We should be encouraging permanent residents to commit to Australia, not finding more ways to exclude them.
The government has ceased processing citizenship applications from boat-arrival refugees entitled to become Australians, leaving hundreds in limbo.
The recent controversy around citizenship proves the adage that a statement, no matter how absurd, can be taken as a truism if repeated often enough. So it is with the phrase “Australian citizenship is an extraordinary privilege” now on high rotation with federal government ministers.
For most Australians, though, citizenship is an automatic consequence of the dumb luck that saw our citizen mothers give birth in this country. While this majority is certainly privileged, in a philosophical sense, to live here, they’re also free to be ungrateful. Even committing crimes might suspend some of the rights of citizenship, but won’t revoke it. The only deal-breaker is an act of treason, such as fighting in the army of a nation with which we are at war – a provision the federal government wants to expand so that it catches dual nationals who enlist with the likes of Islamic State.
Most of the 100 or so Australian jihadis overseas are not migrants, but second-generation citizens.
So when the Prime Minister calls for “a conversation about citizenship” and the government’s discussion paper on the subject asks whether the “responsibilities of citizenship are well enough known and understood” and, most tellingly, whether eligibility for citizenship should be tightened, it’s clear who is really being talked about. And that’s migrants; newcomers who attain citizenship through bureaucratic act, rather than accident of birth; people who have been compelled to recite the citizenship pledge, whose words, Tony Abbott says, “must mean something”.
Candidates for citizenship already have permanent residency – formal citizenship is just the last administrative hurdle.
Candidates for citizenship already have permanent residency – formal citizenship is just the last administrative hurdle. Photo: Christopher Chan
To be precise, it means Muslim migrants, because the citizenship discussion paper is explicitly pegged to security threats in “a world in which terrorists are reaching out to our community”. Actually, make that Muslim migrants on welfare, because the government also trumpets its legislation to allow for welfare payments to be cancelled on security grounds. Yet, despite headlines about “jihadi dole bludgers”, last week’s Senate estimates hearings revealed none of the Australian jihadis overseas was receiving benefits.
And even though most of the 100 or so Australian jihadis overseas are not migrants, but second-generation citizens who’ve never formally pledged their allegiance to this country, the Prime Minister has asked the public to consider whether these people, too, should be stripped of their status, if they could, theoretically, acquire citizenship elsewhere.
As we know, several of his cabinet colleagues have chaffed at the proposal, so it might not go anywhere. What seems significant, though, is the drawing of a very long bow to define these people as legally – as opposed to spiritually – un-Australian, and belonging some place else. In this way, even the most Aussie Islamist can be vaguely thought of as a “migrant”, alien to the body politic.
But trying to nail the overall logic in the “citizenship conversation” is like wrestling with an eel. Or an army of straw men.
According to the discussion paper, the government is considering beefing up the citizenship pledge “to include words about allegiance to Australia and an undertaking not to act contrary to that allegiance”. It also canvasses expanding on such themes in the citizenship test and introducing “appropriate penalties for cheating on the test”.
Remember, we’re not talking about screening suspect individuals to keep them out and the rest of us safe. Candidates for citizenship already have permanent residency – formal citizenship is simply their last administrative hurdle. If they fail the questions on allegiance, these migrants will still be among us, with all their supposed disloyalty and dubious intent.
So, rather than chasing down security threats, these measures allude to the spectre of thought crimes. And how rampant is “cheating” on these tests? We’re not told. I’m imagining people turning up with the answers to questions such as, “which official symbol of Australia identifies Commonwealth property” scribbled on their hand.
Let’s not forget that the citizenship and English language test is itself the outcome of a similar, if more coy, discussion paper on citizenship released by the Howard government nearly 10 years ago. Then parliamentary secretary for immigration Andrew Robb said citizenship “should not be handed out like confetti” and cited with distaste a recent citizenship ceremony where people cleared out before the singing of the national anthem. (Who were these people actually? Poms? Music aficionados?) In its early incarnation, the test included Anglo-centric questions about Simpson and his donkey and Don Bradman.
Since then, it’s been stripped back to civics and the democratic process – useful and important knowledge, to be sure. Still, now as then, our leaders refer to democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, compassion and so on as “Australian values”. (Interestingly, “equality between men and women” appeared in the 2006 discussion paper, but not in the one released last week, which refers only to “equal rights before the law” and “equal opportunity for all”.)
And this is where the problem is one of efficacy, as well as politics. The teen susceptible to jihadist propaganda identifies with a truly global movement, one that negates national allegiance. His pathology, I assume, is no different to that of his peers in Sweden or Spain. I’d prefer for all of us to hear a rousing defence of Western values, as opposed to the nationalist rhetoric of “Australian values” that seems packaged for populist consumption. Unfortunately, our leaders have shown themselves incapable of any meaningful engagement in this epic contest of ideas. For all the bellicose gesturing, they can’t even call the enemy, Islamic State, by its name.
Julie Szego is a Fairfax columnist, author and freelance journalist.
As reported by John Kelly in September, there has been an ongoing investigation into Tony Abbott’s eligibility to enter Parliament as dual citizenship precludes you from running for office.
Tony Magrathea filed a Freedom of Information application to the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Peta Credlin rejected his request stating, “The document you have sought is not an official document of a Minister and therefore there is no right of access to the document under the FOI Act.”
Ninemsm also asked for confirmation that the Prime Minister had renounced his British Citizenship. They were advised by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet that, “The Prime Minister is an Australian citizen and does not hold citizenship of any other country.”
Robert McMahon, Assistant Secretary of the Parliamentary and Government Branch, apparently disagrees with Credlin’s stonewalling.
On October 8 he responded to a FOI application lodged by Jan Olsen with the following:
Having regard to my knowledge of where documents potentially relevant to the applicant’s request would be held, if they existed, the following locations were searched:
- The Department’s file management system
- The Department’s current and former ministerial correspondence database
- Computer drives of relevant branches in the Department
- Email accounts of current officers in relevant branches in the Department
As a result of these searches, no relevant documents were found in the Department.
I am satisfied that all reasonable steps have been taken to identify documents relevant to the applicant’s request and that no documents relevant to the request are in the possession of the Department.
The British Home Office, following a FOI request, have also been unsuccessful in finding Tony’s RN form which relinquishes British citizenship.
I wonder where Credlin gets her information from and why she is keeping it a secret.
And now another rather ironic possible connection has emerged.
In the Sue vs Hill case, Henry Sue, a voter from Queensland, disputed the election of Hill and filed a petition under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 in the High Court of Australia, sitting in its capacity as the Court of Disputed Returns. Sue argued that on the date of Hill’s nomination to the Senate she was still a citizen of the United Kingdom and thus, because of the operation of section 44 of the Australian Constitution, was ineligible to be elected to the Parliament of Australia.
Terry Sharples, a former One Nation candidate who had stood for the Senate in the 1998 election as an independent candidate, made a similar petition. Because both cases involved constitutional questions, and were substantially identical, they were heard together from 11–13 May 1999.
In 1998, Abbott privately agreed to bankroll Terry Sharples, a disaffected One Nation member, to take legal action against Pauline Hanson.
Less than 2 weeks later, he categorically denied to the ABC that he had done so, and 18 months later he repeated the lie, this time to the Sydney Morning Herald’s Deborah Snow. But when she confronted him with his signed personal guarantee, he said that:
‘…misleading the ABC is not quite the same as misleading the Parliament as a political crime’.
He then created a slush fund he called Australians for Honest Politics and raised $100,000 for it from 12 people he declined to name. The fund began bankrolling more court actions against Hanson and her party.
Could Tony’s slush fund have financed the Sharples vs Hill case?
I wonder if Geoffrey Robertson might be interested in taking on a crowd-funded People vs Abbott case?