving people who have applied for naturalisation but who for one reason or another have been refused naturalisation. This matter has been raised in other debates by members of the Opposition. During the debate last year on the estimates for the Department of Immigration I moved an amendment by which I sought to have a committee of inquiry set up to which cases of this nature might be referred. I acknowledge at once that the Department adopts a very sympathetic attitude in these matters. I know that if he is requested to do so the Minister for Immigration will examine personally the file relating to a new settler whose application for naturalisation has been rejected.

But that is not the end of the matter. The person who unsuccessfully seeks to be naturalised and to accept full citizenship responsibilities never knows why his application has been rejected by the Department. The argument has been advanced by the Minister, acting on behalf of the Government, that these matters should not be made public. Well, even if we concede that the reasons for rejection should not be made public, surely the applicant himself should be made aware of the reasons why his application has been refused.

I have personal knowledge of a number of these cases. I do not want to say more about them at this stage. Merely let me say that I know of cases involving applicants who have been citizens of very good repute. I have been more than satisfied with their claims for naturalisation and their attitude towards citizenship of this country. I think they would have made admirable citizens. But no reasons are advanced for rejecting the applications by these people to become naturalised citizens. In a number of cases the Minister was good enough to examine the files, but we still do not know why the applications were rejected. In my opinion the Act should provide for the establishment of a court of inquiry, comprising a judge of the High Court or of a supreme court and other people experienced in immigration matters, representing the Department and other organisations, to hear these cases and to decide whether the applications were properly rejected on legal or other grounds.

I am sure that many honorable members have knowledge of cases where applications for naturalisation have been rejected on spurious grounds. It has been hinted that some applications have been rejected because of an unfavorable report received from the security service. I am not sure that the security service is always correct in these matters. We on this side of the chamber believe that in cases such as these applicants should have a right of appeal. I hope that the Minister will further consider this very important matter, which has been raised on other occasions by members of the Opposition.

As I have already said, the Opposition does not oppose the Bill. It commends the

Minister for again introducing improvements to the Nationality and Citizenship Act. We believe that these improvements will be appreciated by new settlers who seek to be naturalised. The machinery of the Act is being improved. For these reasons the Opposition approves the measure and gives it its support.

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