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Wednesday, 11 April 1973
Page: 1312

Mr GRASSBY (Riverina) (Minister for Immigration) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I am having circulated to honourable members an explanatory memorandum concerning the effect of each clause of the Bill, in detail. I need not therefore now go into all the details but I wish to explain the main principles. 1 begin by speaking to the main part of the Bill which deals with the grant of citizenship. The guiding principle for the Government in the vitally important matter of the grant of Australian citizenship is that there should not be discrimination between different groups of settlers seeking to join the family of the nation. Wherever they were born, whatever their nationality, whatever the colour of their complexion, they should all be able to become Australian citizens under just the same conditions. If we are to maintain our great tradition that every citizen should be equal before the law, it is surely essential that everyone seeking to become a citizen, after being lawfully admitted for residence in Australia, should find they are equally treated when they try to become citizens.

So it is that this Bill provides for all, regardless of origins, the same requirements as to residence, good character, knowledge of the language and of the rights and duties of citizenship, and intention to live here permanently. There will still however be special exemptions for humane and other reasons. The common period of residence proposed is 3 years. After this period in Australia substantial numbers of fine migrants have come to know Australia, feel settled here, want to identify themselves as members of our community and are in fact living as such without friction or problems. They should not have to wait for a longer time. People from any of the Commonwealth countries - now numbering no fewer than 31 - have in the past been in a distinctive and in my view an anomalous position in regard to the conditions under which they could become Australian citizens. After only one year here they have been able to apply for what is called 'registration' as a citizen. If they do not seek registration they can, after 5 years here, simply notify the Department of Immigration that they want to be citizens; and they thereupon become citizens. This applies to people from the following interesting list of countries. The People's Republic of Bangladesh, Barbados, Republic of Botswana, Canada, Republic of Cyprus, Fiji, The Gambia, the Republic of Ghana, Guyana, the Republic of India, Jamaica, the Republic of Kenya, the Kingdom of Lesotho, the Republic of Malawi, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, the Republic of Nauru, New Zealand, the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Sierra Leone, the Republic of Singapore, the Republic of Sri Lanka, the Kingdom of Swaziland, United Republic of Tanzania, the Kingdom of Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, the United Kingdom and Colonies, the Independent State of Western Samoa and Republic of Zambia. These countries comprise the 31 countries of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Mr Lynch - It is a very distinguished list.

Mr GRASSBY - It is a very varied and interesting list. All of these discriminatory provisions will be phased out by this Bill. To avoid any suggestion of breaking faith with people who have recently come here or who come in the year after the new Act commences, and who understood before coming that they could apply after one year, the Bill provides a transitional period of 2 years during which such people will be able to apply for citizenship after only one year's residence. But thereafter all will have to be here at least 3 years. I intend to publicise this change throughout Australia and of course people seeking to migrate to Australia will be thoroughly informed by my Department's officers. It is also obviously essential that we try our utmost to remove the general misconception on the part of many British immigrants already here that by long residence they have automatically become citizens. It has been unjust to them to leave them confused about their status. I shall be correcting this in publicity concerning the new Act during the period before and after it is proclaimed to commence. For a period of 6 months after commencement, the Bill will enable citizens of 31 Commonwealth countries which 1 have just read out, who have been here over 5 years and still do not realise the true position, to become citizens by the simple existing process of 'notification' that 1 have mentioned earlier.

Likewise the Bill provides that the oath or affirmation of allegiance shall be taken by all, except children under 16, regardless of former nationality. This means that migrants from all the 31 Commonwealth countries will now have the same opportunity as other migrants to take part in citizenship ceremonies suitably marking the important occasion of their becoming citizens. At these ceremonies, so well known to honourable members, the community in which the new citizens live will welcome them into the community and the family of the nation. It will end a situation of active discrimination against enthusiastic Commonwealth of Nations applicants for Australian citizenship who have been denied the same welcome as has long been afforded others.

By these means, and by all other possible means, it is the Government's wish to ensure that our migrants from Commonwealth countries are no longer ignored or left in the mistaken belief that they acquire our citizenship automatically and that the rest of the Australian community attaches no importance to their becoming citizens. We do attach great importance to the conferment of our citizenship. We intend to demonstrate that beyond any shadow of doubt, and warmly welcome all migrants without distinction. It is important to end the confusion which has been permitted to continue since the Citizenship Act of 1 949 and the use of terminology which has given many Australians the mistaken impression they are not only Australian citizens but also citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This has not been the case for 24 years yet the past Government permitted Australians to remain confused on this point. The Citizenship Acts of 1949 ended the common citizenship between the colonies of the once British Empire, the then British Commonwealth and now Commonwealth of Nations. Australians have not been nor had the status of British citizens since 1949. This Bill has not changed that. It recognises it. Australian citizens have, however, the additional right and description of possessing the common nationality of the Commonwealth of Nations, called in some

Commonwealth countries Commonwealth citizenship and in Australia for convenience, because we in Australia use the term 'Commonwealth' ourselves, as British. At this point let me make it perfectly clear that the Bill does not change the situation whereby citizens of the 31 Commonwealth countries, whether they become Australian citizens or not, continue to have the status of British or Commonwealth of Nations subjects and as such have privileges such as the vote and eligibility to be appointed to public services under Acts of Parliament not administered by me.

There are 2 notable changes in the form of the oath or affirmation of allegiance. The first is the omission of the renunciation of other allegiance. That renunciation has been a cause of great emotional misgivings amongst people who want to become Australians. It has served no legal purpose at all because loss or retention of former citizenship depends entirely on the law of the person's former homeland. A Greek citizen remains a Greek under Greek law and an American ceases to be an American under American law upon their becoming Australians, quite irrespective of whether they say at our citizenship ceremonies that they renounce Greek or American citizenship. And so I put it to the House that it is both the humane and the sane course to drop these distressing and ineffectual words about renunciation.

The second feature of the oath or affirmation is that allegiance is to be sworn to the Constitution of Australia. Specific mention of the Queen is not made, but of course allegiance to our Constitution fully embraces allegiance to the Throne. All that is sought by this change is to clarify the real position for those candidates for our citizenship who find it hard to understand why they are to swear allegiance to a monarch they have understood to be primarily Queen of another country where they have never lived and never intend to live. Again this seeks to remove a condition of granting citizenship that burdened some of our migrants more than others. It also obviates the confusion which exists in law between the Queen of Australia and the Queen of the United Kingdom, Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I also propose administratively to replace the term 'naturalization ceremony' with 'citizenship ceremony'. The word 'naturalization' is one which does not come easily to the tongue. It is clumsy and has, for many, connotations totally unconnected with citizenship. For all these reasons we favour and will use in future 'citizenship ceremony'.

Turning from the main provisions concerning grant of citizenship, another change achieved by the Bill is to bring up to date the list of Commonwealth countries whose citizens have the status of British subject under the Citizenship Act. South Africa and Pakistan have ceased to be members of the Commonwealth and they are accordingly omitted. It is, however, recognised that citizens of these countries who have settled in Australia should be able to keep their present status under our law for a transitional period of 2 years during which they will be encouraged to become Australian citizens. Otherwise, for example, a person in the Public Service might suddenly find he can no longer lawfully retain his appointment because the Public Service Act allows permanent appointment only of people who have the status of British subjects. The Bill also proposes, in line with the age qualification for voting, that a person shall be deemed to be of full age for citizenship purposes when he has reached 18 years of age.

It is just 25 years since the first Australian Minister for Immigration, now the Right Honourable Arthur Calwell, introduced into this House, with great and justifiable pride, a Bill which for the first time created in law the status of Australian citizen. What was then a novel status in law has, of course, become the proud title of the people of a nation, which has continued to grow not only in mere numbers but in recognition of its individual and quite separate role in the world. The Government has dedicated itself to enhancing still further the significance and repute of the title Australian citizen'; and in this Bill we ask this House to endorse a charter for the grant of that title, without discrimination, to all of our settlers who seek it and are worthy of it.

Debate (on motion by Mr Lynch) adjourned.

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