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Wednesday, 29 September 1993
Page: 1416


Senator McKIERNAN (4.07 p.m.) —Unlike some of the previous speakers, I consider the Australian Citizenship Amendment Bill to be an extremely important piece of legislation because it is dragging this nation state of Australia into the 21st century. It was only 45 years ago that this country established its own right of citizenship. I was a mere child at the time this happened. It took a further 25 years, and it was under the Whitlam government, before the oath was changed to reflect the monarch as the monarch of Australia.

  Here we are 20 years later—one can hardly say we are galloping along to reform—actually making changes that are relevant to Australia in 1993. They probably were relevant to Australia in 1973, but because of the way the parliament was structured at the time it could not happen. It can hardly be said that what has been proposed in the chamber this afternoon is revolutionary.

  I claim to have more authority to speak in support of this measure than the vast majority of my colleagues in this place or the other place. I am one of the few elected representatives of the parliament of Australia who has gone through a citizenship ceremony. I have not been as lucky as those who were born in this wonderful land. I came here by choice. But I am perhaps luckier than most because of where my mother was as at the time of my birth. That is a different story and we will not canvass an argument about the two.

  I had to think long and seriously in my adopted homeland before I took the oath of allegiance—before I became a citizen of this country. I had made the decision long before I took out citizenship to remain permanently in this land. The hardest decision I had to make was whether to pledge allegiance to the Queen. The oath says the Queen of Australia. They were the words of the oath that I used. We should recognise that people around the world recognise Queen Elizabeth II as the Queen of Great Britain, or even more specifically, as the Queen of England. The oath says `Queen of Australia'. We do have a Queen of Australia because it is in our law, but we do not have an Australian queen.

  This is an extremely important piece of legislation for multicultural Australia in 1993. It has taken a long time to get here. I am aware that there were two previous attempts to bring about this change under the administration of Bob Hawke. Both those attempts failed. I certainly hope that on this occasion the Senate will make the decision to endorse this bill and send it off to the House of Representatives. Sixty days after receiving royal assent it will become law and new citizens who take the oath next year, when it effectively becomes law, will be espousing words that truly and honestly reflect modern day Australia and not the anachronism of colonial Australia from where this developed. Australian citizenship has been in existence for only 45 years.

  There are number of other points that I want to say about this matter. I am going to remove myself from the republican debate because I do not think it is the republican debate that we are talking about at the moment. That debate is happening in our society all over the place.


Senator Panizza —Oh, come on!


Senator McKIERNAN —Senator Panizza, do not start. I have listened to Senator Panizza talking about modern Australia. Senator Panizza never had to go through a citizenship ceremony because he was born here. He cannot be talking about modern times because he was born well over 60 years ago. He was born before we even had Australian citizenship. Therefore, he should not talk modern times.


Senator Herron —The republic has been a great success in Ireland.


Senator McKIERNAN —The republic has been a wonderful success in Ireland. The republic has nothing to do with the IRA. Senator Herron is quite aware of that from his visit to Ireland. It was not the IRA that upset Senator Herron when he visited his relatives. That is something we can debate.

  The republic in Ireland has been a success because it can develop as a nation. Previously, Ireland has been held back as a nation because it was being controlled from outside. The same thing happened to Australia for many years and many other parts of the world, including South Africa and Canada. It was mentioned by a previous speaker that there is a private members bill on the floor of the Canadian parliament talking about the changes to the Canadian oath.

  This is extremely important to the 990,000 Australians who have not taken that big leap to vow allegiance to this country or, as it presently stands, to vow allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia. There are people, many of whom come from my birth place, Ireland, who just cannot bring themselves to swearing allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II.

  There are many Italians whom I know of who cannot bring themselves to swearing allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II because they, like most of the Australian population, recognise that Queen Elizabeth II, her gracious majesty, is Queen of England. They do not recognise her as Queen of Australia. We do not see her frequently, and technically speaking she is the Queen of Australia only when she is actually in Australia.

   I would hope that when this bill is enacted and becomes law those 990,000 people recognised in the 1986 census will take the step to make the final commitment to this country. I hope that they will go through with the ceremonies that all of us as members of parliament attend from time to time. I hope that in the next few years there will be so many people taking Australian citizenship that the venues for the ceremonies will not be big enough to cater for them.

  My local authority in Western Australia, the City of Wanneroo, holds perhaps the biggest citizenship ceremonies in Western Australia. We have handled up to 300 people at a time. We do not hold ceremonies in halls, but then Western Australia is blessed with magnificent weather. It seems that I have been blessed in terms of my birthright and living not only in Australia but particularly in Western Australia and in the magnificent City of Wanneroo. We hold magnificent ceremonies out in the open air on Australia Day. When this new oath comes in next year I hope that not just 300 people but 400 or 500 people at a time will take out Australian citizenship. The people referred to in the 1986 census will have the opportunity to make a complete and total commitment to the land that we as migrants have chosen to live in.

  It has been alleged that the new pledge will be weaker than the present oath. I certainly do not see it that way, but then I am an agnostic anyway and I have a problem with taking oaths. How meaningful are oaths to people like me in the community? I know that some people put great store in the taking of oaths and I do not denigrate them for that. Their wishes will be complied with under new provisions in the bill.

  Basically, there is absolutely no difference between a pledge and an oath or affirmation. Some of us, when taking office in this place, go through such a process rather than taking an oath. Certainly, there is no difference in law. I do not know why people are getting a head of steam up about whether we call it a pledge or an oath. Because the government was concerned about allegations that were made, it sought advice from the Attorney-General's Department. That advice reads:

Neither the term `oath' as currently used in the Australian Citizenship Act 1948 nor the term `pledge' as proposed to be used in the act has any technical legal meaning.

The term `pledge' does have a technical legal meaning relating to the delivery of goods as security. However, it is clearly not being used in that sense.

The advice also makes reference to the Macquarie Dictionary. The advice reads:

'Oath' is defined, in the relevant sense, as "1. a solemn appeal to God, or to some revered person or thing—

I did not write this—

in attestation of the truth of a statement or the binding character of a promise; 2. a statement or promise strengthened by such an appeal".

'Pledge' is defined as "a solemn promise of something, or to do or refrain from doing something".

Both words therefore connote a solemn promise.

The Australian Citizenship Amendment Bill provides for two forms of pledge—the first includes the words `under God'; and the second does not include those words. People will be able to chose which form of pledge they want to make. Each pledge will have the same meaning and same standing in the laws of Australia.

  In my opening comments I made reference to my birthplace. It is not only people from my birthplace who have problems with pledging allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia. My wife also had the same problems. Finally she took the decision and became an Australian citizen, pledging her commitment under the oath as it was written at that time. But even she, born in London within sight of Buckingham Palace, the Queen's residence, had problems in pledging allegiance to the Queen when becoming a citizen of her adopted homeland. This is despite the fact that she was brought up to recognise the sovereignty of the Queen. Of course, everybody knows that London is the capital of England and as a child she recognised clearly and plainly that the Queen is first and foremost the Queen of England.

  The fact that the Queen is the Queen of Australia is only a secondary consideration; it is only really words on paper. We can surround the Queen with bunches of wattle or whatever, but that fact will remain. Countries with access to modern forms of communications—be they newspapers, television or radio—recognise the Queen as the Queen of England or the Queen of the United Kingdom but not the Queen of Australia. This bill, which hopefully will be carried shortly, will bring Australia into the 21st century.

  In conclusion, I thank all those people in my home state of Western Australia and in other parts of Australia who signed petitions, which were presented in this place, calling for this action to be taken. This in itself is an indication that the parliament can respond to the wishes of its citizens.