The Identity (Citizenship and Travel Documents) Bill may be rushed through Parliament before Christmas despite being panned by most submitters to the Government Administration Select Committee.
Business people are worried that extending the qualifying period for citizenship will put off skilled migrants. Migrant communities are up in arms at its inherently discriminatory nature. Civil libertarians are worried by the ‘Zaoui clause’, which uses the same vague concept of ‘national security’ that is currently detaining Ahmed Zaoui to justify giving the Internal Affairs Minister the power to cancel any New Zealand citizen’s passport.
This Bill is another example of the Government getting carried away in the ‘War on Terror’.
As many submitters told the Select Committee, you should be able to pick out a terrorist after three years permanent residence, so why extend the qualifying period for citizenship to five or, for those on temporary permits, ten years?
Furthermore, time here on business, work or student permits will no longer count; apparently you don’t commit to New Zealand until you are a permanent resident. This logic is faulty. Isn’t someone beavering away on a work visa at least as committed as someone who has just got residence on arrival under the points system and is maybe not working at all? Shouldn’t we be rewarding temporary permit holders who are excelling here in business or at university? This Bill will probably mean skilled migrants will opt for countries with more welcoming policies. For instance, across the Tasman new residents can become Australian citizens, and get a passport, in just two years.
The Committee heard how receiving a New Zealand passport is a big deal for migrants from poorer countries. Migrants from rich counties don’t usually find a delay too much of an issue because they can still travel freely on their existing passports. But people on Third World passports find it difficult to get a visa to enter developed countries.
Previously it wasn’t so bad if you were from a poor country but married to a New Zealand citizen. Then you could get a Kiwi passport after two years; now the Government wants you to wait five. The New Zealander is effectively discriminated against as well, as they won’t be able to go abroad with their spouse for five years.
The most heart-rending stories were from refugees, who commonly don’t have any passport and have to go through extra hoops just to get permanent residence, let alone citizenship. Our Government does give refugees temporary travel documents, but hardly any country will accept them. In Australia and America such documents are not even recognised for transit. Refugees are often desperate to go overseas to see family members displaced by conflict; we shouldn’t be making that even more difficult for them.
Refugee organisations have also expressed concern at a ‘national security’ clause in the Bill that will allow the Internal Affairs Minister to refuse travel documents or passports without fully explaining why. Applicants could be knocked back on the basis of rumours they 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 pro-Communist singer Paul Robeson’s passport and the Australian Government did the same to left-wing journalist Wilfred Burchett.
Such measures reverse the normal judicial process. Instead of being tried, convicted and then punished, you are punished when your passport is taken away and then you have to go to the High Court to get it back. Even then the information against you may be ‘classified’.
This ‘security’ provision is unnecessary because if someone is actually conspiring to commit a crime against the State they can already be brought to court under existing criminal law and judges can then confiscate the accused person’s passport.
Since the Identity Bill had its First Reading in Parliament, the Government has introduced a further amendment that would deny automatic New Zealand citizenship to children born here to visiting parents. Apparently this would put us in line with Australia – but it would also put us out of line with America and Canada, which grant an automatic right of citizenship to all people born on their soil.
The only substantive reason advanced for this change is that there are pregnant foreigners seeking our passports for their offspring by flying in, having their babies, then flying out again. Yet this has happened in no more than one or two cases a year. Longer-term non-residents do have babies here, but they are usually women on work, student or business visas. To me it’s preferable that such babies born here do have New Zealand citizenship so they qualify for the free or subsidised post-natal health care the rest of us got as infants. We certainly shouldn’t bring in a blanket ban because inevitably some babies would suffer when their hard-up, non-resident parents cannot afford such treatment.
We are not an uncharitable people. I believe this Identity Bill and the wider policy of which it is a part are too hard hearted to be New Zealand law.
Keith Locke MP represented the Green Party in the Government Administration Select Committee’s considerations of the Identity Bill.