The Green Party will be voting against this legislation because it discriminates against new migrants, it takes away the long-held right of babies born here to have automatic New Zealand citizenship, and it undermines the right of New Zealanders to have a passport.
None of those changes were necessary and there was no call in the community for them. Submissions to the Government Administration Committee were overwhelmingly against the changes, yet the committee and the Government have simply charged ahead with them.
Let us look first at the provision in the bill that takes away the automatic right of citizenship for babies born here. There has long been that right, and it continues to exist in countries like Canada and the United States, so why bother to take it away? What harm does it do? Are there hoards of people coming here to have babies so that those babies have New Zealand citizenship? No evidence was put before the select committee that there were.
But the tourist visa parents of such babies have to go back to their home countries after their babies are born. If the occasional such baby growing up in Kentucky or wherever later wants to take up the right to be a citizen and live here, then so what? It would actually be a tribute to New Zealand.
Of course, several hundred babies are born to non-residents here each year. The parents are generally young people on work permits or student and business visas. Again, these babies will not stay in New Zealand unless their parents get residency.
The key reason for giving these babies automatic citizenship is that they are then given State-provided health care, which is important, because their parents are often in poor circumstances and cannot afford to pay for adequate private care. Such a humanitarian approach accords with our commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires that we not have discriminatory practices that affect the well-being of children. It is just mean-spirited to deny citizenship to babies born here.
As Progressive member Matt Robson and I say in our minority report from the select committee: “We believe that under this bill we will now have a new category of overstayer-the newborn baby.”
Is that the sort of society we want in New Zealand in the 21st century?
The legislation also extends the time it takes for residents to get New Zealand citizenship without good reason.
The original reason given in the explanatory note of the Identity (Citizenship and Travel Documents) Bill was that “the recent increase in international terrorism and people smuggling” necessitated changes “to ensure that there are no preventable risks to national security”. But, as was pointed out in the hearings on the bill, we can generally spot a terrorist during the present 3-year residency period for qualification for citizenship. Why do we need to extend the period to 5 years?
The only other argument put forward was that the change would make us comparable with other jurisdictions. However, the Government tripped up on that. Australia, the closest jurisdiction, gives citizenship to residents if they have spent 2 continuous years in that country.
The clear point brought out by submitters, particularly those from business migrant groups and the Chinese community, was that if this legislation passes we will lose out on some of the most skilled migrants, because they can go to Australia and get citizenship years earlier than they could here.
Paradoxically, by extending the time required for citizenship, the Government is demeaning its importance. There seemed to be an attitude that it did not really matter if citizenship took a bit longer, because the migrants were already here and functioning as part of society. But what we heard from the migrants was that they did not want to stay in “nowhere land” between their old and new nationalities for an extended period. They had made a commitment to New Zealand and were frustrated that they could not become full Kiwis for years and years.
They also pointed out the inconvenience of not having a New Zealand passport for such a long period while they are residing here.
They pointed out that we are not just talking about the 5 years’ residency requirement, particularly now that the time spent on a temporary visa will not be counted as part of the time spent in New Zealand to qualify a person for citizenship. People can be here for a couple of years or more on a student, work, or business visa, then take a year applying for and getting residency, and then have a 5-year wait for citizenship. That means that they could be waiting for anything up to 10 years after arriving in the country to get citizenship. It is silly and inequitable, because surely someone beavering away here on a work permit is just as committed to New Zealand as someone who has been granted residency before arriving and may not even be working at all.
Other migrant representatives explained to the committee how if one comes from a poorer country one’s passport does not get one into many countries in the world, even for a visit. This is one of the reasons why extending the shorter period of time it takes for spouses of New Zealand citizens to go from residency to citizenship, now 2 years, to 5 years will create difficulties for many couples. If one spouse is from Thailand or Bangladesh, effectively the couple will not be able to travel to much of the world together for 5 years. That spouse’s passport will not be of much use.
For refugees this is particularly difficult, because they do not usually have valid passports from their home countries. As some submitters explained, the travel documents that they are given by the New Zealand Government are not even valid for transit through Australia or the United States. This can create great heartache, because they are unable to visit their refugee family members, who are often dispersed throughout the world and often suffer from culture shock and trauma for many years.
Refugees also expressed concern about the national security clause in the legislation that will allow the Minister of Internal Affairs to refuse travel documents or passports without fully explaining why. Applicants can be knocked back on the basis of rumours they are not told about. The national security provision extends well beyond refugees. In fact, the Government will be able to use it against New Zealand citizens, possibly even on the basis of their politics, as happened back in the Cold War when the American Government confiscated the passport of pro-Communist singer Paul Robeson’s and the Australian Government did the same to left-wing journalist Wilfred Burchett.
The Greens have opposed such measures in the legislation, because they reverse the normal judicial process. Instead of being tried, convicted, and punished, people are punished when their passports are taken away, and then they have to go to the High Court and try to get them back. Even then, a person in that position might not be able to get fully at the accusations against him or her, because the Government’s information may be classified.
This security provision in the legislation is unnecessary, because a person who is actually conspiring to commit a crime against the New Zealand State can already be brought before the courts under existing criminal law, and judges can then confiscate the convicted person’s passport.
Such provisions are part of a trend we have seen in much legislation since the Terrorism Suppression Act to put more power into the hands of politicians – who can obviously misuse that power for their own political ends – rather than leave to the courts the application of penalties flowing from criminal activities, as has traditionally been the case. This sort of thing is happening around the world in the name of George Bush’s so-called war on terrorism.
The context of these bills and bills like them was nicely summed up by Rodney Harrison QC in an address to the University of Waikato law graduates in April last year. He said: “The powers being sought and so readily conferred by Parliament in the name of the ‘war on terrorism’ are quite frequently much broader than, and sometimes even unconnected with, any conceivable goal of fighting terrorism. They appear to stem from an unholy mix of Executive empire-building and appeasement of the United States.” I think that that is happening here.
While this legislation makes some positive administrative improvements in relation to citizenship and passports, the Greens will be voting against it, because of the civil liberties concerns we have outlined, which cause us to worry about its application to New Zealanders in the future.