The Indian passport I had when I first came to Australia allowed me to enter a few countries only. I had to get it endorsed by the Indian Government if travelling to a country not included. While such restrictions no longer exist, as an Australian passport holder I am now not allowed to make the journey from India to Australia.
The Aussie passport gives visa-free entry into 169 countries; but not to the country they now call home and have sworn allegiance to. This is a blatant breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 13, which guarantees the “right of everyone to leave any country including his own, and to return to his country”.
While Australia has been guilty of denying human rights throughout its modern history, first and foremost of Indigenous Australians and, more recently, Asylum Seekers, this latest outrage, which includes the threat of a five-year jail sentence and a $66,000 fine, or both, sets a new precedent.
It could at any time be applied to deny other rights of Australian citizens! It threatens Australia’s precious multicultural fabric, so wonderfully woven over the past 50 years and, under which, Australian Multiculturalism has developed into the uniting force that defines our nation today. It is an unprecedented assault that makes Hansonism and the one-time spate of attacks on people of Indian origin, serious as they were, seem insignificant and inconsequential.
In 1997, when Hanson was in full cry, causing great anxiety to the parents of Asians studying in Australia, the Australia Taiwan Business Council invited Philip Ruddock, then Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, to speak at its annual conference. Ruddock decided to send me, then Chairman of the National Multicultural Advisory Council and the Business (Migration) Advisory Council, in his stead.
I was very comfortable with this assignment because I knew I could be entirely open and honest.. I started by acknowledging Australia’s racist foundation, that the fear of Asian hordes had been the driver for our six states to band together into a federation. The White Australia Policy was the first Act of the Australian Parliament, a law strictly applied for 66 years. The result was a virtually monocultural nation at the conclusion of World War II. 94% of the county was of British or Irish origin! Next I agreed that we still had residual racism, something Hanson had exploited to her political advantage. But then I could say, with confidence and pride, “Look how much we’ve changed!”
I pointed out that we started dismantling the White Australia Policy under Liberal PM Holt and Immigration Minister Opperman in 1967, and that Labor PM Whitlam and Immigration Minister Grassby legislated it totally out of existence by 1973, actions that paved the way towards Australian Multiculturalism.
I stressed that this was still a work-in-progress, but had already resulted in a huge influx of non-white immigrants from Asia, including India, where I came from, and Taiwan, which they were from. The fact that that I had been appointed to national roles, heading up councils and committees advising the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, who was comfortable having me represent him at the conference, was proof positive of how far we had come.
But the most significant claim I made was the reality and genuineness of Australian citizenship, saying that from the day I or any migrant became an Australian citizen, we enjoyed equal rights and status to all other Australians, including those whose ancestors arrived on the First Fleet!
Later, I played a similar role, this time travelling with a New South Wales Ministerial delegation to India, where parents of Indian students worried about the safety of their children in Australia. Again, the task was straightforward and the same, almost formulaic, reassurance allayed their concerns significantly.
I repeated my claim of complete equality bestowed on new citizens. This claim was certainly valid at the time. Ironically, some government departments/organisations continued to say, incorrectly, that it was still valid as late as 2018.
For example on 17-05-2018, an article by Salvi Manish of SBS titled “7 Advantages of becoming an Australian Citizen” listed: Hassle-free travel and re-entry; Excellent consular support while overseas; Federal government and defence jobs; You can even become the Prime Minister of Australia; Visa-free travel to 169 countries; Financial assistance for education; Protection from deportation: an Australian citizen will not be deported from Australia regardless of the severity of their crimes and the punishment they receive.”
Even the Australian Border Force page referring to “Travel documents required for Australian citizens”, stated, as recently as 17-03-2020, “If you are an Australian citizen, you have an automatic right of entry to Australia and need only present a current Australian passport on your arrival.”
Sadly, the stark reality is that these fundamental human rights are no longer available to all Australian citizens because they have been progressively watered down by Australian Governments.
This started with Section 35 of the Australian Citizenship Act 2007, which states that Australian citizenship will automatically cease, “if they (Citizens) act contrary to their allegiance to Australia”. Under this law, now including even more ways of acting contrary to their allegiance, a number of citizens have since been classified non-citizens and deported! Mercifully, this has only been applied to dual citizens thus far – those who have only Australian citizenship have not been deported because they have become stateless. But this too can be changed at the Government’s whim, as can what constitutes “an act contrary to the allegiance of citizens”.
The treatment of our citizens in India means even Australians with no other nationality can be denied their fundamental citizenship rights. Surely, this is an intolerable abomination against which all citizens, not just those of Indian origin, must fight. We must demand restoration of our citizenship rights and deny our vote any party that doesn’t commit to doing so. The Coalition, with Morrison and Dutton at the helm, can hardly be expected to repeal legislation they have made more draconian than ever. We know the Greens will commit to repeal and must hope that Labor does so too!