The deliberate exclusion of Australian citizenship

On Australian immigration policy, it’s not often you see evidence which provides immediate clarity on an issue.

I came across this graph yesterday:

Australian citizenship by year of arrival

(Source: ‘The Unequal Treatment of New Zealanders in Australia’, by David Faulkner. With thanks to Paul Hamer for supplying the data, derived from ABS Census results)

This demonstrates one of the gross inequities afforded to one group of migrants living in Australia. Since 2001, many New Zealanders live and work in Australia yet are unable to become citizens. This is represented by the steep drop in citizenship rates above for New Zealand citizens in 2002.

Those born overseas generally become citizens, at least after a period of time. The ‘citizenship lag’, as seen by the sharp end of the blue line is due to the four year requirement to become a citizen. Those born in New Zealand have never been as enthusiastic for Australian citizenship as others however since 2001, have largely stopped becoming citizens completely.

To contrast, those arriving in 2004 are now majority Australian citizens at 56.4 per cent. Yet only 7.8 per cent of New Zealand-born arriving in same year have become Australian citizens. Over time, the blue line will likely continue to shift right and up while the red line will likely remain stagnant. This will grow the gap between the have’s and have not’s of Australian citizenship.

This is due to a new set of regulations established in 2001, placing New Zealand citizens into the same category as all other migrants in relation to gaining a permanent resident visa and a pathway to citizenship.

One of the arguments at the time of these changes was to place all migrants, regardless of origin, in the same situation. The reforms were sold as an appeal to fairness.

The main problem with this argument is the ignored context. Australia and New Zealand have an ‘open border’, allowing citizens to live and work in each country without restrictions.

The combination of an open border, and the provision of standard access to permanent visas, has resulted in a 13 year (and counting) period of time where many New Zealand citizens live and work in Australia without any hope of becoming an Australian citizen. This precludes access to a range of government support measures and creates a de-facto separation between those who can and cannot access Australian citizenship. In the most extreme cases, this means people who have severe health issues, or those who cannot speak English, are denied basic services provided to the vast majority of others who live in Australia. The appeal to fairness in 2001 was in fact a penny pinching measure designed to stem the flow of New Zealand citizens to Australia – an abject failure by any measure.

At the time, the ALP supported the 2001 reforms. It’s time to reassess these measures as they speak directly to the exclusion from Australian society of those who are here to stay. In simple numeric terms, 10,525 New Zealand citizens arrived in Australia in 2003 and still lived here on Census night 2011. More than a decade later, only 1051 are Australian citizens. This is unacceptable for a party that professes to be the best of both social-democracy and social-liberalism in Australia. The great social advancements of the last government – the NDIS in particular – are excluded to these people, despite living and contributing to Australia, in some cases for over a decade.

In his Australia Day speech this year, Bill Shorten said:

And the sooner we recognise the benefits that migration brings, the faster we will arrive at a policy that truly reflects the warmth of the Australian people.

One has the feeling he was talking about asylum seekers but this important evidence from the 2011 Census shows we have more than one area to focus on before we arrive at a policy that truly reflects the warmth of the Australian people.

Bill Shorten to ALP: speak with one voice

(Non-immigration post below)

Bill Shorten to the National Policy Forum:

 “All of us have a voice in this forum – a voice that will be heard, but when we arrive at a consensus, when we reach a policy position, we have an obligation to speak with one voice – shadow ministers, caucus members, rank and file members, trade unions and party organisations alike.

When our policy is agreed, all of us must lock in behind it. I don’t want the papers to be writing about our differences – I want them to be writing about our ideas and our policies.

I want them to be writing about the differences between us and the conservatives; about how we’re looking out for working people and they’re looking after vested interests.”

The National Policy Forum is an excellent idea. Having individuals from across the ALP meet outside of traditional forums (like Conference) allows for the discussion of complex issues where there is a diversity of viewpoints.

This said, I don’t believe there is should be an obligation to speak with one voice post-decision.

Shadow Ministers are bound by cabinet conventions. This is exactly as it should be. The notion of a collective cabinet is integral to Australian politics, regardless of party. However caucus members are not bound and should be free to speak out on topics where they feel the need if attempts at internal discussion go ignored. Sometimes this will be a subtle nudge, and very occasionally, a noisy direct shove. Leadership should be able to bind caucus when required but also open up opportunities for where this doesn’t occur.

Trade union leaders should serve their members first and foremost, as opposed to paying lip service to ALP policy which may conflict with their members interests. This is why I see there is a conflict of interest for some unions (such as the CPSU) and disaffiliation is a better long-term alternative. It is true there are benefits in affiliation, but the drawbacks can be harmful for members. It is difficult for any public sector union to support an efficiency dividend, let alone one which reached four per cent in 2011-12 under an ALP government. Advocacy or even a non-response makes a mockery of future battles against Liberal cuts. The same conflicts can be found across various industries, manufacturing and construction come to mind in the current environment.

This doesn’t mean unions and the ALP cannot advocate for an agreed position when in the best interests of both groups, as seen from the WorkChoices campaign and various other policy areas. But consistent compromise, working through the miniature of policy details is vital. It means different voices, with different intentions and goals. Direct public advocacy of a single unified position bodes poorly for the future.

Finally, should rank and file members be locked in behind party positions? Why should individual members with extremely limited power who oppose offshore detention support the PNG solution? Why should people who favour gay marriage support anything other than a binding caucus vote? By calling for this, we make it easier for people to leave the ALP than encouraging them to join. Disagreement of members should be welcomed, fostered and channeled into constructive processes. The National Policy Forum is one such example. There is no need to layer this approach with unnecessary restrictions on advocacy. Eventually we are going to see the processes in place where member opinion is easily quantified and expressed, with strong implications for membership contributions on policy. Show and tell from the privacy of your iPhone won’t work quite as well as current methods.

In the 21st century, you cannot have a mass membership party and lock people into policy positions. Government policy is too broad and too divisive. Public pressure between competing policy positions can lead to better outcomes and figuring out how to achieve this is important.

Too often this discussion gets stuck in overtly political tones based on the next election. The ALP has always been party that binds and winning the next election means the Liberals cannot implement their agenda. Yet we need to also think of the benefits of diversity. Policy innovation doesn’t come from unification. It comes from debate and difference. A variety of approaches where the best one is settled on or reiterated towards. Without debate, without difference, we get policy stagnation. Public advocacy in particular makes the pressure for change greater, as opposed to back-room operating where power imbalances between elected politicians and other groups destroy proper compromise.

After a position is agreed, there will always be advocates and detractors. It is true the Shadow Treasurer should be seen to advocate for agreed policy positions, even those he disagrees with. It is not true however that Bruce from Belconnen should also advocate the same agreed position, even if he sits on the National Policy Forum.

A comment on a comment: A response to Corinne Grant and the Hoopla

The Hoopla has form when writing about immigration. As an emerging opinion site, they aim to draw eyeballs and publish what they see as fit. But this contribution from Corinne Grant today was, in part, particularly egregious.

I loosely agree the Opposition is mostly silent on anything to do with asylum policy and operations. You may or not may disagree with this as a political decision. By choosing to stay silent on these matters, the Opposition has likely made the decision that it is impossible to make distinctions and nuanced arguments in the highly charged environment of asylum policy. Personally I disagree as the implementation of Manus Island is obviously an unmitigated disaster and the case needs to be prosecuted.

While the ALP’s policy also includes offshore processing and resettlement, I’m sure the Richard Marles and Bill Shorten firmly believe they would have handled the implementation of the PNG policy (and Australia’s relationship with Indonesia) more carefully, resulting in improved policy outcomes. If this is the case, they should be making this case as strongly as possible.

However the following are paragraphs where Grant goes beyond simply voicing an alternative point of view:

The ALP need to stand for something real. They need to ditch the lame talking points and slogans and say the PNG Solution was wrong and must be abandoned. A man has died directly as a result of this policy. What the hell else needs to happen before ALP ministers stop protecting their own political arses and do the right thing?

Surely no-one could still be buying the whole ‘we just don’t want to see people drown’ bullshit. If you care that much about them, why lump them in facilities where they get stoned to death and shot at?

There is something extremely upsetting about this attitude of how governments make policy decisions based solely on political calculus.

While Grant may find it hard to comprehend, many people do still “buy” the argument about people drowning at sea. This is because it happens, frequently. Here are the official figures from the International Organisation for Migration for 2012 and 2013 for estimates of migrant deaths at sea:

South Pacific Christmas Island 214 242
Mediterranean Lampedusa, Malta, Lefkada 707 711
U.S. / Mexico Border Arizona, Texas 444 477
Caribbean Haiti-Bahamas 81 79
Bay of Bengal Coast of Thailand 785 500
North Africa Niger 129
Africa / Middle East Various unknown unknown
Total 2360 2109

I’m unsure if many progressives believe these numbers. They are real people, dying in ever increasing numbers since the start of the 21st century.

Governments and senior public servants operate in a global environment when making immigration policy. The death of an Iranian asylum seeker on PNG is tragic. It should never have occurred as he was owed a duty of care by the Australian government and those employed by the government to care for him.

But reacting out of emotion in the moment does nothing to build a more comprehensive policy in the future. This is especially the case if we ignore everything except for this incident. The ALP has a complicated, sad recent history on asylum policy. It is nothing to be proud of as a member, but it is driven by a desire to stop people dying.

The PNG Solution is far from perfect. The death of a young man highlights this unlike anything else. However a proper regional solution with cooperation between multiple states, including a role for PNG, is a valid policy option. There is a difference between a poorly implemented PNG policy and one implemented with care, nuance and the appropriate resources. Unfortunately this is a policy stuck to choose the least worst option.

In conjunction with other policy changes, it is far from ‘lame’ or a ‘dodgy deal’. Specifically, by raising the humanitarian intake to 20,000 – up from 13,750 where the Abbott government has reduced it to – the ALP have taken concrete steps to increase Australia’s humanitarian assistance.

It is entirely reasonable to have a policy debate – we need more of them in this country. But impugning a policy and the people who believe in it by ignoring serious consequences does nothing to help public debate.