Thursday, 17 September 2009
Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Test Review and Other Measures) Bill 2009
Consideration in Detail
The next part of the amendment which I have moved is to do with offshore workers. We agree that there are some people whose profession is such that they are required to be outside Australia for very long periods of time, who may have family who are Australians, who normally reside in the country but also have long absences. We can understand that such people would be concerned, saddened and perhaps have their life diminished if they were not able to take up Australian citizenship. So in this part of the amendment we also propose a ministerial discretion, again not able to be delegated and fully transparent, because any ministerial decision would be required to be placed before parliament or on the website.
We want to wrap a whole number of residency requirements around this discretion in relation to individuals employed overseas. These include that the person has been in Australia for four years before making the application, that the person was ordinarily resident in Australia during that period of four years, that the person has been in Australia for a total of 480 days during the period of four years immediately before the application, that the person was present in Australia for a total of at least 120 days during the period of 12 months before they made the application, that the person was a permanent resident for the 12 months immediately before the application, that the person was not present in Australia as an unlawful noncitizen at any time during the period of four years immediately before the day they made the application and that the person has met the requirements of subsection (2A), which is of course the citizenship test.
Most importantly, the person would need to demonstrate that they would suffer significant hardship or disadvantage if they did not receive citizenship, and that is the point. We do not believe this conferral should be automatic. That is what the government’s legislative amendment would do. Someone in the airline industry or working on offshore oil rigs would simply be able to tick a box and, despite the fact that they live most of the time outside Australia, automatically they would be eligible for citizenship.
As I said before, we believe that citizenship is a privilege and a very special responsibility, and therefore we say that people in this particular category of worker should also go before the minister, who would exercise discretion subject to those residency conditions I have just named. That is why we are arguing that we have a much better way of retaining the integrity of our citizenship. We have a way to give the minister some flexibility and discretion to deal with the complexities that individuals present.
This is the type of flexibility which must always be at top of mind in the immigration policy area. We are distressed that this minister consistently and regularly tries to do away with ministerial discretion in the portfolio. This portfolio is about complex human responses to life circumstances and environments. Therefore we argue that ministerial discretion is important in this amendment, in relation to determining both public interest for a person who can show exceptional circumstances and in relation to people who have to be employed overseas. We commend these amendments to the House.