House debates

Thursday, 30 October 2014


Australian Citizenship and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014; Second Reading

4:14 pm

Photo of Karen McNamaraKaren McNamara (Dobell, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Since this government's election, a little over a year ago, we have set about restoring integrity and public confidence in immigration and border protection. We have done so on the overwhelming demand of the Australian people to ensure we retain sovereignty over our borders and hold the tightest possible control and grip on national security. The Australian Citizenship and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 is another stone in the foundation of this objective. As the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection has said, 'When successfully managed, a strong border yields key dividends for our nation—in national security, economic, social and humanitarian terms.'

In relation to border protection, as a government, we have done what we said we would do. We are obtaining the results we said we would achieve. As a nation we are constantly confronted with many challenges. We are now facing challenges from those who wish to do us harm and from the terrifying concept of home-grown terror. The enemy within—who was born and raised in this great nation, who benefited from our education system, who may have been part of a local sporting team, who has now turned their back on the freedoms and privileges afforded to citizens of this great nation—is now prepared to promote extremism and bring harm to their fellow countrymen and countrywomen, probably the same men and women who they grew up with and went to school with.

Recent events within Australia and overseas demonstrate the evil of an enemy who are recruiting young Australians to fight abroad in war zones including Syria and Iraq. For me and other members of this parliament this a truly frightening and confronting reality that we must all address. For this government this is a real and serious risk that we must combat. To do so this government is introducing a suite of measures to ensure that we are as well prepared as possible. We must remain vigilant. As a government we must be prepared to arm this nation, its security agencies and law enforcement officers with the necessary tools to protect our citizens.

In short, our ambition and our objective is for Australia to remain a welcoming nation to those who seek to come here legally to share in our prosperity, freedoms and beliefs. Our willingness to welcome new migrants to our shores is one of our strongest legacies. One of the most joyous occasions afforded a member of this parliament is the opportunity to attend citizenship ceremonies and to welcome our newest Australians to this great land. On these occasions we are humbly reminded why men, women and children from all nationalities and backgrounds choose to make and call Australia home. I join with the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection in saying, 'Australia is the most successful immigration nation on earth.'

Those who come here to pursue the great Australian dream have much to offer. Overwhelmingly, we are a welcoming country that enjoys the broad range of cultural diversity which shapes modern Australia. This year we celebrated the 65th anniversary of Australian citizenship. In this time we have welcomed more than 4.5 million new citizens from some 200 countries. This year alone, we welcome 5,000 new citizens.

By and large, these people come to join us, not to divide us, and to contribute with us, not take from us. From those who come here we ask for loyalty to Australia and that they demonstrate a commitment to share, respect and uphold our laws, beliefs, rights and liberties. And we should expect nothing less from new Australians or even from those who have called Australia home their entire lives.

We owe it both to our newest Australians and Australian-born citizens to be ever vigilant and diligent in our approach to national security. Prior to my election as the member for Dobell, I made a commitment to my constituents to be a member of a government that was serious about securing our borders. I did so knowing that previous coalition governments achieved strong border controls, and that we could do so again.

Securing our borders and keeping Australia safe remains one of the highest priorities for the people of Dobell. Within Dobell and across Australia people want assurance that their families, homes and communities are safe. In fact, community surveys received by my office from constituents indicate that one in two people identify securing our borders as their single highest priority. But, sadly, prior to the election, over a six-year period we experienced the Labor government relinquish control over who came to Australia to the people smugglers. The Labor government ultimately outsourced immigration to the people smugglers, who, in turn, decided who would call Australia home.

I have often conversed with local residents as to the merits of the coalition government's border protection policies. People agree that the most humane thing we can do as a government is to stop men, women and children from boarding unseaworthy vessels and making the dangerous voyage across the ocean in the hope of making it to our shores. Unfortunately, under Labor's failed outsourced immigration policy we saw the tragic loss of 1,100 people at sea. This is the number that we are aware of. Tragically, it is believed that there are many others not accounted for.

Recently, I was very privileged to participate in Operation Resolute, the ADF's contribution to border protection operations through the Australian Defence Force parliamentary program. Participating in this program provided me with a unique opportunity to obtain a practical understanding of the workings of the military and the Customs and Border Protection Service and the implementation of policies such as Operation Sovereign Borders. Having observed and been part of Operation Resolute, I am in awe of the professionalism, commitment and dedication of the men and women tasked to protect our borders. It was during this experience that I heard directly from our men and women on the front line about their experiences when dealing with illegal boat arrivals. For some, the experience was quite harrowing. They found it confronting to be dealing with human desperation.

I commend to the House the men and women protecting our borders, for their unwavering commitment and their service to our nation. On behalf of all Australians, I thank you.

Our policies are not only saving lives and keeping men, women and children safe from toxic people smuggling, but also minimising the risk and harm faced by our border protection agencies. Australians want to know that our border security measures are contributing to our economic recovery, rather than draining and undermining our economic prospects. Australians want to know that those who receive Australian citizenship are decent and honest people willing to contribute to our great nation and play a leading role in forging a cohesive and welcoming community. We want all Australians, new and old, to embrace mateship and to live by the ideals promoted by generations before us. This government is immensely proud of taking the tough and necessary steps to secure our borders and equally proud of our contribution to multicultural Australia.

It was the Holt government that introduced the Migration Act in 1966 that dismantled the White Australia policy and increased immigration for non-European migrants. It was announced at that time that:

… applications for migration would be accepted from well-qualified people on the basis of their suitability as settlers, their ability to integrate readily and their possession of qualifications positively useful to Australia.

These guiding principles remain in place today. It was only when the Fraser government reviewed immigration laws in 1978 that selection of migrants no longer required the consideration of place of origin.

This bill amends the Australian Citizenship Act 2007, otherwise known as the citizenship act, to strengthen program integrity, underline the importance of connection to Australia and improve decision making. Currently under the citizenship act revocation may be considered in cases where a person has acquired Australian citizenship by application and meets one of the following criteria: one, where a person has been convicted of making a false statement or misrepresentation in relation to a migration or citizenship application or, two, where a person has committed a serious criminal offence prior to becoming an Australian citizen and fails to disclose it on their application and is later convicted of the offence after they have made an application to become an Australian citizen. If one or both of these criteria are met, the minister must be satisfied that it would be contrary to the public interest for the person to remain an Australian citizen.

This bill expands the minister's power to revoke citizenship when satisfied that a person became a citizen as a result of fraud or misrepresentation, by allowing revocation without a prior criminal conviction for fraud. Identity fraud is a major concern for the Australian government. Unfortunately, law enforcement agencies and the courts have limited capacity to prosecute all cases of fraud and in some cases, after having approved a person becoming an Australian citizen, new information may come to light questioning the legitimacy of the person's identity.

The amendments before the House allow the government to ensure that high community expectations of behaviour are maintained in respect of those who obtain Australian citizenship. Specifically, the measures include extending good character requirements to persons under 18 years of age. Unfortunately, there are instances occurring where the department of immigration holds concerns regarding the character of certain applicants under the age of 18. Age should not be a reason for citizenship to be granted where these concerns exist. These changes will allow the department to obtain police clearances for 16- to 17-year-olds and assess the character of people under this age. This amendment seeks to ensure that only people who demonstrate good character are eligible to be approved as Australian citizens.

As previously discussed, we are faced with the new challenge of home-grown terrorism and lone wolves. The government must be equipped to tackle this challenge. This bill provides that approval for citizenship will be cancelled if the minister is no longer satisfied of the applicant's identity or if they present a risk to national security. Furthermore, we are extending the maximum period of time by which the minister can delay an applicant making the pledge of commitment from one year to two years. This time period is a more realistic representation of the time taken for investigations into serious matters and ensures the integrity of our citizenship process. It will also ensure that decisions to cancel the approval of citizenship are not brought about by an inadequate time period.

Australian citizenship is one of the greatest gifts we possess. Australian citizenship represents the greatest freedoms in the world and along with it the most important of responsibilities. We all have a part to play in strengthening this nation and ensuring that our children and future generations live in a prosperous, secure, welcoming and tolerant society. The gift of Australian citizenship should never be abused or taken for granted. Those looking to join foreign conflicts and do harm to their fellow citizens in the name of terrorism should never be permitted to do so under our coat of arms. Those who have achieved Australian citizenship with improper motives should not be entitled to retain it.

Amendments concerning general residence requirements aim to strengthen the character test of those applying to become citizens, including the requirement to clarify exactly when the four-year period of a person's residence commenced. This bill also provides the minister with the power to set aside certain decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in circumstances where the minister is satisfied that it is in the public interest to do so and provides the minister with the ability to specify certain matters in a legislative instrument made under the citizenship act or citizenship regulations.

This bill contributes to a stronger and safer Australia. It strengthens the citizenship program's integrity and reinforces the importance for new citizens to assimilate and connect to Australia. As a welcoming and tolerant society I am sure all law-abiding citizens would join me in saying that the amendments proposed by this bill strengthen our national fabric. We must remain resolute and stand together in the face of threats to our freedom and way of life. Every element of our national security regime, including citizenship, must defy attempts to damage and hurt us by those who despise our freedom and our tolerance. This is why I support a more sensible and flexible decision-making process in the granting of Australian citizenship.

I would like to conclude my contribution by quoting the father of the Liberal Party, Sir Robert Menzies, who in 1950 when addressing the Citizenship Convention stated:

… it is our duty to present to the world the spectacle of a rich country with a great people …

We are a rich country with a great people. This bill strengthens this position and ensures that we have a citizenship system with the integrity to uphold this message to the rest of the world. With this we can build upon our nation's success and triumphs and continue to welcome new friends to our Australian family.

As I mentioned previously, one of the honours of being a member of parliament is attending citizenship ceremonies. I am privileged in Dobell that I get to attend both Wyong Shire Council and Gosford council citizenship ceremonies. Nothing gives you as much joy as seeing the pride and gratitude on the faces of those who are taking the affirmation or oath to pledge their loyalty to Australia and become new Australians. We are seeing in my electorate of Dobell more people applying for Australian citizenship. They are coming from all over the world. In Dobell on the Central Coast we have a strong Filipino community and a Chinese community.

At these citizenship ceremonies we see politicians from both sides coming together. I attend a few citizenship ceremonies with the member for Shortland. We both sit there with smiles on our faces watching everyone becoming Australians. The pride shows, especially with the young children with their parents who are becoming Australians. They are all so grateful to become Australians. It reminds me of the song: 'I am, you are, we are Australian.' I commend this bill to the House.

Debate interrupted.