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Wednesday, 29 September 1993
Page: 1439

Senator BOLKUS (Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Multicultural Affairs) (6.13 p.m.) —In rising to conclude this debate, let me at the outset reflect on some of the proposals put forward by Senator Spindler. It is the government's intention to agree with the amendment circulated by Senator Spindler to clause 3 of the bill; that is, that the third phrase in the preamble be amended to include the words `undertake to' before the words `accept these obligations', so that the full text of that phrase will now read, `persons granted Australian citizenship enjoy these rights and undertake to accept these obligations'.

  We do so because we feel that the amendment proposed by the Australian Democrats strengthens the commitment that one has to make to citizenship and to Australia as a nation. It does so by demanding an active act rather than the passive words that were in the text and that are in the text now. I indicate that we support those and, hopefully, those words will be passed by the Senate.

  Senator Spindler also requested that the preamble should be read at citizenship ceremonies. I undertake to ensure that the act is implemented in such a way that the regulations pursuant to it provide for the preamble to be so read by ceremony administrators.

  I also agree with the third proposal of Senator Spindler which is to adjust the citizenship certificate to include the words `and having undertaken to fulfil the responsibilities of a citizen'. I think they also are words that demand an act on the part of those who are being granted citizenship.

  Having said that, and given that there does seem to be some degree of support in this place for the new oath of allegiance, let me say at the outset that the government sees that, with the passage of this legislation, this parliament will be doing a number of things. It will be reflecting the nature of our changed society. It will not be taking that act of republicanism that Senator Harradine was talking about. It is not a formal recognition of a republic Australia.

Senator O'Chee —You are dumping on the Queen, Nick, aren't you?

Senator BOLKUS —Look, little boy, just calm down. It does reflect the nature of the society that we now have in Australia. It is a changing society. It is a society which now consists of some 140 different ethnic communities. It has changed enormously and radically in the last 20 to 30 years. It is working extremely well, and it is working well because not only is the composition of that society so diverse, but also this parliament has a deliberate policy—and a bipartisan one at that—that has as its benchmark an inclusive approach to our society. It says to people of different religions and different ethnic backgrounds, `We respect your right to celebrate your religions and your diversity, and we will ensure that there are mechanisms in place to ensure that you can enjoy those rights, privileges and religions in a way that is tolerated, supported and recognised by the rest of society'.

  The approach we are taking is inclusive and to that extent we can be compared with many other parts of the world which take an approach to migrants coming to live in those countries which excludes them from full participation in the society in which they live. I have just spent some time in Europe and I have been able to witness the difference between this country and others when it comes to how migrants and people of different ethnic backgrounds are included in the life of the societies of such countries. I have seen the racial tensions that exist in other parts of the world. It is not very hard to analyse those tensions and those societies, and to appreciate that when you start excluding people—when you start oppressing them and repressing them when they want to enjoy and maintain the sorts of traditions that they have lived with for generations—you will get those sorts of racial tensions.

  We in Australia have an inclusive approach and when it comes to an act like the citizenship act and the rights of citizenship we are once again inclusive. We do not, for instance, bar people from application forever, nor do we bar them from application to rights of citizenship for eight to 10 years as some countries do. We say to them, `Come to Australia, spend time here, prove yourselves as good citizens and after a short period of time you will be entitled to the rights of citizenship'. That is an important aspect in ensuring that people feel as if they are part of a society and have a commitment to the core values of the society.

  That is the other aspect of what makes our society so strong. Being part of Australia does not only mean that you can enjoy those traditions and religions and ethnic backgrounds, it also involves a commitment to a common core set of values and principles and institutions. We need such a commitment. We need to have that spelt out. The citizenship pledge, which we have had in legislation for decades—one that has had change in the past—needs to reflect those core values, those core principles of the institutions that we hold as fundamental to our society.

  By putting up this particular piece of legislation the government is updating the legislation in such a way that it does reflect the bonds that are common to all Australians and that unite Australians. To that extent, it needs to be a distinctively Australian commitment. It is one of a series of national symbols that we have in Australia and as such is a symbol—

Senator O'Chee —Isn't the constitutional monarchy a core institution? Why are you afraid to answer the question?

Senator BOLKUS —You have had your go. I put up with you earlier on. You either keep quiet or you get tossed out. I have put up with you long enough.


Senator O'Chee —Can't you handle the interjections?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! It is not question time, Senator O'Chee.

Senator BOLKUS —What we are seeing this afternoon is this parliament legislating, this society moving on, and this Senate moving on, without the opposition. The opposition lost the last election, not only because its economic policy was out of sync or out of tune with the aspirations and the needs of the people, but also because it did not have a social policy with which society could bond. Its policy did not recognise sufficiently the nature of women in our society or the nature of the multi-cultural aspects of our society.

  Those opposite have been barricaded into the values of the 1950s. Some of them are smart enough to know it and they are not getting involved in this particular debate, but a lot of them do not. Once again, they have been led from behind, led by the rural rump, led by those who really have not had a new idea—a new concept—for decades. What we have seen this afternoon, as we saw yesterday and as we will probably see tomorrow, is the opposition delving into the garbage bin of rhetoric. That is all those opposite have—no substantive new ideas, no grasping of the reality of where this society is going and no grasping with the concept of where we are and what our imperatives now are.

  We are no longer six states and two territories competing against each other for markets. We are now one nation competing with Asia and the rest of the world for markets in the fields of technology and of commerce. We are now living within a world which no longer has people staying in one part of the world and not moving. With technology and with communications the world is moving very quickly. Money is moving quickly, financial corporations are moving quickly, jobs are moving quickly and, with that, people are moving quickly. The only force in politics and the only force in our community that has not grasped that is the opposition.

  It has been barricaded into the past. It lost the last election because it has not responded to that social change and it is in danger of doing the same again—not because next time it will not have a social policy but because next time it will have an anachronistic social policy, one that does not take into account what sort of society Australia is and what the needs of that society are.

  Those opposite have come in here this afternoon lost in those arguments and in the rhetoric, talking about antiquated values, but for most of the time, what have they done? They have abused the Prime Minister (Mr Keating). They have set out to abuse the Prime Minister personally and denigrate him, saying that he is lower than life and whatever. This is the same person about whom they were saying these same things this time last year and it is the same person who gave them a hiding at the election earlier this year. He gave them a bath because he tapped into what Australians are thinking and what direction Australia is now taking.

  I have no doubt—and I did not support the Prime Minister when he was making a run for the leadership—that he will be remembered as a pioneering Prime Minister, one of vision, one of guts and one who was prepared to make the changes to fit Australia in a way that would make it adequate and appropriate and fit to fight the battles of the end of this century and into the next century. He recognises both the economic imperatives and the social imperatives, and no degree of abuse from the other side will undermine that reputation which he will have into the future. No degree of abuse from the other side will detract from the fact that there is an irreversible tide in the electorate moving in the same way as the government is moving, in the same way as the Democrats are moving and in the same way as other forces in this place are moving, but which is not being responded to by the opposition.

  As I say, we need to have an oath of allegiance which reflects the core values of Australia and which is a bonding instrument, and we can do so without any disrespect to our sovereign—absolutely none at all. No-one from this side and no-one from the Democrats who has participated in the debate in this place or outside of it has said anything negative about our sovereign. She is the Queen of Australia and whilst she is that we will go through the processes and we will pay allegiance, as the Prime Minister did when he went to Yarralumla to be sworn in, as we all did, in conformity with the law in the country. Our obligation is to the law as it stands. But the reality is that there is an anachronistic situation in that we in Australia swear an allegiance to the head of state of another country.

  I was at a dinner last night in Parliament House where the first toast was to the President of Lebanon, who was there as the official guest. The next toast was to the Queen of Australia. I hoped that the person next to me, the President of the National Assembly of Lebanon, really appreciated how the Queen of England found her way into the proceedings of the night. It is an uncomfortable situation, but it is part of the law and as part of the law we obviously observe it.

  Senator Short has mentioned the need for a revision of the Australian Citizenship Act. I want to place on record the government's appreciation, and my appreciation, for the work that former Senator Tate did in crafting this amendment, with the assistance of the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) and cabinet. Senator Tate took a very deep interest in this proposal. We should recognise the work that he has done, and I gladly do so. I see the amendment that Senator Tate initiated on this oath as being very fundamental and one that has been able to be proceeded with without the need to address other aspects of the act. It is one that the government has been keen to ensure would proceed without being hindered by other considerations in respect of the Australian Citizenship Act, so we are proceeding with it.

  Very early in my time in this portfolio I said that I have been considering the rest of the act and how that also needs to be reassessed by government. I agree to a certain extent with the words of Sir Ninian Stephen that the act needs a fair degree of updating. Some of the basic principles of the act are fundamentally right and they do allow us to manage the process of citizenship in a positive way. I am looking at ways that the act can be reviewed and I expect that before Christmas I will be able to make some announcement as to how we can proceed on that broader issue. I have made those comments before today, both domestically and overseas, and there is nothing new in them.

  I see this amendment as fundamental and one which can and should proceed. This amendment recognises and reflects a changed Australia. It reflects the sort of Australia we now have. It also acts as a very fundamental instrument which reflects a need for common values, common institutions and common principles. As a consequence, the government and I personally are very pleased to be initiating this sort of change to our legislation.

  Question put:

  That the bill be now read a second time.