Submission – Senate Committee Inquiry
Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and other Measures) Bill 2017
The Multicultural Council of Tasmania (MCOT) is the peak body for ethnic and cultural community organisations in the state. The organisation turns 40 in 2018 and provides a voice for Tasmanians born overseas and those who identify with a national or cultural organisation. There are more than 60 organisational members of the Multicultural Council, which represent nationalities, cultures, religious affiliations, service providers and organisations with a multicultural mission (Attachment 1).
Our member organisations represent 15,000 people and are providing approximately 2,000 hours a week in helping people to settle in Tasmania.
The economic importance of migration to Tasmania
For many years Tasmania has had the slowest population growth rate of any Australian state or territory. The significant factor contributing to our sluggish population growth is Tasmania’s poor performance in attracting and retaining overseas migrants. We have the lowest percentage of migrants and seen the smallest increase in migrants (overseas born) in the 15 years between 2001 – 2016.
In the period since 2000, 60%, or 2.74 million, of Australia’s new residents were migrants. In this same period migrants to Tasmania contributed 11,514 to the population growth of 34,683 – representing just 30% of our new residents (People of Tasmania, DIBP, 2014). Without more significant and deliberate strategies Tasmania will miss out on the economic growth that is projected to occur between now and 2050 as a result of attracting and retaining migrants.
This is relevant to our submission on the proposed law changes because there are many social and economic benefits for Tasmania in ensuring that people settle here. Moving from being a permanent resident to a citizen is an important part of this settlement journey and the sooner this can happen the likely a person is able to settle in and contribute to a community.
MCOT’s concerns about the proposed changes to citizenship laws
It is unclear from the Bill or the information provided by the Government, what weaknesses have been identified in the current citizenship process and how these proposed changes might remedy such deficits. We see this as a weakness of the current proposal.
Many of our members have expressed concern about the proposed amendments include increasing the waiting period imposed by residence requirements and requiring a more stringent test in relation to English language competency. Some of the concerns raised include:
- Citizenship has been used for many years as a means of fostering inclusivity. It has encouraged many migrants not just to see Australia as the place where they live, but to see themselves as new Australians, regardless of country of origin. The current approach to citizenship has contributed to the successful settlement of generations of migrants.
- We encourage individuals who have been granted status as permanent residents to seek citizenship as soon as practical afterwards because it fosters integration. Citizenship is not only an offer of welcome by a host nation; it is also an expression of commitment by a migrant and a compact between the two. Anything which seeks to delay that compact is counter-productive.
- The requirement of a specific level of English language as a precursor to application for citizenship in superfluous. Developing one’s English language skills is an important part of the pathway to settlement. However, throughout Tasmania’s history great contributions have been made by those who continued to struggle with the language. These are people who work, pay taxes, send their children to school, participate in their community, play sport and volunteer in many types of organisations.
- A policy that requires potential citizens to speak competent English before applying is discriminatory, in practice if not in principle. First, it favours those who apply from English speaking countries, like England, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. Effectively this imposes a policy of discrimination by proxy
Second, because of the connection to the Latin from which much of English is derived, the policy favours applicants from countries who speak Romance languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, French and Italian. Because of the base similarity in these languages to English, English competency is easier to achieve for migrants who come from countries where these languages are spoken.
Third, the proposal favours applicants who speak some languages because the structure of those languages more closely corresponds with English. For example, Chinese languages have a grammatical structure akin to that of English, in that their sentences contain a subject, a verb and an object (although other challenges exist for Chinese students of English including the Roman alphabet and pronunciation). This is not the case for languages such as Korean, Hindi, Russian (and other Slavic languages), Turkish, Japanese, Arabic, Urdu and Bengali, where they may not share characters nor words nor structures. It is illogical that potential citizens from countries where these languages are prevalent be penalised on the basis of that fact alone.
- Apart from geographical concerns, there are individual factors which impact upon the rate at which language competency develops. For example, several studies have demonstrated the effect of trauma on adults learning English. This is particularly relevant for humanitarian entrants, of which Tasmania takes a higher proportion than other states in Australia.
- The requirement that time spent in Australia as a permanent resident be extended before an individual can apply for citizenship has no effect other than to delay the application. The ability to participate fully in Australian life is, however, dependent upon immigration status. The right to vote; the right to ease of travel ; the right to serve your country in jobs reserved for citizens; the right to decide how the financial contributions one makes to the country are distributed; and access to improved opportunities for education are an important facet of integration and one which is prevented and delayed by this proposal.
The Multicultural Council believes that this Bill will create a permanent underclass of Australian residents denied the rights and opportunities of being welcomed and included as Australian citizens.
The changes to citizenship proposed in the Bill run counter to Australia’s long-standing immigration policy, which has created a successful and harmonious multicultural Australian community. We request that the Inquiry recommend a rejection of these proposed changes.
Attachment 1 – Member Organisations
- Association of Ukrainians in Tasmania (AUT)
- Australian Bhutanese Society of Northern Tasmania
- Australian Croation Club
- Australian Red Cross – Hobart branch
- Baseball Tasmania
- Bhutanese Community Association of Southern Tasmania
- Bhutanese Kirat/Buddhist Association of Tasmania
- Bihani Musical Forum
- Carers Tasmania
- Chinese Art Society
- Chinese Community Association of Tasmania
- Chinese Cultural Society of Tasmania
- Community Care Tasmania
- Congo Life Foundation
- Croatian Senior Citizens of Tas
- Czech and Slavak Association of Tasmania Incorporated
- Druk Sporting United
- Fiji Australia Association of Tasmania Inc.
- Friends of Sri Lanka
- Fusion Media Production
- German Australian Association of Tasmania
- Glenorchy Knights Football Club Inc.
- Good Neighbour Council Launceston
- Greek Orthodox Church & Benevolent Society of St George
- Guru Nanak Society of Tasmania
- Hazara Community in Launceston
- Hazara Community in Southern Tasmania
- Hellenic Ladies Committee & Philophonos
- Hindu Society of Tasmania
- Hmong Community
- Hobart Hebrew Congregation
- Hobart Language Day Committee
- Hobart Malayali Association
- Holy Tantra Esoteric Buddhism
- Indian Cultural Society
- Indonesian Diaspora Network
- Intercultural Sports League
- International Wall of Friendship of Tasmania
- Iranian Australian Community Association of Southern Tasmania Inc.
- Italian Australian Pensioner Association Tasmania
- Italian Cultural Welfare Association of Tasmania
- Jin-Gang-Dhyana Incorporated
- Jin-Gang-Dhyana Wang Xin De Foundation
- Launceston Chinese Association
- Lithuanian Community in Hobart
- Mariposa Dance Group
- Migrant Resource Centre (Southern Tasmania)
- Multicultural Women’s Council of Tasmania
- Nepali Society of Tasmania
- Polish Association Inc. Hobart
- Religions for Peace (Tasmania branch)
- Sierra Leone Community of Southern Tasmania
- Sikh Society of Tasmania
- Slovenian Australian Club
- South Sudan Support Society
- Sudanese Community Launceston
- Tamil Association of Tasmania
- Tasmanian Centre for Global Learning
- The Korean Community Volunteer Association of Tasmania
- Turbans 4 Australia – Tasmania branch
- UTAS Indonesian Student Society
- Women’s Friendship Group