Report from the Senate Hearing on the Citizenship Legislation Amendments

On the 5th of September 2017 a report was released to the public which details the findings of the Senate hearings into the Government's proposed Citizenship Legislation Amendments. Please click here to view the report.

A number of Labor members spoke against the Government's proposed changes to citizenship legislate. Please see below some of the speeches.

Linda Burney - Member for Barton

Ms BURNEY (Barton) (15:54): I stand with my colleagues in the Labor Party and the member for Watson in saying to this government: withdraw this legislation. It is unfair and it is odious. The member for Mitchell has just shown his absolute ignorance of what Australia is and who we are as a nation. It wasn't any of the security agencies that asked for this. We have been told by the Minister for Immigration and Border Security that somehow or other this legislation was necessary for national security. That was clearly a falsehood. We know very clearly that this has not been requested by any of the security agencies. In fact, it has been put together—as the member for Watson said—by two members of the Liberal Party.

The electorate of Barton, which I represent, is an electorate—as many electorates are, particularly on our side— that is made up by waves of migration. They are people who have made the most difficult choice of leaving their country of their birth, of leaving everything that they know for many different circumstances, to come to Australia to give their children a better life. This government has taken it upon itself to make it impossible for those people, who love this country and who are committed to this country, to ever become citizens. I will tell a case history about that in a moment. We are being told that, somehow, the introduction of an unreasonable English language test—

Mr Hawke interjecting—

Ms BURNEY: And it is unreasonable, member for Mitchell; you probably wouldn't even pass it! We are being told as well that increasing the residency requirements from one year to four years is about national security. Well, hello? The people who become citizens have already been vetted twice, because they are permanent residents—a slight fact that has been overlooked by the ignorance on the other side. You said, member for Mitchell, that our people should go out and tell our constituencies what our view is. We have, and you know what? They are backing us in, because they know this is wrong. They know this is unfair. We knock on doors, and many of those people—we all have them, as do you—are women who are middle aged, have come here post-World War II and will never, ever pass these English language tests, and yet they have contributed, paid taxes, raised families and sent their children to school. Let me tell you about one particular personal story. At a community forum we held in Rockdale, where the member for Watson came along, we had over 100 people. We didn't have enough chairs in the room that night for the people who wanted to hear about this so-called 'necessary' citizenship rebranding. At that forum, there was a woman there called Penny. Penny and her partner, who is an Australian citizen, have a little boy. He's 20 months old now, and he is an Australian citizen. She is from Canada, but these new rules will force her into not being able to return to Canada until 2020, even if there is an emergency with her friends or family, because it will put her capacity to apply for citizenship in jeopardy. Penny understands, as many people do, what the implications are of this particular piece of legislation.

This legislation is symptomatic of what this government is about. This government is about trying to cast Australia in its own image—in your image, member for Mitchell—and guess what? Australia is a very different place to the one that you described. Australia is made on the wonderful foundation of the oldest continuous surviving culture on earth. This nation is built on migration, and that is our strength, our diversity, our beauty and who we are. Through this piece of legislation—as the member for Watson has described—you want to create a permanent group of people who will be virtually stateless in this country because they will never be able to comply with the citizenship requirements.

Mr Wallace interjecting—

Mr Howarth interjecting—

Ms BURNEY: You be quiet, buddy! Let me be very clear about this: Labor objects to this bill because it is wrong and it is unfair. The member for Watson has travelled the length and breadth of this country talking to people about this particular piece of legislation. If there were a need for it for national security, fair enough, but it's based— (Time expired)


Tony Zappia - Member for Makin

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (16:14): The government's citizenship legislation is flawed and it is discriminatory. It is flawed because there is no national security evidence that there are any problems whatsoever with the existing process. It is flawed because there is no justification for this legislation at all. It is flawed because it flies in the face of the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948. It is flawed because it goes against every notion of justice and fairness that people in this place would like to believe we stand for.

And it is flawed because it has been roundly criticised by almost every community organisation out there, including industry sectors and the like. Indeed, there is no major community group out there at all that has come out in support of this legislation. In the second reading speech from the minister, he couldn't point to a single one. It is also flawed because a Senate inquiry has found so, and a committee chaired by Senator Ian Macdonald has agreed that the English literacy test needs to be changed.

This legislation is even worse, because it is discriminatory. The coalition governments in this country have form when it comes to playing the race card when they are tracking badly in the opinion polls. In 2007, the Howard government brought in the Australian citizenship test for the first time, at a time that the government was in trouble politically. The tactic didn't help that government at the time, and it will not help this government either. It is flawed and discriminatory because this legislation affects a particular cohort of migrants. They are the migrants that have come to this country in more recent years, migrants who have come here from China, southern Asia and from the Middle East.

I will quote the chair of the Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia, Mr Joe Caputo, who said: 'We have fought for months to oppose this oppressive bill. The bill seeks to create a permanent underclass of residents, denied the rights and opportunities of being welcomed and included as Australian citizens. There is no place for the kind of extremist ideologically-driven provisions which will be included in this bill'. In his second reading speech, the minister praised the success of the Australian citizenship process over the years. That process has indeed been changed many times over the years, possibly 30 or so. But if the process has worked so well and the minister comes into the House and applauds and lauds it, then why change it? There has been no call to do so by the community, no security advice to do so and no evidence that it is needed. The process is indeed working well for Australia and the minister wants to change it. He wants to change it on a falsely based perception that changing the Australian citizenship laws will increase security for this country. I want to raise three matters in respect of that.

Firstly, if security is the issue then the real test, and the test that really matters, is the test we apply when a person is granted entry into this country, regardless of which type of visa they are given—particularly when they are given a permanent visa to this country.

Secondly, if a person has been in Australia for four years and has worked in this country for four years, what difference does the type of visa make to the person's understanding and integration into Australian life? It makes no difference at all, because the person is in the very same country, working amongst the very same community. Thirdly, under the existing laws, no residential period, none whatsoever, guarantees citizenship at the end of it. If there are any doubts about a person's character at the time they apply for their citizenship then their application can be deferred or rejected. So no period of time provides the certainty that members opposite would have you believe. It is not a tougher citizenship test or a meaningless values test that makes a good citizen. Half a century of nearly five million new citizens successfully settling into Australia without the draconian measures proposed in this bill proves that. What more evidence is needed than to understand that the government's citizenship legislation is flawed and politically driven?

It does not unite Australia, it indeed divides it. I will finish on this point: there are about a million Australians who currently do not have citizenship. Most of them don't have it because they are not confident of passing the current test. If you make the test harder, that will mean that even more people will never, ever become Australian citizens.

Julie Owens - Member for Parramatta

Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (16:04): That's one of the more outrageous contributions I've heard in this House in a long time. I want to deal with a few things. I live in one of the most diverse electorates in the country. People from all over the world have come to Parramatta to make it their home, and I don't find people who have spent years to become an Australian citizen wandering around my community and undervaluing that right. In fact, they're proud of it, and I am very proud of them. The previous speaker wanted us to talk about the economy today. Let's do that.

Let's acknowledge that the two million people who have come as migrants to this country since 1901 have contributed greatly to the economy of this country. Some of our biggest companies were built by migrants who would not pass the test that this government wants to impose. Out there in the world, in spite of the protestations opposite, very few people support the proposal. We know that from the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee inquiry, where over 14,000 submissions were made. Two submissions were in favour and one of those two was from the government, so let's ignore that. One submission was in favour of the test and 14,000 were against. That's the view out there. What causes 14,000 people to get off their bottoms, go to their desk and start writing submissions to the Senate?

I'll tell you: some of the most appalling changes to citizenship that I could have imagined. The citizenship changes will prevent many, many people from becoming citizens, even after they have committed to this country with their hearts, with their families, with their minds, with their investment, with their taxes, with their work hours and with literally the fruit of their loins and wombs—sometimes with 35 grandchildren; I have them in my electorate. They would not pass the English-language test. They have spent their lives here building businesses. They have had children, they have raised them and they have sent them to university. They have had grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and would still be without citizenship if this English-language test had been in place when they migrated to Australia. It's outrageous. It doesn't recognise who we are and it doesn't recognise the reality that our economy is built in large part by people who come here from around the world, brought their skills, which we didn't even pay for, to this country and used them for the benefit of this country.

They came here with education, or came here without it, and worked their bottoms off—because I can't use the word I'd like to use—to make it work for their family. There are people who worked two jobs and people who turned up here like the Vietnamese boat people. I was working in the Golden Circle cannery at the time to pay my way through high school. They turned up in boats and, in their thousands, turned up at the factory. They worked every hour they could to get their family ahead—any hour, any overtime hour. They were extraordinary people who would not have passed this test. This is outrageous. Let's look at what exactly the rationale for this is. The government says it's about national security, except there's no evidence that these changes would improve national security. There's no request from any of the security agencies at all and none of them put in submissions to the Senate inquiry. There's a claim that it's about improving integration. How does it improve integration? You could have a mum staying at home and looking after children, with a husband who is an Australian citizen and children who are Australian citizens, and, 15, 20 or 25 years later, she still can't pass the English-language test. How does that make us better?

How does that improve integration? How does it do that? It doesn't. It is ridiculous. You can see an example in my electorate of a business person who came here on a business visa and set up their business and who probably wouldn't pass the English-language test because it is, in spite of the protestations on the other side, IELTS 6, which is a university-level entrance test. It's administered internationally by a private company. It's used all around the world for universities to test whether a person has the appropriate international-level English. It's not based on Australian language; it's based on an international level; it's designed for university entrants. It effectively puts the requirements for English language in the hands of a foreign company that has built a test for a completely different reason. It makes no sense. It's incredibly unfair. We will be a worse country that is less integrated and less safe because of these changes. It simply does not make any sense and it's profoundly unfair

Julian Hill - Member for Bruce

Mr HILL (Bruce) (16:24): I'm entirely unclear what that has to do with the Peloponnesian War. I have a confession, harking back to where this debate started—I can't even spell 'Peloponnesian'. I wondered if I should give up my citizenship, but then I thought I wouldn't be allowed to be here. But as it turns out, I actually would— because apparently being a citizen is no longer a qualification to be here. This attack on Australian citizenship is a shocker, even for this minister. I think it is starting to dawn on those opposite, judging by who is not here speaking that this is another Dutton stunt gone wrong. It's based on a lie, as we heard, of national security.

It's a stunt gone wrong by the minister for immigration. The wedge has backfired. We didn't hear anything from the assistant minister or anyone opposite about what their own senators have said of this bill. They've acknowledged that it's divisive and damaging to individuals and to people in my electorate. Some 55 per cent of people in my electorate were born in another country. This is a bread-and-butter issue for people in my community. They didn't say anything about the Senate report where government senators admitted that the legislation is flawed, and recommended major changes, but then kind of said that we should pass it anyway. That would be lipstick on a pig. There were 14,000 submissions opposing and two in favour. We're still placing bets over here on whether the assistant minister actually wrote the submission for the Australians for Constitutional Monarchy. Honourable members interjecting—

Mr HILL: It's a thing. The community and every expert are rightly outraged. This is an extremist bill. The truth was revealed. Its extremely ridiculous English level—IELTS 6—is university level. Every expert submission—from Melbourne University, from Monash University, from the people who understand what this test actually is—made that clear. It's elitist. I dare say that tens of thousands of people in my electorate who are great Australian citizens would fail this test. It was also made clear in the Senate committee report and in the submissions to the Senate committee that this would be the hardest, the most impossible English test in the entire world for citizenship. That's a fact. Have a read of the report. People in my community and in many multicultural communities have said, quite clearly, that this is racist legislation. That's what's being said in the multicultural press around Australia. It's extreme. It's retrospective. Hundreds of thousands of people are affected. Even the government senators acknowledged the current trend— unfortunately like this—of legislation by media release. They've acknowledged the anger in the community and made a clear recommendation that the government back down and not make this retrospective, at the very least.

They also made a clear recommendation that: … the required standard should not be so high as to disqualify from citizenship many Australians who, in the past, and with a more basic competency in the English language, have proven to be valuable members of the Australian community. That's your own government senators agreeing with Labor's fundamental point about this bill. We've also acknowledged that this bill imposes unreasonable delays. To become an Australian citizen you already have to be in this country for four years. People pay tax, they study, they work, they raise a family and they fall in love—they have all the quintessential Australian experiences year after year after year. The government through all of this debate has not answered the key question: how does it make us a better, safer community to have hundreds of thousands of permanent residents living here banned from citizenship? It doesn't. The final point I'd make is that the minister for immigration, if you ring the betting agency of those opposite, may well be the next Prime Minister—before the next election. So you would think he would be politically smart.

We had a meeting in the Springvale town hall a month ago and 500 people turned up. They were not all non-citizens; most of them were citizens. Many of them were Liberal voters. They were outraged because they care about their neighbours. They're married to non-citizens that have disrupted their family plans. In my view we should send a thank you note because finally, from the four months of this debate, every non English-speaking background person, everyone from another country, every migrant and even your own party members, and supporters in the meeting I held in the seat of Chisholm—and people have now quit the Liberal Party over this, people who made the mistake of helping the member for Chisholm get elected and are now helping us—now know what you truly think of them: they're not good enough to be Australians, they're not welcome and they're not wanted. At least the minister for immigration has been honest for once and given people a chance to know where they truly stand with this government.

Tony Burke - Member for Watson

Mr BURKE (Watson—Manager of Opposition Business) (15:34): The report by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee has now come down on the government's changes to the Citizenship Act, and it is absolutely clear now why the government should withdraw the changes that they have in front. When they first put these proposals forward, they asked for public submissions. They got thousands of public submissions and then they decided to keep them secret. We wondered why that would be. Public submissions ordinarily are public things, but they decided to keep them secret. So the Senate inquiry went through a new exercise in receiving public submissions. They received more than 14,000 submissions. Guess how many were in support of the government's proposal.

Two. One of those two was from the department—it's a bit tough for them to put in a submission that's not in favour of the legislation—and the other was from the Monarchist League. They were the only two. There is a reason why the government are in a situation now where their citizenship changes should simply be withdrawn. We have in front of us legislation which should be withdrawn because it deals with a problem that does not exist. The arguments that they have put forward for it don't stack up, and the arguments against it are overwhelming. There are two principles that the minister puts when he talks about citizenship. When you hear each of them, in the first instance they sound reasonable. One is that you should have to wait four years before you become a citizen. The other is that you should have competent English.

They both sound like reasonable arguments. Here is the problem: you already have to be here for four years. What happens at the moment is: for one of those years, you need to be as a permanent resident, but you have to have been here for four years. Many people come to Australia initially on a temporary visa, and they are often here on consecutive temporary visas before they end up getting permanent residence. The real-life impact is not going from one year to four years, because everyone has to wait four years already. The real-life impact of this will be people waiting in Australia for more than a decade before they are asked to make a pledge to this country. How on earth is that good for the country— to have people living here for more than a decade and not being asked to make a pledge of commitment to Australia? It's certainly not good for them, and I don't see how it's good for the rest of the country. But the problems with the delay almost pale into insignificance compared to the problems with the Englishlanguage test.

When the minister says, 'You should have to have competent English,' most people would hear that and think, 'That's reasonable. You should have to have competent English.' The problem is that the word 'competent ' as it has been defined in this bill has a very precise legal meaning. It refers to level 6 on the IELTS test, a test created by the University of Cambridge, a test that costs hundreds of dollars to sit, and thousands of dollars to get the training for, to get your English up to that level. The government provides English-language training. It doesn't get people anywhere near level 6. You can do your 500 hours—and not every visa holder is entitled to that, but some are. Many people will get to level 2.

Some people will get to level 4. No-one, through that course, is trained to get to level 6. There is no shortage of people who have been living in Australia their entire lives who would not pass this test at level 6. The minister then says that there are two streams, an academic stream and a general stream, and they're going to use the general stream, not the academic stream. I went to the web page of IELTS, where you can get examples of the test, to test the level. I will read from the comprehension test. And it's not just a comprehension test—there's a reading test, a listening test, a writing test; you have to be able to write an essay. All these forms of tests are part of getting to a level in IELTS. This is from the comprehension test: Calisthenics enters the historical record at around 480 B.C., with Herodotus' account of the Battle of Thermopolylae. Herodotus reported that, prior to the battle, the god-king Xerxes sent a scout party to spy on his Spartan enemies. The scouts informed Xerxes that the Spartans, under the leadership of King Leonidas, were practicing some kind of bizarre, synchronised movements akin to a tribal dance. … It turns out their tribal dance was not a superstitious ritual but a form of calisthenics by which they were building awe-inspiring physical strength and endurance. For one, that's not the academic test; that's the easier one. But, where they're both marked, you end up having to get to the same level of proficiency with the English language.

But what on earth does that have to do with being a good Australian? What on earth does that have to do with being a decent Australian citizen? We agree that you have to have what people would generally regard as competent English, because there is already a test, and the test is in English. Guess what—if the test is in English, I reckon it's pretty hard to pass if you have no English. If you asked me to pass a test that was written in a different language, I would struggle, I admit. I would not be able to do it. In the same way, if you don't have conversational-level English, you already can't pass.

But, as a demand, university-level English

(1) is ridiculous and

(2) is an act of extraordinary snobbery that sends a message to every Australian who doesn't have that level of English that this government, if it had the choice, would prefer they weren't here.

But here's the catch: not everybody will have to reach university-level English. There are lots of countries in the world that have English as one of their official languages, like India and Singapore. But there are only five where, if you're a passport holder from one of those countries, this will result in you not having to have university-level English. They are the UK, New Zealand, Ireland, Canada and the United States. It just so happens the five white English-speaking countries are the only countries where, if you're a passport holder from one of those countries, this will result in you not needing university-level English. The minister will say, 'But there are visas that pick out individual countries.' There are lots of visas that are organised on a bilateral basis. For example, there is the backpacker visa.

There are a series of visas that we negotiate, but, as a country, we have never dealt with citizenship in a way that says, 'If you come from any nonwhite English-speaking country, you'll have to have university-level English. But, if you come from a white English-speaking country, it's all okay.' I don't know how many people other than the minister knew about this, but none of them have spoken out. From time to time, some of the members opposite have spoken out about issues like 18C, but when you think of something as prejudiced as the measures within these proposals, why have we heard nothing from the member for Reid, the member for Banks, the member for Bennelong, the member for Chisholm or the member for Deakin? Why are they so comfortable with the thought of having people in their electorates who know that if these members had their way they'd rather these people had never become citizens. All the bravery that used to be there on those backbenches has disappeared on this. It has disappeared completely. The minister will argue that it's all because of national security. I asked about this when I had my briefing from the department. Normally, I keep briefings from departments confidential, but the minister decided to tell the media about my briefing, so I think I'm pretty much off the hook.

I asked the department, 'Did this come as a recommendation from the ASIO?' No. 'Did this come as a recommendation from the AFP?' No. 'Did this come as a recommendation from any national security agency?' No; it came from none of them. Where did this come from? It was a recommendation from a report written by two people, both of whom happen to be members of the Liberal Party: Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and Phillip Ruddock. This entire proposal is based on consultation with them only. When they go out to the rest of the community, they discover it's 14,000 to two. What's in front of us here is a proposal that changes who we are as a country. There are lots of countries in the world that have people who are there as permanent residents who become a permanent underclass of noncitizens. Australia has not been that sort of country ever since we got rid of the White Australia policy.

We should not go back to being a country with a permanent underclass of noncitizens, a permanent underclass of people who live here their whole lives but are told they will never belong. The welcome note that is read out at every citizenship ceremony when people become Australian citizens used to finish with the words 'welcome home'. The moment this government got into office they took those words back. Let me tell you and let me make it clear: citizenship is meant to be the way we build ourselves as a society, not the way we divide

Tony Burke