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Wednesday, 9 May 1984
Page: 1833

Senator BOLKUS(3.27) —I rise to speak to the Australian Citizenship Amendment Bill, a Bill which constitutes a major reform resulting from wide-ranging public consultation throughout Australia. The Bill reflects this Government's commitment to equality and the national identity of all Australians. Unfortunately, the debate so far on this legislation has been marred by some objectionable attitudes from the Opposition, particularly the shadow spokesman for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Mr Michael Hodgman. It is interesting to note at the outset that even though the shadow spokesperson representing Mr Hodgman in this place has been speaking on immigration, not once did she mention his name. She referred continually to the previous Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Mr Macphee.

Covert and overt anti-Asian sentiments should not be given the credibility that has been given to them in recent days. They should be condemned, along with all the actions of groups such as the National Alliance, which seek to triumph through repression and violence. As I have mentioned, the current situation is nothing less than a bizarre contrast with the comments of previous Ministers for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs-

Senator Martin —I raise a point of order, Madam Acting Deputy President. The speaker is trying to repeat a matter of public importance that arose in the House of Representatives yesterday. This Bill concerns citizenship, not immigration policies. I suggest that you bring Senator Bolkus back to the subject of the Bill.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Haines) —There is no point of order. However, I would ask Senator Bolkus to confine his remarks to the subject before the Senate.

Senator BOLKUS —What I wish to do is to refer to the legislation, as I was intending to do before Senator Martin prematurely rose. As I have said, it was the previous Government that started this debate. In 1982 the then Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs said:

We will have discussions throughout the community all over Australia. After we go through that discussion process we will take all the feedback from the ethnic community and from the Anglo-Australian community, from the totality of the Australian community and we will put together citizenship proposals.

The current Minister, I believe, has followed that process through. In doing so, he has the support of the parliamentary Labor Party, of the Australian Labor Party as a whole and of ethnic communities in this country, as well as of the Australian community in general. One hopes then that the Opposition is deeply embarrassed to be associated with the cheap political mileage that its shadow spokesman, Mr Hodgman, has attempted to take.

There are an estimated 1.2 million non-citizen residents of Australia who have lived here for more than the presently required period of three years and who have not applied to become citizens. The reasons for this are varied and have been mentioned in another place. They reflect the disincentive to acquire citizenship contained in present provisions. This Government is committed to removing such disincentives. Despite the large number of people who have not taken up citizenship, the number of people applying to become citizens has increased rapidly in recent years. It is interesting to note that this increase has coincided with a greater acceptance within Australia of multiculturalism, a concept which no longer requires Australians to renounce their culture when becoming Australian citizens. Problems with family reunion were also a hindrance to people applying for citizenship. Now that people know that there is an upgraded family reunion program for migration, they feel secure in the knowledge that they may be able to bring their families with them to Australia. If they cannot do that, they feel that there is no risk in their losing citizenship of their homeland by becoming an Australian citizen.

The question of the oath of allegiance has been canvassed very widely. In the national consultations it arose as a major point of confusion and concern within ethnic communities. Let me quote very quickly from the report on the oath of allegiance. The report says:

. . . a predominant view emerging from the consultations was that swearing of allegiance to a sovereign resident elsewhere was inappropriate in Australia at its present stage of history.

The report, commissioned by the previous conservative Government, makes it clear that these views were shared by people from a variety of backgrounds, including holders of imperial awards and persons who in many other ways wished to maintain links with Britain. It is a report published by the present Opposition while in government. Yet this basic issue of the oath of allegiance has been used as the basis for outrageous accusations by the shadow spokesman on immigration and ethnic affairs. He claims that this proposal is 'the first step of the Hawke socialist Government to a republic' or a result of 'the Minister listening to the socialist Left, the republican rabble'. The concept of bipartisan immigration and ethnic affairs policies has been tossed comprehensively out of the window by the shadow Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. His inaccurate comments are at least ironic. Moreover, one could say that they do not represent the truth.

The new pledge of Australian citizenship proposed in the legislation can be taken either by oath or by affirmation. Both options involved renunciation of former allegiance, a commitment to observe the laws of Australia, as mentioned by Senator Martin, and a declaration of new allegiance to Australia. There is within the proposal absolutely nothing that threatens Australia's constitutionally enshrined links with the British monarchy. When Australia chooses to become a republic, it will not be through this piece of legislation or these sorts of minor measures. It will require fundamental constitutional change, something which is known very well to the Opposition and to which it does not choose to give adequate recognition.

Another important provision of the report which has been mentioned and which will make citizenship easier is the reduction of the qualifying period from three years to two years. In fact there was some demand in the community for the period to be reduced to six months. I believe the provision adopted by the Government and recommended by the report is a good compromise for all interests. Another aspect of the legislation which should be highlighted because it has caused many problems is that provision which will allow for appeals on a number of grounds to be made to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal against the denial of a grant of citizenship. This proposal is in line with modern provisions for administrative review in most areas of government and in fact contrasts very gravely with procedures that used to take place before the advent of the Whitlam Government in 1972. At that time people were prevented from getting Australian citizenship for no other reason than their political opposition to the government of the day. Those cases in those days have been documented fairly widely, but they should be remembered when looking at the reform proposed by this Government.

Senator Martin —It was reform we proposed too.

Senator BOLKUS —There are other reforms that came out of the proposals of those opposite which they have not adopted now. Another area where inconsistencies have occurred is the requirement for adequate knowledge of the English language. I have had in my office a number of people who have worked in Australia, who have contributed to Australia and who have paid taxation in Australia for periods of up to 20 years, but who have been denied Australian citizenship because they have not been able to meet the test laid down by a departmental officer on a particular day. The Government is adopting the recommendations of the national consultations and lowering the required standard. As Senator Martin suggested, clarification may very well be needed, but I am sure that that could very well come through in the course of this debate. The Government has been accused in this debate of being anti-British. It has been so accused in the House of Representatives by a number of spokespeople for the Opposition. It has been accused of such action for a number of reasons. I wish to go briefly through these. One is that at the moment the Government is seeking to remove the automatic acquisition of Australian citizenship by British subjects who were resident in or had close connection with Australia in 1949. It is accepted that when the Australian Citizenship Act came into force it was entirely reasonable to expect it to include this sort of provision. However, 34 years later one would imagine that those sorts of transitional provisions were irrelevant and outdated. But that has not stopped the histrionic jumping up and down by Mr Hodgman. Australia is now the only country in the world to continue to use the concept of British subject status in preference to its own nationality. Those of the like of Mr Hodgman wish to maintain a semi-colonial status.

Senator Martin —That is not true.

Senator BOLKUS —Read the Hansard of the House of Representatives, then tell me whether that is true. It is the same sort of sycophantic approach that was endemic in Australia in the 1950s when we involved ourselves obsequiously in those tests at Maralinga, the horrors of which are currently coming to light. That sort of blind loyalty has caused serious problems for this country and continue to do so. Another point I raise is in respect of the Big Brother Movement, which the shadow Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has been running a case for, especially over the last couple of days. What has been the position of the Big Brother Movement? It is an organisation--

Senator Martin —That has nothing to do with immigration.

Senator BOLKUS —Senator Martin thinks that the Big Brother Movement has nothing to do with immigration.

Senator Martin —What you are saying has nothing to do with this Bill, which is the Australian Citizenship Bill.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Haines) —Order! Senator Bolkus, would you please try to keep your remarks to the topic before the Senate today which is not a debate that took place in the House of Representatives at another time but the Australian Citizenship Bill.

Senator BOLKUS —Madam Acting Deputy President, I am referring to criticisms made of the Bill by the Opposition in both this place and another place. One of the major criticisms made of the Government through criticism of this legislation is that it is anti-British. I am attempting to go through the debate to show that in fact this Government is nothing of the like. If I can go on that basis-

Senator Martin —You take the consequences of starting this.

Senator BOLKUS —I am told that I take the consequences for starting this type of debate. This type of debate has been going on for six months. For the sake of some sort of sanity in this place, let me move on from the Big Brother Movement. I will not discuss the privileged position that it has had. I will go on to talk about other aspects of the Bill and then turn once again to aspects of the debate which I think are vitally important when discussing something as vitally as important as citizenship.

The final point I wish to make on the specific provisions of the legislation is that the Bill proposed by the Government-and this should be acknowledged by the Opposition-will move to delete existing discrimination on the basis of sex and marital status. That is something that should be noted by honourable senators when passing this legislation. At the moment mothers do not have the same rights as fathers in determining their children's citizenship. The amendments proposed by the Government will place both parents on equal footing. I think these provisions are long overdue and welcome.

As I have said, there are aspects of the debate that need to be highlighted. I wish to look at the charge that the Australian Government has been anti-British in its approach through this legislation and elsewhere. What I wish to do, quite dispassionately, is look at the figures and put them on the record for the sake of rational debate. The charge has been made that we as a government are being anti-British and anti-European in our migrant intake. It should be noted, however, that in the period from 1978-79 to the current financial year the number of people coming from Britain to Australia has increased from 25.8 per cent of the overall intake to 31.2 per cent. That constitutes an increase of 5.6 per cent of the total migrant intake, compared with the increase in the Asian component, a component which includes migrants from both Cyprus and the Middle East, of 3.4 per cent. There has been a 66 per cent greater increase in migrants from Britain.

I notice that over the same period there has been a decrease from somewhere in the vicinity of 16,000 per annum to 10,000 per annum in the number of refugees from Indo-China. That is one of the first points we should note in respect of this alleged bias against British and European migration. We should also look at some of the other aspects of this debate but in doing so I must sadly say that in my opinion the frenetic behaviour-unwarranted behaviour-that has been beaten up in the last few days over this legislation has been very much without substance. We have had the accusation that I am starting this part of the debate . It is the behaviour of the shadow Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Mr Hodgman, who in this instance can be classed as nothing less than a racial pyromaniac as he is running around lighting fires on this issue and then putting the blame on everyone else, that concerns me.

I have gone through the facts to show, in respect of the migrant intake, that there has not been the sort of bias that has been alleged. I have gone through the legislation to show that there has not been the sort of bias that has been alleged. I can go through the debate in the other place. I can quote remarks in sections of that debate from the shadow Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and other Opposition speakers to show the racist attitudes which I contend were expressed in that debate. What I wish to say, however, is-

Senator Martin —Do it; do not just allege it.

Senator BOLKUS —I am challenged to do it. I refer to the House of Representatives Hansard at page 1189 where Mr Hodgman stated:

. . . English is the language which is spoken in Australia-not French, not Russian and not Chinese.

That is an emotive phrase which gives absolutely no recognition to the fact, as has been recognised by previous Ministers for Immigration from both sides--

Senator Martin —That was not the debate on the Citizenship Bill.

Senator BOLKUS —The running line on the page reads: 'Australian Citizenship Amendment Bill-2 April 1984-House of Representatives-1189'. That is where it appears. In saying that there is absolutely no recognition, no sensitivity and no understanding by the shadow Minister of the fact that this is indeed a multicultural society. It was a concept that was recognised by Mr Macphee when he was Minister. It is interesting that that was not quoted today by Senator Martin. That is one instance. I could look at some of the instances in the debate yesterday if need be, if I am challenged again. The point that concerns me is that this pyromaniac is allowed to continue on his crusade without check.

What I wish to do in closing my comments on this Bill is to call on the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock), a person who has responsibility to Australia as well as to the Opposition, to assume this responsibility. He must, as has been done covertly by Senator Martin today, dissociate himself from Mr Hodgman's stated views on this legislation and on other areas of his shadow portfolio. I think the only constructive way in which the Leader of the Opposition can do this is by demanding Mr Hodgman's immediate dismissal. To do other than this is to continue sanctioning behaviour which is offensive not only to ethnic born Australians but also to Australians who believe in a truly multicultural society , a concept which as I have said has been endorsed in a bipartisan way over recent years. To refuse to do this would be to preside over the continuing overt and covert campaign which I believe does Australia no good. To do otherwise is to give Liberal Party approval to this culpable bloody-mindedness on the issue of multiculturalism and racism. Overseas born Australians and the Australian community as a whole deserve and expect a better quality of debate on this issue . I do not believe that we can get it whilst Mr Hodgman is shadow Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs.