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.

Scott Morrison, leader of the mob

A young man, likely no older than 21, lost in a society where he repeatedly experiences personal harm in the form of taunting and discrimination. A young man who finds solace in his religion. An Australian citizen, yet with conflicted emotions about where his homeland is. A person whose longing to make a difference, leads them down an unknown path.

When Scott Morrison seeks to revoke citizenship from Australian-Syrian citizens for purely political motives, he damages the relationship the government has to Australian people. Some estimates put the number of Australian citizens fighting in Syria at over 200. These cases will differ. Many may be younger people, heavily religious and egged on by others within the community. They are likely to include those influenced by extreme islamic teachings. However it is also likely there are idealists amongst them, fighting because they believe the Syrian government is an oppressive regime, one deserving of overthrow. A modern day George Orwell they might not be, but they are certainly not evil personified. As has been well noted, the Syrian opposition is a pluralistic, ‘the enemy of your enemy’ grouping of disparate organisations. This Daily Telegraph article makes a good attempt to explain some of the complexity:

Andrew Zammit from the Monash University Global Terrorism Research Centre said most fighters who returned to Australia would not become a threat, but others “could be very dangerous”.

“They can get skills, connections, and may decide to carry out violence,” Zammit says. “Authorities are very worried. They are aware that this is the greatest mobilisation of Australians to fight with jihadist groups that we’ve ever had.

“They could be travelling there with all sorts of motives, often after having watched footage of people they identify with being killed by the Assad regime. The big issue is what groups they get involved with once over there.”

This is not an apology for those who seek deliberate harm on others through radical Islam. However as Mr Zammit notes, most fighters are unlikely to become a threat.

I don’t know very much at all about Middle Eastern politics and the situation in Syria. What I do know, is that governments have a responsibility to their citizens, perhaps above anything else they do. The reason for nation states, and the reason why a population can be so riled up against migrants, are the complicated notions of sovereignty and citizenship. A grouping of people, protected (by force if necessary) by the state. In an ironic twist, the party of ‘stop the boats’, appealing to the notion of a shared community, is now threatening to expel those who are already members. While the numbers of people concerned are low, this is perhaps the most distressing policy change I have seen from the Abbott Government, given the majority are likely not to pose a threat to Australian society.

Morrison (via the Guardian and Katherine Murphy):

“We are looking right now at all the options that are before us to strengthen powers when necessary,” Morrison told 2GB on Monday. “We are looking at every option available to us. We don’t want those troubles in this country and people who bring them here should not come.”

By implying people who fight in Syria will import “those troubles” back into Australia, Morrison is ignoring the responsibility of government to its own citizens. He is appealing to base instincts, knowing hard questions rarely penetrate populist positions. Further, he is traveling on ground already explored and rejected by then-Foreign Minister Bob Carr. Currently, the Australian government cannot forcefully withdraw citizenship from these people. Of course, changing the law to accommodate such a position, while burying the complex relationship which dictates the decisions these people make, is not beyond this government. In all likelihood this will be achieved with a cheer-squad, with those opposing any action labeled as unpatriotic, trouble makers.

Is the threat to Australian society from these people so sufficient as to reject the very bond between citizens and their government? No. It is the easy path, one where the difficult decisions to engage with citizens of Australia, of other dispositions, is ignored.

What is the difference between an Australian-Syrian and simply an Australian who fights in Syria? Very little, yet this is the distinction which will determine entry to where both call home.

These are the actions of a government, and a man, which knows no boundary. Scott Morrison is leading the mob, and the results are not pretty.

Soutphommasane on multiculturalism and citizenship

Tim Soutphommasane is one of Australia’s best authors on citizenship and multiculturalism. Today he tweeted links to some past articles, outlining his position on these issues.

Avoid the hysteria but reject Sharia

Muslim unrest doesn’t denote cultural crisis

Grounds for Patriotism

They are each excellent contributions to furthering our understanding of Australian multiculturalism and citizenship.

“There is every reason to be patriotic about our multiculturalism. After all, patriotism – if you can get beyond lazily dismissing it as ”the last refuge of a scoundrel” – means a very particular thing. Being a patriot means loving your country in a special way. The patriot is someone who is loyal to a national tradition, someone who believes their country has certain merits or achievements.

During the past 65 years there have been few greater achievements of this country than its successful integration of immigrants since the end of the Second World War. This has been done without painful social rancour or fragmentation, certainly when compared with the experience of other Western democracies. How remarkable it is that a country once defined by White Australia has been transformed into a multicultural paragon.”

Colour me patriotic.