For so many people, becoming an Australian citizen is confirmation of their place in this country. For so many people, this is a real milestone in their lives. Becoming a citizen is something that makes them feel welcome. It makes them feel like they are a respected member of our society and our community. It acknowledges that Australia is their home and Australia is somewhere they belong. For many people it will be the first home they have ever had, and for others it will be the only one they ever know. There are many thousands of men, women and children who are permanent residents of Australia but not yet citizens. They are studying, they are working and they are raising their families. They are raising kids who are permanent residents of Australia but not yet citizens. Right across the country, these people are contributing to our society and our community. They hold citizenship up as a beacon and they are desperate to take that final step towards belonging and to being part of this beautiful country.
But they were given a kick in the guts recently, when the Liberals chose to change the rules without any notice. The Liberals chose to increase the length of time that people have to be permanent residents before they can apply for Australian citizenship from one year to four years, and they made other changes around language tests and values tests, in which there are echoes of a White Australia policy, which used language tests to set people up to fail and to prevent them from becoming Australian citizens.
Since the government made that announcement, the Australian Greens have received hundreds of emails and phone calls from people who are worried about their future. I want to share just a small number of those stories tonight with my colleagues here in the Senate because I have no doubt that Mr Dutton and Mr Turnbull and other Liberal senators are receiving the same, or very similar, calls and emails, but we are not hearing anything about those. I have changed the names of these people, by the way, because, to be frank, I do not trust Minister Dutton not to get vindictive towards people who criticise him.
Here is one from Joe:
My wife, my two children and I have worked hard to contribute to this society … Over the past 5 years we have considered ourselves as an Australian in every daily activity and looked forward to our children to carry on this legacy as Australian citizens, promoting the benefits of this society at home & abroad. The new proposed policy runs counter to the open, multicultural melting pot that we were drawn to. The new proposed policy asks my family, and others like us, to spend 4 more years to "prove" that we are worthy of becoming citizens, despite paying taxes, helping our neighbours, supporting the economy, hiring other Australians into my organization and encouraging my children to proudly claim Australia as their home.
Here is Matt, who is staying for a PhD:
I chose Australia due to it being multicultural, and ease of communication with local community because I can't speak German and am quite fluent in English. But the main reason of choosing Australia was to get settled here because in my home country you don't get the freedom to openly express your views. Why do I need Australian citizenship? One reason is to feel secure and the ability to speak freely and another reason is to avoid a situation where I have felt quite helpless or people taking advantage of me just because I am not an Australian citizen.
Here is Jill from Scotland:
I was granted permanent residency 1 year ago. It was a great day. For two days last month I was eligible to apply for citizenship and had planned to complete my application the following weekend. Unfortunately, the next day I became ineligible due to the government's new regulations to qualify for citizenship. I now have to wait another three years.
Jill goes on:
I have committed to a life here. I have a job I love, great friends, a life full of sport and socialising, and I can't help but take it personally that the Australian government has moved the goal posts without warning. It really does make me question the values of the country that I so want to make my home. Living on different visas for nearly six years creates a life of uncertainty, a feeling that disappeared when I became a permanent resident.
Here is Luisa:
I'm an Australian-born citizen but my husband has been here for the past eight years, working, studying, paying taxes, buying property and speaking English better than me! He was due for citizenship in three weeks however that's been pushed to three years under the new laws. We are appalled and upset as we had our lives planned.
Here is Caitlin, who has been here for six years:
I was due for my citizenship on March 7th. I started my application on the 18th of March but did not get to finish and send it off until 20th of April when this shock announcement came out, as I have just had a baby. I am married to an Australian. My son is also Australian, I have many Australian friends, I join in with Australian celebrations and memorials. How can the LNP just rip my citizenship from me when I have done everything asked of me? I will be here nine years before I get citizenship now.
And there is Danny, who applied for citizenship with his family on 15 March 2017. Danny tells a story that I do not have time to go into detail here about an error that was made in their application. They had to correct their application and were then told that, because of the timing of the error and the correction, their application was rejected. They were therefore now to the new announcement and would need to wait another three years to apply for citizenship. Those people—Danny, Luisa, Jill, Matt, Joe and hundreds of others—are distressed and devastated by what has happened. These are people who have spent years rebuilding their lives in Australia have had the door slammed shut in their faces.
Why has this happened? Because Peter Dutton, the minister for immigration, and Malcolm Turnbull, the Prime Minister, along with their liberal colleagues have chosen to try to remake Australia in their own image. They want to citizenship laws to reflect their own bigotry and prejudice towards people who have decided to try and make Australia their home. They want to cast a pall of suspicion over those who were not born here. They are part of the small and shrinking minority of small-mindedness in this country, but the actions they choose to take risk taking Australia away from some of the very things that made this country so great—away from the multicultural harmonious society so beloved by so many Australians and towards a fearful and frightened and a small world that is beloved by some in the Liberal Party.
Those values are actually not genuine Australian values. Australians are open-minded; Australians are fair; Australians support freedom and choice; and Australians are welcoming. Australians see the best in others and Australians want other people to succeed, not to fail. They want to help people join our community, not slam the door in their face and set up artificial barriers that stop them with their tracks before they have had a chance.