On Friday 20 March, Associate Professor Alex Reilly attended a roundtable discussion on Citizenship and the Constitution in the Commonwealth House of Representatives Social Policy and Legal Affairs Committee. Alex joined other academic experts and community leaders to discuss with the Committee the legal and constitutional dimensions of citizenship, the changing nature of membership in the Australian community, the importance of Indigenous recognition in the Constitution and particular challenges for citizenship law and policy into the future. In the final session, members of the public were able to use social media to ask the roundtable questions in real time. Alex’s invitation to participate in the round table followed from a submission Alex and the Public Law and Policy Research Unit (PLPRU) submitted to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee Inquiry into Australian Citizenship and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014. There were a number of changes mooted in the Bill which tightened the eligibility requirements for citizenship and increased the power of the executive government to remove citizenship after it had been conferred. One of the most controversial changes was the removal of automatic citizenship from a child who had been born in Australia and lived here for 10 years if the child’s parents had been unlawful non-citizens for any of those 10 years. The PLPRU submission made the point that:
“Young people in this position should have the full security of residence and other rights and duties of an Australian citizen, whether or not they have citizenship status in another country. Their immigration status, or that of their parents, is irrelevant to the depth of their connection to Australia. To use immigration status as a ground to deny citizenship is to put form over substance. … [D]enying citizenship to children resident in Australia for 10 years from birth is not the means by which to prevent illegal immigration practices. Furthermore, young people born in Australia who are not subject to illicit immigration practices, such as children of asylum seekers born in Australia, will be affected by the law.”
The Bill has not progressed beyond the House of Representatives. The Committee recommended the changes be accepted, with a dissenting report from the Australian Labor Party senators that mirrored the concerns in the PLPRU submission.