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Monday, 25 June 2018
Page: 3843


Senator McKIM (Tasmania) (19:31): I move:

That the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Concessional Application Fees) Regulations 2018, made under the Australian Citizenship Act 2007, be disallowed [F2018L00734].

Senators could be forgiven for thinking that this is groundhog day, because there has been a pattern of behaviour established, firstly, by government ministers who want to punish migrants, who want to attack multicultural Australia and who want to make it more difficult for people to become citizens, particularly people who are in financial difficulty; and, secondly, by the Senate.

We have seen the Senate time after time stand up against this government's divisive agenda. We saw it first during the debate around section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, when this government and its coalition partners in One Nation tried to basically make it easier to be a racist in this country by either abolishing completely or, in some cases, watering down section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Section 18C, of course, is the section of that act that protects against race based hate speech in Australia.

We've seen that pattern repeated through the divisive changes proposed by then immigration minister, Peter Dutton, to citizenship legislation, which would have drastically extended the length of time that an applicant needed to be a permanent resident before their application for citizenship could be considered and which attempted to introduce a university-level English language test. Remember the hallmark of the White Australia policy, which many of us believed and hoped that we had left behind forever, was, in fact, a language test that was applied in a particularly unfair way in order to give effect to the then bipartisan policy position of supporting a White Australia. We had, again, the Senate standing up in support of a motion moved by the Australian Greens striking that legislation off the Notice Paper late last year.

We have also seen that pattern more recently through the government's attempt to restrict family reunion visas to wealthy people by increasing the assurance of support that people need to provide before they can have their applications for family reunion visas considered. And, again, once the Australian Greens had put a motion forward to disallow those changes, and once the numbers had coalesced against the government, we saw the minister having the good sense to withdraw those changes in a negotiated outcome with the Australian Greens before the government were defeated in this place.

And now here we are, with the government trying to remove concession fees for people applying for citizenship. It's important to understand the changes that are in the instrument that the motion before the house is seeking to disallow. Previously, pensioners, healthcare card holders and veterans' affairs concession card holders were able to pay either $20 or $40 to apply for citizenship. This is instead of the $285 full fee. With the stroke of a pen, Minister Dutton has basically tried to erase these concessions. This is trademark arrogance from Minister Dutton, and it's a repeat of a pattern of behaviour where he tries to kick migrants and multicultural Australia in the guts and hopes that no-one notices or, if they do, hopes that no-one will stand up to him.

The Australian Greens have led the charge against Minister Dutton on every occasion, and we've held the line. It's worth recalling the massive community backlash against the government's attempts to water down section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. It's worth recalling there was a massive backlash from multicultural Australia in particular to the government's attempts to make it far more difficult to become a citizen in this country and to apply a university-level English test that applicants would be required to pass before they could become citizens. It's worth recalling the massive groundswell of support for the Australian Greens' motion to disallow the changes to assurances of support. What I want to say about those things—again, in the context of the motion that we're discussing today—is that these are the Australian people standing up and making it clear that they're not prepared to accept this kind of divisive and hate-filled agenda from the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, and more recently in his new role as the Minister for Home Affairs.

So as the Australian people have stood up and as the Australian people have rallied around the moves that the Australian Greens have made to hold the line against this divisive agenda, so we've seen other senators come to the party and stand up for multiculturalism and for multicultural Australia. I do want to thank the Labor Party, I want to thank the Centre Alliance party and I want to thank other senators who have supported our previous motions to strike off legislation or disallow instruments that had been made. And in the context of this motion, which I believe does have the numbers to pass the Senate this evening, I want to thank those people—Labor, the Centre Alliance party and Senator Hinch, as well as one of our newest senators, Senator Storer—for indicating their support for this motion. All of these senators, all of the political parties that I've mentioned in thanking people, and the Australian Greens are doing what we're doing because we believe that it reflects the fact that most Australians fundamentally believe in fairness. They believe in a fair go; they believe in helping people who are doing it tough. They want to see migrants be given the chance to succeed in our society.

We know about the story that has been quite prominent in the media over the last four months, the story of the family from Biloela who were ripped from their beds in the predawn hours and who have languished in immigration detention ever since. We know, importantly, from the response from the Biloela community to that change of events, that Australians do believe in a fair go and they believe in multiculturalism and they understand and celebrate the contribution that people from right around the world have made to our country through the period of our European history.

Australians don't believe in putting unfair barriers in people's way. They don't believe in putting unnecessary hurdles in people's way and requiring them to jump them. But that's exactly what we're seeing time after time after time from this government: unfair barriers and unnecessary hurdles. Again, in the context of this debate, abolishing concessional rates for applications for citizenship hits hardest those who can least afford it. I've spoken about patterns of behaviour. This is another pattern of behaviour from this government. The government have a track record of punitive responses to people who are in financial difficulties. You only have to look at the way they treat people on unemployment benefits. We've seen the robo-debt saga, where people were extremely distressed to receive automatically generated debt notices in the mail from Centrelink, many of which didn't have a leg to stand on in terms of a relationship with reality. But, no, the government go ahead and continue to try to punish and make life difficult for people who are already facing the highest level of difficulties in their lives.

We've seen the attacks on multiculturalism, we've seen the attacks on multicultural Australia, we've seen the pattern of attacking people who are doing it tough, and the instrument that this motion seeks to disallow fits all of those patterns. It is an attack on multiculturalism; it is an attack on multicultural Australia. It's designed specifically to make it more difficult for more people to become citizens of Australia and it repeats the pattern of behaviour we've seen from this government where they take some glee, it seems, in making life harder for people who already have far too many challenges in their lives.

While the government believe in unfair barriers and unnecessary hurdles, the Greens do not. We believe in things like fairness, we believe in things like decency and we believe in things like not just respecting diversity but celebrating diversity. It's diversity that makes this country what it is. It's diversity that we should be celebrating and encouraging, not criticising and trying to discourage. We'll stand on the side of fairness, we'll stand on the side of diversity, we'll stand on the side of multiculturalism and we'll stand up—and our track record shows conclusively that we do—against this government's divisive political agenda, attacking multicultural Australia and attacking people who are doing it tough.

I thank the senators who will shortly support this motion and say to them that, together in this chamber today—democracy in action; a chamber where the government cannot, through sheer weight of numbers, determine on its own an outcome—we will again strike a blow for fairness, a blow for diversity, a blow for multicultural Australia and a blow for this government that appears to understand none of those concepts.