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Mr CADMAN (Mitchell) (1.32 p.m.)—The Labor Party’s record in citizenship, as in migration, is absolutely appalling.

If any group in Australia deserves condemnation for the way in which they have used both immigration and citizenship laws to play political games and to favour certain groups of people, it would have to be the Australian Labor Party. In 1984 the Australian Citizenship Act was destroyed by the Australian Labor Party taking out all substance of commitment to Australia.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr CADMAN—You may laugh and giggle, but the results of what is happening in Australia today can be sheeted back to the lack of commitment to this nation and to what citizenship stands for by the Australian Labor Party. Following the reduction in 1986 of the commitment in the oath, the reduction in time available to people to understand our nation—to fully understand the character of Australians before making that final step of citizenship and to understand all those processes—people have the right, under the Australian Labor Party’s proposals, to claim citizenship, though it is not fully understood, not fully expressed at citizenship ceremonies and not fully explained to them. So we are reaping the results of that problem today across Australia. Cronulla was not an accident; Cronulla was a process whereby a group of people failed to understand their commitment and responsibilities and the privileges of being Australian. It is time to resolve those problems, to fix them up and to establish a proper appreciation in the Australian people and in those who want to come here of what it is to be an Aussie.

The Australian people can give no more important or significant gift to somebody coming here than the gift of citizenship. We give them absolute and complete rights. It is true that many of the privileges of citizenship can be gained by permanent residency, but that is a permission only; it is not a right. Citizenship imposes rights and provides privileges to people which cannot be taken away except in the most extreme circumstances. Permanent residency only grants permission, and that can be removed at any time.

I have looked at the character, the identity and the political and legal status of Australians, and they are unique, because our character is one of inclusiveness and fairness. We talk about Australian values, which I believe are different from those of any other nation on earth. They are values which form the Australian character and which are something Australians hold dear. If there are people invited to this land who do not want to accept those characteristics that make up the Australian character, then most Aussies would feel they need to find some place other than Australia in which to live. Our inheritance, our character, our history, the fact that we can support the underdog, the fact that we can take on incredible challenges and come through, and the fact that we can punch above our weight in a range of medical, scientific, arts, sporting, business and other endeavours is part of the Australian identity. But there is a political and legal status granted to a citizen which I explained briefly when I mentioned the rights of citizenship.

The rights of citizenship I will discuss shortly. But I would like to read to the House the understanding of citizenship as outlined to me by a dear friend—a Maltese friend, it so happens—Lawrence Dimech AM, a former consul general for Malta, a former member of the Labour Party in Malta, and a man committed completely to this nation. He wrote initially concerning the Maltese problem, which the government has basically resolved; there may be some other issues the government wants to give attention to. Lawrence Dimech writes in this manner:

We are glad that we have been asked again to submit our views about the Australian Citizenship Bill. We feel passionate about matters relating to citizenship. They tend to shape the future of our lives and create a strong bond with the nation of Australia, now our [country], our place of abode.

He goes on:

We do agree with the increase but the emphasis should be more on commitment to Australian laws and traditions than residential qualifications.

Applicants should be examined thoroughly regarding their work ethics, observation of the laws, contribution to the general community, their efforts to learn English and whether they have established real and permanent roots in this country.

From personal experience we observe that some permanent residents make the transition in less than three years but others take ... much longer. Permanent residency gives the new comer most of the benefits in this country but Australian citizenship should not be given as easily as it has been done in the past.

So writes Lawrence Dimech. He goes on:

Then, once Australian citizenship is given, it should only be taken away in exceptional circumstances.

And I think most Australians would say yes to that—except the Australian Labor Party. They had the most demeaned and meaningless commitment of any nation on earth. You could run through the oaths and the allegiances required of citizens of every nation on earth and the weakest of the lot was the Australian commitment. It meant nothing. It meant that people could come here and say, ‘Yes, I agree with everything you say,’ whether or not they understood what was being said, whether or not they knew the oath they were making, whether or not they knew the commitment they were taking on, or understood it, or could even reply in English; and they became, automatically, Australian citizens after two years. The shortest time and the least meaningful oath of any nation on earth—that is the record of the Australian Labor Party.

Now we are proposing changes, I believe, to restore a pride in and a commitment to and understanding of what this Australian nation is about, and I am extremely pleased that it is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs who has seen the necessity of making these changes. I want to compliment him personally on it, because it is a step forward in the way in which our current generation of people understand Australia and want it to exist, and it is the aspirational statement of those who want to come here who want to stay here.

Let me give some of the common values: the importance of our families and our homes—these are significant in Australia; let us not give that away by a weak commitment to Australia—the individual freedoms and liberties that we have, and the values which unify us and provide a sense of purpose for individual endeavour. All of these things enrich our culture and provide us with the impetus to perform and to make the achievements that we have been so successful in making.

I refer briefly to the oath because we have had in Sydney circumstances to do with Sheikh Taj al-Din al- Hilali, whom I do not know; he became an Australian citizen. And this is another criticism of the Australian Labor Party, though none of them will talk about it of course: it was they and they alone who did this. The former member for Watson and before that Grayndler, to stack his branches, wanted a whole group of Arabic-speakers to join those branches, and he got them in. And the key person to do it—an illegal migrant at the time—was Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali. That is what the Australian Labor Party did with Australian citizenship: played games with permanent residency and citizenship. And Paul Keating, bless his socks, when Bob Hawke was out of the country and he was Acting Prime Minister, ticked the box and created permanent residency first of all and then citizenship for Hilaly.

Did that man—who does not speak English now, to the media—understand what he was doing when he took the oath? I believe he has transgressed the weak oath that we have at the moment. I would like to see that oath strengthened, because really that is the legal commitment to the nation. The oath is the culmination of a process of learning about language, understanding the law and the processes, committing yourself to the culture of our nation, committing yourself to the future direction of this nation, and then encapsulating all of those understandings and that comprehension into an oath of commitment.

I believe that that oath of commitment must contain something, as does the American oath and most other oaths that people take—a commitment to renounce those things that would demean and diminish Australia. Until Chris Hurford found that it did not mean a great deal and that it was irrelevant, that renunciation clause used to be in the Australian oath of allegiance. That is the legal link which you can cite to a person who transgresses our understanding of what it is to be an Aussie; that is the link to point out to them: ‘You have transgressed your oath. You need to reform or you need to leave.’ I believe that that link is a legal commitment made by an individual, who should say their own name at the time of accepting citizenship, and that that legal link needs to be enforced.

The American situation is extremely interesting, and the Canadian oath and the oath of Great Britain are interesting. They all require greater commitment than the Australian oath. The Americans say:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen ...

So, whilst they recognise the prospect of dual citizenship, the commitment is to where they are, in the United States, and that is what I think Australians want. They do not mind about cultural practice. They do not mind about people’s history or past. They do not mind about their friends and what they do, basically, but they want their primary commitment to be to Australia first of all. And so the citizenship bill that we are debating today I think is a significant change and a worthwhile change.

I would like to conclude my remarks by drawing attention to the inquiry that is currently being undertaken by the parliamentary secretary. There are some interesting things that people ought to comment about—not just migrant groups. This is an issue for all Australians. It does not matter whether it is the CWA, the RSL, a local church group, the Progress Association—everybody should have an interest in what it is to be an Aussie, and they ought to have a say on it. It is not a matter that should be captive to activists in the ethnic communities. This inquiry is about: should Australia introduce a formal citizenship test? Most countries have one. You have to sit down and answer a few questions about the country you are going to become a member of before you get citizenship. You must be able to answer them correctly.

The booklet distributed by the parliamentary secretary outlines some of those tests. How important is knowledge of Australia for Australian citizenship? Again, that is part of the process of joining most countries. What level of English is required to participate as an Australian citizen? That is very important: you do not get a job if you cannot speak English. That is the fact of the matter. How are you going to support a family, maybe your olds, your kids, if you cannot speak English? It is a critical factor. It is the key. You do not read street directories. You do not know where to shop. You do not know how to get around. It is a very important component.

I believe there has been some talk of people having English lessons available to them while they are waiting for final approval. Nothing could be better. You could do it electronically. There are 101 different ways in which effective lessons can be given to people before they come here. It would be a great start for them. We talk about the need for skills in Australia. Some of the greatest skills come from countries where people do not speak English, like Holland, Germany and places like that. People think, ‘The whole of Asia will come for skills.’ That is not the case. We look to different parts of the world for different skills. It so happens that some of the best tradesmen and skilled engineers are in Europe. We look to America for other things. It is a fact of nature that financiers and key businesspeople may come from Asia.

Understanding English is very important. How important is it to demonstrate a commitment to Australia’s way of life and values for those intending to settle permanently in Australia or spend a significant period of time in Australia? That says it all. I hope that inquiry will modify the way in which we look at citizenship and the provision of those government programs and efforts that support citizenship in the future. I commend the bill to the House. I condemn completely the activities of the Australian Labor Party in this area as being against Australia’s interest in every area.

Author: Alan Cadman MP
Source: House Hansard - 31st October 2006
Release Date: 31 Aug 2006


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