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.