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PROPOSED CITIZENSHIP CHANGES CAUSING MUCH PAIN AND INSECURITY - The Mercury Opinion Piece, Tuesday 15 August 2017

                                                   Australia should live up to its reputation as a place where people get a fair go

 Over the past few weeks, I have attended citizenship ceremonies in Hobart and Glenorchy. It is one of my favourite activities as a senator.

I often ask new citizens what it feels like to be an Australian citizen. The answer I generally get is that they feel they belong. They have become a part of the vibrant, multicultural tapestry of modern Australia.

My father arrived in Hobart as an international student in 1963. I was fortunate to have the influences of my father's Fijian-Indian background and of my mother's life experience of growing up in Australia.

My story, like many Australians, captures the importance of cultivating a strong, inclusive society where diversity is respected. Making sure everyone has a fair go and feels welcome is an Australian value, no matter where people come from.

Diversity of heritage is one of Australia's greatest strengths. Multiculturalism empowers ethnic communities to live out, and share, their cultural diversity. It makes our communities stronger.

Since the Government's surprise announcement about crude and heavy-handed changes to citizenship rules in April, I feel these Australian values have been threatened.

The Australian Labor Party opposes the changes.

My office has been inundated with concerns and inquiries about the proposed restrictions. Short, typical extracts from those many testimonies follow:

             "I landed in Australia in August 2012 on a student visa. I started a self-sponsored Masters and paid around $50,000. I have                            published more than six journal and conference papers. I have been paying taxes and always tried to be an efficient and                              prosperous person. I got my permanent residency in May 2016 and would be eligible for the citizenship on the 16th of May                         2017. I was over the moon that I can finally be a true Australian. Then suddenly just in less than 25 days left, the Prime Minister                 changed the whole citizenship rule without any warning, transition time or grace period."

            "We have been working, paying our taxes and respecting all the Australian values and rules since we are here and we consider                   ourselves as proud members of the Australian nation. With the previous law, we would have been allowed to apply for it next                    January instead of January 2021 with the new proposed citizenship law. Being a citizen of this beautiful country would be an                    honour."

            "People like me are committed to staying in Australia, contributing to the community, and to the economy. We have embraced                   Australian culture and values, respected its laws, its citizens, and its history. How is this not assimilation in the eyes of the                       Government?"

            "I will get my [permanent residency] after seven years from entering the country in (2011), and now according to the new                              proposed changes by Mr Turnbull it would be 11 years until I can apply for the citizenship."

            "I am a refugee and specialised medical doctor with three master degrees from my home country, Australia and United                                Kingdom. I was in the student and in bridging visas from May 2012 to December 2016, while I obtain my residency on 19                               December 2016. I am contributing in the public health and social equity sector throughout the time I have been in Australia."

This idea that because you do not speak perfect English you are somehow not fit to be an Australian citizen is as ridiculous as it is elitist. It does not represent the Australia we are today. Extending the waiting period extends a period of insecurity.

Everyone who wants to live in Australia and become an Australian should sign up to our laws and democratic values. That is not at issue, because everyone does.

The Government's proposed changes make it more difficult for people with a genuine commitment to Australian society and Australian values to obtain citizenship. These changes will not help to make Australia safer, and they undermine the values of tolerance, inclusion and a fair go for all which make our nation great.

More than that, they affect real people. They will make the lives of real people worse.

The changes will make it harder for people to obtain citizenship, they will undermine family security and, by fuelling stigmatisation and enabling intolerance in our society, make it harder for would-be citizens to participate in communities.

I have written to Minister Dutton to make him aware of the distress his proposed changes are causing. It is the Government's responsibility to ensure its system is fair and legitimate. The Turnbull Government has failed its responsibility by proposing changes that are all spin.

I cannot see how undermining Australian values of inclusion and a fair go, and of causing widespread distress, is good for our nation.

Senator Lisa Singh is a member of the Australian Parliament's Select Committee on Strengthening Multiculturalism and her website is www.lisasingh.com.au. This Opinion Piece was first published in The Mercury on Tuesday, 15 August 2017.

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