Thursday, 19 January 2017
Media release

Migration must work for Australia and migrants alike

Next week, Australians will celebrate our nation and its achievements. 

For nearly 16,000 people, this Australia Day will hold added significance as they become Australian citizens at ceremonies around the country.

They will be following in the footsteps of more than five million migrants who have become Australians since the Second World War.

To become a citizen – whether by birth or conferral – is to be gifted the opportunity of our democratic nation, in which rights and liberties are protected, free enterprise is rewarded and our responsibilities are respected.

The vast majority of people who come here and who make the commitment to our nation by becoming citizens embrace this opportunity.

They do the right thing:  abide by our laws, take up English, educate their children, work hard or even start businesses, and contribute to our nation's economic and social wealth.

The modern story of our nation has been written in part by migrant successes of Lowy, Triguboff, Sinnathamby and others.

In stark contrast, however, a minority come to Australia with little respect for our values (but much for our generous welfare) and even with intent to do us harm.

Within this minority there are those who have become citizens, while others are likely now on a pathway to citizenship.  This is not in the best interests of our nation.

Australians are by their very nature a welcoming, tolerant and forgiving mob. 

But they are rightly asking why they should welcome and tolerate a miscreant minority, even if the vast majority of migrants contribute greatly to our nation.

They want to ensure that those who seek to come here, do so for the right reasons.  And that those who seek to remain or become citizens share our values and contribute to our nation.

This is not surprising.  Our nation – and others that share our values – faces unprecedented security threats from terrorists, extremists and criminals who seek to exploit migration pathways to citizenship for their own ends.

The lesson of terrorism here and in Europe is that we must prevent foreign extremists from arriving in the first place – and remove them once detected. 

This effort becomes even more important as temporary migration grows strongly.

This is why the Government is strengthening visa risk assessment systems to better detect terrorists, criminals and others before they arrive here through a nearly $100 million commitment.

We are cancelling in record numbers the visas of foreigners who engage in serious crime. We are also revoking the Australian citizenship of those who obtained it by fraud or deception.

However, we should ask if there is more we can do to better assess people who seek to become citizens.

In this current age, is it enough to satisfy a simple multiple choice test and basic character, security and other checks after a few years' residence, in order to become a citizen?

Should we be asking people to demonstrate their commitment to Australian values and our country through a record of work, education for their children, a good level of English and a record of law abidance?

Should we ask people to prove themselves fit for citizenship over a longer period of time, or even apply a citizenship-like test to those seeking permanent residency?

With some young Australian residents involved in terrorist activity and gang-related crime, should the character provisions for citizenship apply to 16 and 17 year olds, not just adults?

Should we close loopholes that enable people to game our system and circumvent process – such as adults adopting other adults or people remaining unlawfully in Australia pending automatic citizenship for their children?

In answering these questions, our goal should be to ensure that Australia continues to attract people who, regardless of nationality or religion, will embrace Australian values and contribute strongly to our nation.

Migration must continue to benefit Australians as well as the migrants themselves.  This is vital for ensuring enduring public support for the migration programme and its success.

And it's why on Australia Day, we should welcome our newest citizens and celebrate migration as an integral part of our nation's story of success – as much as we should consider how best to ensure that it continues to be so.

Opinion piece published in The Australian