Senate debates

Monday, 13 November 2017

Regulations and Determinations

Citizenship (Authorisation) Revocation and Authorisation Instrument 2017, Citizenship (Authorisation) Revocation and Authorisation Amendment Instrument 2017; Disallowance

6:27 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

As I was about to refer to before we suspended, I attended the first Invasion Day march in Hobart a number of years ago. From memory, there were about 50 people at that march. I have attended most, if not all, of the Invasion Day marches in Hobart since that day. I have watched the crowds grow and grow in number. I am proud to say that at the Invasion Day march in Hobart this year, on Invasion Day, there were well over—and I do mean 'well over'—1,000 people. In fact, there were potentially as many as 1,500 people at that rally. They were rallying to say that this is not a day that can be celebrated by them because it is a day that unfortunately symbolises for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this country the day that their land was taken from them at the point of a musket.

It is worth pointing out that senators who will vote against this disallowance motion today—the Liberal Party, National Party, One Nation and, sadly, Nick Xenophon Team senators in this place—will find themselves on the wrong side of history, because the day will change. The date of Australia Day will change. It will change so that all Australians can celebrate Australia Day. Tragically, that is not the case at the moment because many, many Australians—including, of course, the first peoples, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of this country, but also many non-Indigenous Australians, me and my Greens colleagues included—find that we can't genuinely celebrate Australia Day on the date on which it is currently marked because of the dark history that is associated with that day. It will be a great day for our country when the date is changed.

I remember when I had the honour to be sworn in as a minister in the Labor-Green government in Tasmania which existed between 2010 and 2014. One of the first portfolios that I held was the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio in Tasmania. One of the first actions I took as the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in Tasmania was to write to the then federal Aboriginal affairs minister, Ms Macklin, and ask her to support me as the Tasmanian Aboriginal affairs minister in moving to change the date on which Australia Day is marked. I remember how disappointed I was when Ms Macklin declined my offer and indicated by return letter that, in fact, Labor at that time supported—and they still do, unfortunately—the current date of Australia Day.

This disallowance motion obviously relates to the actions of two councils in Victoria that quite appropriately and after deep consultation with their local communities made a decision not to conduct citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day. Now, citizenship ceremonies, and I'm sure all senators would agree, are amongst the most joyous events that we get to attend. They are events at which people take the ultimate step to become Australians. Many people who do that have come to our country fleeing persecution, fleeing war, fleeing trauma and fleeing dispossession, and they go through the lengthy and onerous process that exists to become Australian citizens. They're fantastic events, and I'm sure that I'm not the only person in this place who gets the odd tear in their eye at citizenship ceremonies throughout the year. But these two councils, Yarra and Darebin, made a decision, on the basis of the dispossession of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, that they could not in good conscience continue to hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day. I would like to congratulate all the councillors in those two councils who supported those decisions.

What was the government's response? Well, the government's response was vindictive. It was petty. It was mean-spirited. It took the biggest sledgehammer it could find to one of the smallest walnuts you would ever like to see. It is as big a storm in as small a teacup as I have seen. This government came into this place and brought in a disallowable instrument that means, if it passes, that the capacity of those councils to conduct any citizenship ceremonies at all will be removed. And that's what we are debating today, whether that instrument should pass through this Senate, and therefore the parliament, or whether it should be disallowed. The Greens, by moving this disallowance motion, have made our position abundantly clear. Again, I want to thank the Labor Party for their support for this motion.

A number of arguments from Liberal and National party senators, both in this place and in the public conversation in our country, have attempted to rationalise their petty and vindictive decision by reference to the Australian Citizenship Ceremonies Code—in particular, that part of the code in chapter 3 which goes to the holding of citizenship ceremonies themselves. They are relying on the following words to justify their pettiness and vindictiveness. Page 6 in chapter 3 of the Australian Citizenship Ceremonies Code says:

Citizenship ceremonies are non-commercial, apolitical, bipartisan and secular. They must not be used as forums for political, partisan or religious expression or for the distribution of material which could be perceived to be of a commercial, political or religious nature.

When you look at those words in context, their meaning is clear. Their meaning is abundantly clear. What they mean is that the citizenship ceremonies ought not be conducted in a commercial way, a political way or a partisan way. They, as the words explicitly state, ought not be used as forums for political, partisan or religious expression. When taken in context, these words clearly relate to the conducting of citizenship ceremonies—that is, what happens within citizenship ceremonies that are conducted.

The Greens agree absolutely that citizenship ceremonies should not be political. They should not contain political matter or political material. They should not contain commercial matter or commercial material. They ought not contain religious matter or religious material. Any of those things occurring within a citizenship ceremony would be grossly inappropriate, but on no reasonable construction of those words can they be read to mean that councils cannot make a decision on which date to hold a citizenship ceremony for political reasons. Yet that is what the government is arguing here.

The government is arguing that the Yarra and Darebin councils are in breach of the code. Well, I say piffle and hogwash to that. Those councils are not in breach of the code at all, because the code clearly goes to how citizenship ceremonies should be conducted. It is a heroic interpretation of this code to suggest that the words that I just read out can reasonably be taken to mean that councils cannot make decisions on which date to hold citizenship ceremonies for political reasons. Yet that heroic interpretation of the code is the only foundation that the government is relying on to support its view that two councils in Melbourne ought to have their capacity to hold citizenship ceremonies stripped away from them because they have made an entirely reasonable and entirely justifiable decision not to hold citizenship ceremonies on Invasion Day.

It's a sad reality in this place—and something that I hadn't come across in large part in my time in the state parliament of Tasmania—that so many members of the Liberal and National parties did not come into this place to make a difference to how we manage our environment, to make a difference in terms of creating jobs, to make a difference in terms of infrastructure investment, or to advance human rights; they came here to fight the culture wars. When you distil everything that has been done and said in this debate, when you evaporate away all of the hot air, what you are left with is a small rump inside the Liberal and National parties whose sole reason for coming to this place was to fight the culture wars and who again are flexing their muscle and delivering riding instructions to the Prime Minister and the rest of the LNP party room in this place. It's a sad, sad reality that in fact it is that small rump who are responsible for the motion that this disallowance motion seeks to disallow.

Of course we can't forget, and we ought never forget, who is actually pulling the strings here. Although this motion to strip away the powers of two Melbourne councils to hold citizenship ceremonies is in the name of Mr Hawke, never forget who his boss is—Mr Dutton, the man who boycotted the apology to the stolen generations, an out-and-out racist. He's the one who is pulling the strings here. He's the one who instructed Mr Hawke to bring into the parliament this motion that the Greens are seeking to disallow. He's one member, if not the most powerful member, of that small cabal inside the Liberal and National parties who have come into this place with one aim and one aim alone: to make progressive change in this country more difficult and slow and, where possible, to wind back progressive changes that have been made. We are seeing that today, and never more starkly, in regard to marriage equality. We have a bill that achieved consensus support through a committee process and yet we have got representatives like Senator Paterson, the agent of the IPA in this place, and others who are in that cabal inside the Liberal and National parties coming out with their own piece of legislation which if passed would actually increase discrimination faced by LGBTIQ people.

Just as that is a front in the culture wars, so is the motion that we are seeking to disallow today a front in the culture wars. Well, I have got some news for that cabal, and that is that the Australian Greens are prepared to take on that rump, that cabal, inside the Liberal and National parties at every step. We have taken them on over their desire to water down the protections against race-based hate speech in this country, section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. We took them on and we won. We took them on on their divisive and hateful citizenship legislation. We took them on and we beat that, and thanks to a Greens motion that was recently discharged from the Notice Paper. That was legislation designed to make it more difficult for non-English-speaking people to become citizens in this country. Again, they were taken on and they were defeated. We are going to take them on every step of the way because we believe in multiculturalism as a foundation of our country. We believe that people from diverse cultures right around the world have made an epic contribution to our country and have helped us to build this country into what it is today. We want to work with anyone from any party in this place towards more progressive change in this area, towards a treaty with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, towards stronger protections against race-based hate speech and racism in our country. We want to see citizenship made available to those who genuinely deserve it without their having to pass tertiary-level English language tests to achieve it. Make no mistake, that citizenship legislation risks taking our country back to the White Australia policy because of course it was language tests that gave effect to the White Australia policy back in the day.

In summary, again I thank the Australian Labor Party for indicating their support for this disallowance motion. I just want to leave senators with one final thought: when the date on which Australia Day falls is moved—and that will come in the future—the date it is moved to will genuinely be a day we can all join together as a country and celebrate Australia Day as it should be celebrated. (Time expired)

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