Identity (Citizenship and Travel Documents) Bill – Second Reading

Members have probably read the minority report put forward by Matt Robson and myself. I think the National members who have spoken, and those who are about to speak, will admit that those comments reflect the submissions more than the majority select committee report.

The Minister, George Hawkins, said in his speech that there was a lot of public comment. But he seemed to imply that that public comment was only in connection with the retrospectivity of the bill — a concern that it would apply to people who are currently in New Zealand. Whereas, if one listened to the submissions, sure there was significant and large concern about retrospectivity, but there was concern about a lot of other things in the bill as well. Very few submissions supported the bill.

I want to ask the Government, and anyone else who supports the bill tonight, to explain to us why we have to go ahead and extend the qualifying period, from residence to citizenship, from 3 years to 5 years. I sat on the Government Administration Committee and I did not hear a good reason for that. We heard about security concerns, but I do not think we really thought that it takes 5 years to spot a terrorist in New Zealand; that was not the reason. The committee threw in another reason, about being comparable with overseas jurisdictions, but as Pansy Wong has pointed out, it does not hold water.

We have to realise, and this is what we found in the select committee, that extending the residency requirement from 3 years to 5 years is causing a huge amount of human heartache. We heard many submissions from people from Somalia and Iraq, and from Sikh groups, who explained the difficulties they face now in the time it takes them to get citizenship, and the even greater difficulties they will face if the qualifying period is extended from 3 to 5 years.

There has been reference, including from the previous speaker, to refugee travel documents. David Ryken, an immigration lawyer, told the committee that those documents are “useless”. Refugees cannot use them to go overseas. A lot of refugee people who have been here for a while and have refugee status want to make contact with very close relatives who are dispersed around the world. As a result of the chaos in their own country their families have dispersed, and the refugees in New Zealand find that they cannot travel overseas on those travel documents, even though they have been nicely set out by our Government and given to them.

One example of this was given by an Iraqi, who told the Government Administration Committee that his travel document provided by the New Zealand Government would not even allow him to get to his niece’s wedding in Australia because Australia, like America, does not accept those travel documents. The lack of a passport for those people, and the time to get a passport, which has been put out even further under the bill, adds hugely to the trauma of refugees and their feelings of isolation.

One submission by Adam Awad and several other refugees in Wellington made the point that article 15(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to a nationality. In all practical senses refugees have no nationality left to them. In the case of countries like Somalia, there is no national Government. Many have spent upwards of a decade in refugee camps around the world. To deny them official citizenship for a further 5 years is, from a human rights perspective, both inhumane and unjust.

David Ryken, the immigration lawyer, also told the committee that the extension of the qualifying period, from 3 years to 5 years, was doing New Zealand in the eye as regards attracting skilled migrants. As he explained, and he has had a lot of connection with migrants, we are in a competitive international marketplace as regards attracting skilled people. Under this bill, the best migrants will be more likely to go elsewhere — to Australia — rather than come to New Zealand and hang around for years to get citizenship here.

The Chinese community was particularly upset in that regard and made submissions to the select committee. As Pansy Wong has pointed out, a petition on that issue was signed by 8,000 people. One issue they raised was the question of long-term business visas. The expectation and the structure is that business visas would automatically run into residency and into citizenship, and not to allow business visas to be part of the qualifying period for citizenship is putting off so many people coming in under that particular visa.

There is another bad provision in the bill, which the Minister referred to. A Supplementary Order Paper was introduced that would deny automatic citizenship to babies born here, and the select committee never heard a good reason for that. It would lead to significant problems for people, and attracted criticism in the select committee as being somewhat contrary to the constitutional conventions of this country as well. The Auckland Council for Civil Liberties and the Human Rights Foundation submissions stated: “It is contrary to parliamentary convention for a Supplementary Order Paper to introduce major new substantive provisions to a bill.”

The Supplementary Order Paper came in as the select committee was sitting, and because it came in so late in the piece, most submitters were not able to see it before they put in their submissions to the select committee. The Supplementary Order Paper was unnecessary. Do we have an emergency on our hands, with all kinds of babies being born here and doing nasty things to us? It did not require a Supplementary Order Paper to be brought in, in that way. The Auckland Council for Civil Liberties and the Human Rights Foundation said that that violates the essence of the Standing Orders and “amounts to an abuse of the democratic and parliamentary processes.”

There was also the problem of whether we would get a Bill of Rights audit on the Supplementary Order Paper, and late in the piece we did get an audit but it was quite contentious. For instance, the Auckland District Law Society said: “Removing the right to citizenship by birth punishes immigrant children, not their parents, and may contravene articles 38, 24, and 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Of particular concern is the right of a child to the highest obtainable standard of health and the right to education.” Giving a baby citizenship will guarantee it free health treatment, regardless of the circumstances of its parents.

The Ministry of Justice’s response, in the Bill of Rights audit, to that sort of argument was pitiful. The audit stated: “Children born in New Zealand who are not granted citizenship will still be able to receive treatment for life-threatening conditions, as hospitals are required to provide acute services, regardless of the ability to pay.” So the Ministry of Justice is saying that it is in accord with the Convention on the Rights of the Child for babies to get very sick, as long as they get free hospital treatment when they are on the point of death. Even then, will the Ministry of Justice guarantee that the parents do not get a bill for the hospital treatment of the life-threatening condition? Of course, the ministry will not.

There is also a new power in the bill for the Minister of Internal Affairs to take away a New Zealander’s passport on national security grounds. This was strongly challenged, particularly by the Auckland Council for Civil Liberties and the Human Rights Foundation. One of their lawyers Rodney Harrison QC said: “The rights to a passport and freedom of movement in and out of one’s own country are fundamental human rights recognised in our Bill of Rights and international law. Until very recently citizens of this country have never been at risk of having these rights removed or curtailed. Such steps have rightly been seen as a mark of totalitarian regimes, not New Zealand’s.” He also complained that when someone does take judicial challenge to the passport being taken away from him or her, there is a problem in even getting all the information used against that person, because it can be “classified” under this bill and not made freely available to those affected.

This Bill was split into the Citizenship Amendment Bill and the Passports Amendment Bill prior to the

Third Reading