Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill

14 August 2017

Dr CHALMERS (Rankin) (17:32): It is an honour to follow so many terrific Labor colleagues in talking about our very real concerns about the citizenship changes that the government has proposed and put before the House in the form of the Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill. As I understand it, I'm the last speaker from our side of the House, but, as the member for Lindsay just mentioned in her contribution, many members from our side of the House—many more members on this side of the House than on that side—have spoken about the government's proposed legislation. That's because citizenship, migration and multiculturalism are articles of faith for us on this side of the House. We're proud of Australia's deep and enduring multicultural heritage.

If you listen to all of the contributions that people have made from this side of the chamber in the last little while—as you have, Deputy Speaker—you hear some pretty extraordinary stories about people's own heritage, people's own background, the sorts of trials and tribulations of our own relatives and people who we know and live amongst—our neighbours and friends—and the sorts of trials and tribulations that people go through in order to arrive in Australia, and then to ensure that they are taking up the maximum benefits of being in Australia by becoming an Australian. We all see that in our citizenship ceremonies and all of the other occasions that we are afforded as members of parliament to see the very best aspects of Australian citizenship. To be there at the moment that somebody becomes a citizen is a really treasured opportunity, and I know that I don't just speak for this side of the House on that point. Our position on these bills is to make sure we're saying to new Australians, those who have been here a bit longer or those who might aspire to Australian citizenship that we take our responsibility of ensuring the right arrangements very seriously. We want to take the time to deliberate, discuss and get to the bottom of the motivations for some of these changes, and to make sure that, if we are going to support or not support something that the government proposes, we do so for the very best of reasons.

Mr Deputy Speaker Vasta, you know my electorate, next door to yours. On Friday I was at Mabel Park State High School. They opened a really terrific initiative called the United Cultures Centre. The United Cultures Centre was effectively an Indigenous yarning circle, but the students, on their own initiative, had put around the yarning circle all of the places of origin of the different students who attend Mabel High. It's one of the most multicultural schools certainly in my electorate and definitely around the country. I felt motivated by that, to know that young people understand something that probably doesn't always dawn on this government—that is, we should be doing what we can to be more inclusive with our citizenship arrangements and our broader laws that emanate from this place. We need to make sure we are as inclusive as possible.

We have three major concerns with this legislation. They are the reason we're voting the way we are. We want the Senate to look more deeply into some of the other issues, because we are concerned that some of the proposals in this bill do not create the right kinds of citizenship arrangements for an inclusive, tolerant, forward-looking multicultural society. As all of the people who've spoken on this side have said quite eloquently—and my colleague the shadow minister is here—we don't think that the English language test is appropriate. To ask people to have university-level English is a pretty extraordinary thing. If we had applied that throughout our history, you can imagine the sorts of great Australians that we would have denied ourselves and the dynamism that they contributed to this country. But it is not just the English language test; there is also the issue around the waiting period. As the member for Lindsay said in her contribution, people are already living here anyway. We should be looking for ways to get them to sign up to our way of life, laws and customs at an earlier opportunity, not making them wait longer for that opportunity. They are already here. The capacity to do the wrong thing is already available to them. We want to get people signing up and contributing as Australians.

The third point is on the arguments about national security. We're not convinced these proposals in the legislation are relevant and necessary to the important task of maintaining our national security. We don't think it has necessarily come from the advice of the agencies or from a good place. We are worried that the motivations of the Prime Minister, in announcing these changes, are not what they should be. It might've been due to—the minister has joined us at the table—a sop to an internal political rival. It might be a way to chase One Nation votes. We're worried about the motivations of this legislation. When they first announced they were going down this path, we said we had an open mind, because we want to use these opportunities to bring people together and not to further divide our community. Our concern is that, consistent with all the other areas—marriage equality, inequality in our broader economy—this government has taken an opportunity to bring us together and, instead, is driving us further apart.