AUSTRALIAN CITIZENSHIP LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2002: Second Reading
Mr CADMAN (Mitchell) (5.58 p.m.) - Mr Deputy Speaker Barresi, I am delighted to see you are in the chair because I know you have a long and well-established interest in these matters. The amendments the House is considering today to the Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment Bill 2002 relate to the citizenship act. This legislation looks at the common bond that Australians share.
There have been a number of reports commissioned by the government. The first that I am aware of goes back to a report that was prepared on the process of national consultation on multiculturalism and citizenship. A more recent examination was done by the Australian Citizenship Council. It reported in February 2000 and the government's response was entitled Australian citizenship ... a common bond.
We are looking at things that really go to the essence of what it is to be an Australian. Something within us binds us to a country -there is an allegiance, a link. Most of us, I think, like to feel that we have a home, a place that we can go back to, a place where we belong, a place where we are comfortable. Perhaps it is a place where we grew up. It is mostly the place of our birth and where we spend most of our years.
There are two aspects of citizenship - the political aspect and the character aspect. The political or legal part of citizenship is the tie or allegiance a person has within a society. They have a place there. They have a legal entity and a political entity within that society. The character of a citizen is the extraneous things which do not relate to the political or legal aspects - that is, a person may identify with certain obligations, responsibilities or freedoms. That is the character of citizenship. Both aspects are really significant.
Some countries look at only one part of citizenship. For instance, the oaths or statements of allegiance of some countries may reflect little of the character and a lot of the legal responsibilities while other countries reflect both. I believe that by studying the oaths or statements of allegiance of countries one can examine what the requirements, the characters and the political and legal aspects are of their citizenship.
The legislation before us today has gone through a process of consultation. There has been the Australian Citizenship Council's report Australian citizenship for a new century, a government response and then legislation. There are a number of aspects to this legislation, and I will deal with all of them to some extent. The main ones are the government's intention to strengthen citizenship and to update aspects of Australian law. No changes are being made to the basic criteria for the grant of Australian citizenship. Of interest to most Australians in this day and age is the issue of an Australian citizen who would seek to destroy or diminish Australia by taking arms against their country. They of course lose their Australian citizenship. None of those things will be changed by this legislation; nevertheless, there are some significant changes.
The main amendments in this bill include repealing section 17 of the Australian Citizenship Act so that Australian citizens in future will be able to keep their Australian citizenship on acquiring another citizenship; extending the descent and resumption provisions to give young people more opportunities to acquire Australian citizenship; providing for children who acquire Australian citizenship with their responsible parent to be given then or at a later date their own certificates; strengthening aspects of the integrity of the Australian citizenship process, and taking some strong action against people who are involved in people-smuggling. [start page 863]
There are some aspects of this legislation that need to be dealt with in detail. The first issue is the repeal of section 17 and the dual nationality concept. This issue has been alive and well for a long time. In fact, the National consultations on multiculturalism and citizenship report stated that the feeling in the Australian community was that it was highly repugnant for a person who has been granted Australian citizenship to retain allegiance to another country or power. I think that is still the case. Whilst this may provide certain freedoms and opportunities for Australians to work in other countries - a process which is being driven mainly by the tourist industry to allow people to work elsewhere in the world - I think it is still highly repugnant to most Australians that people should bear allegiance to more than one country. Australians expect people to have allegiance to this nation and to no other. In fact, our citizenship oath used to have a clause which said `renouncing all other allegiances'. That clause was thought to be offensive to some people because it was aimed at the character and not at the political aspect of citizenship. My view has always been that it was part of a legal process and that it could have been much better stated than it was in a previous oath of allegiance or citizenship.
I believe the commitment to Australia is alive and well. Our migrant groups in particular have a huge and very passionate commitment to Australia. A study by Hugh Mackay some years ago found that 96 per cent of our largest migrant groups were absolutely committed and proud of our nation. I think the figure for migrant groups was higher than for those people born here. I think that is still the case. I think people still feel that way. The commitment of southern European people, in particular, figured highly in that study. There is a sense of nationalism and regard for this country that is not engendered by any false jingoism or false patriotism; it is something that people genuinely feel. They understand the qualities of Australia compared with other countries. They understand that we have a long and well-tested democracy. They understand that we have freedom of the press and a court system that is equal to any in the world. They understand that the United Nations rates Australia as one of the top two or three countries as far as personal freedoms are concerned. People who come to be a part of this nation quickly state their value for it.
The values that we share run across political parties and backgrounds. The importance of our families, our homes and our individual freedoms and liberties are all values that Aussies, as a group, understand. When there is any thought that those values may be diminished, concerns can be detected in the community. Over a number of years it has been possible to see where tensions have started.
For people of Jewish background, the Law of Return automatically applies to people returning to Israel, something which many people of Jewish descent are unaware of until they actually arrive in Israel. The same situation may apply to people returning to Greece, where, at the age of 18, a person may be required to give military service. They may be unaware of that law and the fact that, despite any renunciation they make in Australia, the laws of Greece very strongly say, `If you are of Greek parents and you return to Greece, we regard you as a Greek and we are going to put you in the army whether or not you think you are an Aussie.'
The laws of citizenship vary from country to country, and Australians may inadvertently have responsibilities which they have no intention of fulfilling or following through. In many instances, they may be aware of the laws of another country that place obligations on them because of the nature of their birth or their place of birth. There have been difficulties in those areas over the years, and the process of renunciation made it easier for some but harder for others to state that they were Australians and that they could not fulfil the legal obligations of what now had become a foreign country.
I have been told that the changes in this legislation bring us in line with our friends in the United States, and so there is not too much need to worry about these changes. I have checked out what dual nationality means to an American. The US State Department's dual nationality leaflet states:
In order to lose U.S. citizenship, the law requires that the person must apply for the foreign citizenship voluntarily, by free choice, and with the intention to give up U.S. citizenship.
Intent can be shown by the person's statements or conduct. The U.S. Government recognizes that dual nationality exists but does not encourage it as a matter of policy because of the problems it may cause. Claims of other countries on dual national U.S. citizens may conflict with U.S. law, and dual nationality may limit U.S. Government efforts to assist citizens abroad. The country where a dual national is located generally has a stronger claim to that person's allegiance.
However, dual nationals owe allegiance to both the United States and the foreign country. They are required to obey the laws of both countries. Either country has the right to enforce its laws, particularly if the person later travels there. Most U.S. citizens, including dual nationals, must use a U.S. passport to enter and leave the United States.
So it is not quite as clear as it would first appear. There is difficulty in establishing allegiance where a person can take on the nationality of another country. I guess that aspect of it concerns me.
I think the other aspects and changes in this legislation are absolutely reasonable and excellent. The strengthening of the process, the people-smuggling and the certificates for youngsters are long overdue. They should have been available years ago. I am delighted that Mr Ruddock, the current Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, was instrumental in bringing these factors to the notice of the House and that they are now being followed through by Minister Hardgrave.
Dual nationality does create problems that not everybody has expected. I know the House will be interested in the impact that it may have on citizens from Malta, for example. I know my colleague opposite will understand that there is an impact on people from Malta. When Australian citizens who are born in Australia return to Malta they are forced to renounce their Australian citizenship and become a citizen of Malta in order to gain access to a whole lot of services. If they have been living in Malta for some time, they have no access to the changes that are being made here. In fact, most of them say, `Don't change the law.' That is the message I am getting from the people in Malta and from dear friends whom I have known for many years. They are saying that the largest number of people affected by this dual nationality decision are people of Maltese extraction. People who have been Australians, lived in Australia, grown up in Australia and made a contribution to Australia have felt compelled, without choice, to renounce Australian citizenship on return to Malta. [start page 864]
What are some of the reasons? One is study at university in order to get a job. Many jobs in Malta are limited to those with Maltese citizenship. Another is the purchase of property. A foreign passport holder is required to obtain a permit from the Maltese government in order to purchase property - which costs more than $100 - and must purchase properties above a minimum threshold. The banking system is another. External accounts are only available to foreigners in Malta. Another is social security benefits. There are a great number of reasons why the people of Malta, those who were born in Australia and whose families may have worked really hard in this nation, feel disadvantaged. I am not sure that such a process applies to any other group.
I refer the House - and I will show this piece to the member opposite, shortly - to a piece written by a friend of mine, Lawrence Dimech. It is called Tough luck, mate, you're too old at 25 years. The piece outlines pretty succinctly the difficulties that the Maltese community see with these changes. The limitation of 25 years is seen by Mr Dimech and a large number of people to cut out those born between 1964 and 2000. They miss out on the prospect of reclaiming their Australian citizenship unless they come back to Australia, live here for the required period and go through the process. That is the act as I understand it and as they understand it, and I hope that the minister in his reply will be able to bring some clarification, because I know that the people from Malta would like that. I have discussed this with the minister - he is aware of the situation - and I think that we need to get some clarification that we can show to people who are worried about the changes to the Australian Citizenship Act.
In general, I welcome the changes that are being made. I express some reservations about the decision to repeal section 17. I think that it will create some problems as to how we apply our laws and how we give diplomatic aid. Where a person is living in another country and commits some offence, and they are a citizen of that country and of Australia, they will appeal to our diplomatic representatives to support them in a country of which they are already a citizen.
The ultimate test of a person's commitment is where their allegiance is. I am one of those people who happen to believe that you cannot hold two allegiances equally at the same time, that to one you must have an allegiance which is prime, which is above the others; otherwise, it is very difficult to know what you stand for: whether you are committed to the future and the wonderful prospects of this country, whether you are prepared to join the 96 per cent of people from overseas that have strong allegiance to and pride in this country, or whether you want to dilute that process by having more than one allegiance. I think it is physically and mentally impossible.
In the character of citizenship - whether it be the political aspects or whether it be the cultural character of citizenship - I do not believe that you can divide citizenship into four parts instead of two parts. I do not believe you can have the same political feeling of belonging or of being part of a regime or an entity in two places. I do not believe you can feel part of the character of two countries equally at the same time.
I guess life is about choices, and I think so many people have chosen to make Australia their home and they want to maintain it as it is. They want to keep building it, and they do not want half-hearted participants. So I commend the bill to the House but I express reservations about the repeal of section 17.
Source: Hansard 11th March 2002
Release Date: 19 Mar 2002