Redefining what it means to be “Australian”

Dangers in the government’s approach to migration

Marianne Dickie

National security, Social policy | Australia

2 December 2016

A leaked report earlier this year shed light on where the Australian Government’s migration policy is headed and despite being dismissed at the time, subsequent actions should be sounding the alarm, Marianne Dickie writes.

Recent statements by Australia’s Minister for Immigration and Border Protection about Lebanese refugees, along with new moves to strengthen citizenship, proposed changes to legislation, and a Joint Standing Committee inquiry into migrant settlement outcomes, all reveal a strong commitment by the government to implement the recommendations of a draft report written for the National Security Committee of Cabinet that was leaked to ABC TV’s Lateline earlier this year but largely ignored until now.

The draft report was an assessment of the radicalisation of humanitarian entrants in the migration program. It focused on migrants who came to Australia as refugees, their relatives, and their partners who migrate to join them. It singled out Sunni Lebanese migrants who arrived in Australia between 1975 and 1990, as well as their extended families, and Australian-born descendants as a cohort that has ‘significantly influenced Australia’s extremism landscape’.

To be fair, the report was very clear that resettlement is the key to preventing radicalisation and it also notes that resettlement processes in place during the period mentioned were very poor, thereby drawing a causal link between the two. The report also commented on long-term data analysis, like that done by the Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX), which demonstrates that Australia has a good record of migrant integration.

What is disturbing is that the report did not include an assessment of resettlement processes for migrants and humanitarian entrants or a recommendation to increase or improve them.

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Instead, the recommendations were to bring “forward a package of reforms to simplify Australia’s visa framework and create stronger controls over access to permanent residency and citizenship. This new framework will introduce additional decision points along the immigration continuum including an enforceable integration framework to assess aspiring migrants’ suitability for life in Australia; revamped Citizenship Test and Citizenship Pledge to strengthen accountability for commitments made at Citizenship conferral; and, enhanced access, use and protection of sensitive information to strengthen intelligence-led, risk-based decision making across the continuum from pre-visa stage to post-citizenship conferral.”

At the time that Lateline revealed the draft report, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton both denied having seen the document.

But the Minister’s subsequent actions, words, and proposed legislation leave me in no doubt that he supports the draft report and that, furthermore, he intends to redefine what it means to be Australian.

The words ‘migration continuum’ should strike fear into the hearts of all migrants to Australia. The Minister himself spoke of those charged with terrorist acts as second- or third-generation Lebanese Muslims – not as Australians – in effect redefining what he views an Australian to be.

I acknowledge my assessment is harsh. I would accept that I have drawn a long bow if it were not for a leaked cabinet document revealing that the government has progressed plans to radically change the ways migrants are accepted into Australian society.

The leaked background briefing, relating to a proposed bilateral meeting between the DIBP Secretary and DSS Secretary, reveals that the government has carried through plans to create and monitor an holistic migration continuum. By 1 March the National Security Council had agreed to a simplified visa framework, which will ensure all migrants including humanitarian entrants, have temporary or provisional status before they can gain permanent residency.

This new framework will impact on migrants’ access to social security, housing and education. It is not surprising then that the background briefing exposes the deep concerns the DSS has with the proposal. These include the impact of the new visa framework on social cohesion and the real possibility the changes will lead to extremism.

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When we take into account that one of the proposed agenda items in this briefing includes legislation introduced into the House, that is designed to streamline arrangements for the now amalgamated migration review tribunal, it is easy to predict how far down the track these new visa arrangements must be.

Add these revelations to two migration bills currently under consideration and the future for migrants in Australia becomes clearer.

The first is the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing Cohort) Bill 2016, which prevents certain former asylum seekers and refugees from applying for any visa to Australia unless the Minister allows them to do so. This impacts on former asylum seekers and refugees taken to regional processing centres regardless of their status at the time of applying for a visa.

The true effect of the Bill was exquisitely captured by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key when he said: “we have got no intention of having separate classes of New Zealand citizens”. He was referring to former refugees and asylum seekers who may eventually migrate to, or be accepted by, New Zealand and granted New Zealand citizenship. Under both international and domestic law they would no longer be refugees, they would be citizens.

Clearly, a Minister who can see no wrong in imposing a definition of citizenship upon another country, and who refers to second-generation Australians as people of ‘Lebanese-Muslim backgrounds’, is one committed to pursuing a policy of vetting migrants along a continuum to ‘post-Citizenship conferral’.

The Migration Amendment (Visa Revalidation and Other Measures) Bill 2016 seeks to amend the Migration Act to create a means whereby a visa holder (temporary or permanent) can be required to repeatedly revalidate the visa criteria associated with the original grant. This means they may have to repeatedly undergo health, police and security checks, and/or confirm they live or work in specific areas and remain in specific relationships.

It also allows the Minister to look outside of the original grant criteria and further narrow this process by prescribing (making a legislative instrument) a specific class of persons who hold a specific visa to revalidate their visa.

The bill’s Explanatory Memorandum notes that this “may affect the rights and interests of a large class of people”. It lists examples of things that may define a specific a class of persons as people who: hold a particular passport; live in a particular country; live in a particular province or state within a country; travelled during a particular area during a particular time, and applied for a visa during particular dates.

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The bill, in its current form, will redefine the meaning of a permanent visa. All migrants could potentially become temporary, subject to continuous reassessment and security checks, regardless of the date they actually lived or travelled through specified countries. As the current debate is focused on creating and sustaining an ‘other’, a cohort the Australian people can fear and who the government can punish, prevention has become part of their solution. Last week we heard that the government is currently considering how to prevent people who will not be ‘genuine’ Australians from taking up citizenship.

Alex Hawke, the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, confirmed at a recent conference that the government would tighten citizenship legislation and the citizenship test in 2018. While tightening the test may act as a screening measure, it is a strange mechanism by which to determine a person’s true commitment to Australia.

The leaked briefing paper published this week provides the first real insight into how the government intends to ascertain a migrant’s commitment to Australia. The government appears to be on the verge of introducing something called ‘integration testing’, which will include psychological testing for migrants, including those who arrive on humanitarian visas. However, the briefing notes that no clear evidence has been provided to DSS to show how a migrant will be determined to be ‘sufficiently well integrated’ or how the proposed outsourcing of the testing will function.

For those who are citizens, there are already measures in place that automatically remove citizenship. Currently, a dual citizen automatically ‘renounces’ their Australian citizenship under Division 3 of the Citizenship Act for a variety offences including fraud, terrorism or threats to national security. In addition, the Minister can remove citizenship from dual citizens for specific actions.

However, the government’s focus is not only on punishing those proven to have committed crimes or terrorist acts. The Migration Act already allows the Minister to bypass natural justice and cancel visas if there is a ‘suspicion’ someone has committed certain acts. On top of this, the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing Cohort) Bill 2016, if passed, will inflict a lifetime punishment on people who have committed no crime.

It is not outside the realms of possibility then to consider that a revamped Citizenship Act and pledge ‘to strengthen accountability for commitments made at Citizenship conferral’ may include a lifetime ban on dual citizenship for humanitarian entrants and their descendants. In the eyes of the current Minister, what better way to both ensure allegiance and define a ‘real Australian’?

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One Response

  1. Joy says:

    Government of the day is acting unethically by making changes to something as important as Citizenship. This is a matter of referendum.

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