Australia: Immigration levels reach 10-year low under Peter Dutton’s new rules

Significant shift:

The number of people permanently migrating to Australia has dropped 10 percent, with official figures reaching the lowest level in more than a decade.

Tough new vetting rules imposed by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has seen the annual intake cut by 21,000 people.

A crackdown on fraudulent claims and more visa refusals has also contributed to the drop, the largest in more than 10 years.

Immigration now stands at less than 163,000 people annually from a previous peak of 190,000. The 2007-08 recorded intake was 158,630.

Dutton’s new integrity measures have also led to a 46 percent rise in visa refusals and a 17 percent increase in application withdrawals.

The number of people permanently migrating to Australia has dropped 10 percent, with official figures reaching the lowest level in more than a decade. Picture: AAP

“The government has had real focus on making sure not only we restored integrity to our border but (also) to our permanent migration program,” Mr Dutton told 9NEWS’ Ben Fordham.

“Looking more closely at the applications that are made. Making sure that we’re bringing the best migrants possible into our country.

“In the end we want our migration program to work in our country’s best interests.”

Mr Dutton has accused the previous Labor governments of “ticking and flicking applications”, claiming that the Turnbull government on the other hand is applying close scrutiny to all applications.

“If we’re right, we end up with a better migration intake,” he said.

The changes have seen an annual fall in skilled migrations by more than 12,000.

Mr Dutton previously suggested a drop in the official migrant ceiling from 190,000 to 170,000 to colleagues – though no official attempts to enforce this were made.

The current ceiling was introduced under Malcolm Turnbull, replacing Labor’s generalised “target” of 190,000.

Source: Immigration levels reach 10-year low under Peter Dutton’s new rules

Racism, citizenship and schooling: why we still have some way to go

Interesting article on the Australian and New Zealand experience with education approaches for Indigenous peoples. Spoiler alert, the better model is New Zealand with the Maori (I was always impressed when my New Zealand diplomatic counterparts would be both in English and Maori):

At a Senate Estimates hearing in May, LNP Senator Ian MacDonald saidhe found it difficult to find any but “very rare” cases of racism in Australia. Though, he did concede perhaps this view had developed “living in a bubble”. Bubbles are dangerous places from which to make public policy.

MacDonald may not have had personal experiences of racism, but 20% of Australians have experienced racism in the past 12 months due to the colour of their skin, ethnic origin or religion.

Racism means people experience citizenship differently. It means opportunities and capacities are not equally available to every citizen and egalitarian justice, the idea of a “fair go” for everyone, doesn’t work as it’s intended.

Racism divides societies and fractures the idea of common nationhood. It helps explain why some people don’t get a fair go at school, for example.

Racism and school policy

Schools operate outside MacDonald’s bubble. But they aren’t ideologically neutral.

Historically, education policy was explicit. Schools were not meant to work for Indigenous people. In the 1890s, inferior curriculums were officially circulated for Indigenous people.

By 1937, the idea of inherent Indigenous intellectual inferiority remained. A parliamentary committee heard and ignored arguments for better schooling:

I say that a full-blood can be educated just as well as a half-caste or non-Aboriginal…I say they must have qualified teachers…At present they are not qualified…

Indigenous people could be excluded from New South Wales public schools until 1972.

Separate schools for Indigenous peoples were established to meet the requirement for education set out by the Aboriginal Protection Acts. But education was usually for domestic service or labouring, and often marked by physical and sexual abuse.

Exclusion is the lived experience of some of the parents of Indigenous people who are in school now. As well as being a denial of equal human worth, the experience of racism at school directly predicts lower test scores.

Racism also occurs at other levels of the education system. For example, in 2017, an Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association member survey found 60% of Indigenous doctors and medical students had experienced racism and/or bullying during training.

Education and culture are universal human rights. But when some people can bring their knowledge, experiences and worldviews to school and others can’t, it produces systemic discrimination. It means different people get different levels of access to education.

Who decides what knowledge counts

Canadian multicultural political theorist Will Kymlicka argues:

the state unavoidably promotes certain cultural identities and thereby disadvantages others. This may be true, but the state can also intentionally promote some cultural identities at the exclusion of others.

In 2008, Julia Gillard insisted bilingual schooling discontinue in the Northern Territory. It was an ideological position that undervalued the relationships between language, cultural identity and intellectual development. Nor did it consider that there are broader and more important contributors to school effectiveness such as teacher quality.

The question of who decides what knowledge counts for Indigenous people is also important. Can Indigenous people really be equal citizens if they can’t contribute to these decisions?

Again in 2008, a Northern Territory government submission to an inquiry into the Northern Territory Intervention made it clear even the citizen’s right to go to school was conditioned by systematic racism.

According to a government submission, policy measures to combat truancy were problematic because if they worked, the system would not be able to cope with the anticipated increase in school attendance. The failure of this policy was expected and accepted for Indigenous citizens.

Where are we now?

In Australia and elsewhere in 2018, policy rhetoric allows Indigenous peoples to pursue higher aspirations. It insists on fundamental human equality and aims to shift MacDonald’s observation from the naive to the prophetic. Eliminating racism from public policy means positive difference is a reasonable expectation of citizenship.

Everybody should enjoy the same political capacities to influence what happens at school, why and for whose benefit. The claim for influence, as a capacity of citizenship, inspires the contemporary call for a guaranteed Indigenous voice to parliament.

But diminishing racism and the policy failure that it causes requires Indigenous voice at all levels of public policy-making and implementation. Culture counts not just in classroom practices, but also in policy evaluation.

There are, for example, important arguments of equal citizenship for Indigenous policy makers to examine the apparent contradiction between low Indigenous achievement in NAPLAN and the only Closing the Gap target on track to be met – halving the gap in year 12 attainment by 2020. Policy failure can be reduced by replicating examples of success.

What does work?

In 2016, a National Health and Medical Research Council forum proposed establishing an Aboriginal community-controlled education sector. This would parallel the 143 existing community-controlled health organisations and contribute to a citizenship of influence.

The Indigenous Stronger Smarter Institute’s educational principlesreflect an expectation that schools must work equally well for everybody; that education should occur on principles of equal citizenship. This includes acknowledging and embracing a positive sense of identity, Indigenous leadership in schools and school communities, and having high expectations for Indigenous staff and students.

The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership provides examples of these principles working in practice to improve Indigenous achievement. But the institute’s listed instances of “what works” are not generally measures that have been trialled, evaluated and replicated across whole school systems.

All New Zealand schools are evaluated explicitly and publicly on Maori achievement and their efforts to improve it. Many have raised Maori achievement with reference to an Effective Teaching Profile developed by the Maori led Te Kotahitanga research and teacher professional development project. Its six presumptions are that:

  • teachers care for their students as culturally located human beings above all else
  • teachers care for the performance of their students
  • teachers are able to create a secure, well-managed learning environment
  • teachers are able to engage in effective teaching interactions with Māori students as Māori
  • teachers can use strategies that promote effective teaching interactions and relationships with their learners
  • teachers promote, monitor and reflect on outcomes that in turn lead to improvements in educational achievement for Māori students.

Te Kotahitanga and its successor professional development programmes are widely implemented and the Coalition Government Agreementbetween the Labour and New Zealand First parties commits to further investment in the project.

The contrast between Australia and New Zealand is ultimately one of expectations about what it means to be an Indigenous citizen entitled to a “fair go” as racism’s opposite.

Source: Racism, citizenship and schooling: why we still have some way to go

Australia’s citizenship program should focus on Indigenous introduction, Darwin linguistics teacher says

As IRCC prepares the revised citizenship study guide, with what I understand extensive consultations with Indigenous peoples (to be released later this year?), some interesting reflections from Australia on improving the understanding of Indigenous peoples and new citizens, and language:

As Ganesh Koramannil passed through Sydney Central train station in 2004, a man approached and asked him for $2.

It was an interaction he would have long forgotten, except the man was the first Indigenous Australian Mr Koramannil had ever met.

It could have remained among his only insights to a culture with more than 60,000 years of history, had his wife not turned down a job in Canberra to take up one in Maningrida, 500 kilometres east of Darwin.

After moving to the Arnhem land community four years after arriving in Australia to study English, Mr Koramannil was finally introduced to “the most welcoming culture” he had ever come across, which he said had unprecedented similarities with his own.

“You give an Aboriginal language speaker any Indian name, they will pronounce it very clearly without any accent. Give it to the Europeans, they will give you six varieties,” he said.

“There’s linguistic similarities between Aboriginal languages and Indian languages. My mother tongue for example is Malayalam. There are sounds that are very much part of Yolngu language.

At the time of publishing, Mr Koramannil was the only Territorian to write a submission to the Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment Bill 2018, which aims to toughen the eligibility requirement for new migrants to become citizens.

But Mr Koramannil said that for many migrants, their knowledge of Indigenous Australia would never extend far beyond his experience at the Sydney train station.

He said Australia’s immigration program offered no systemic way of introducing newcomers to Indigenous culture.

Instead of introducing stricter tests and eligibility requirements, Mr Koramannil has called for an “experiential” citizenship pathway, where migrants were taught about culture, history and values in dedicated sessions.

“The link to our Indigenous past and its present and future relevance [should] be included as a mandatory requirement for citizenship,” he said.

Tougher citizenship test proposed

The original bill to toughen up citizenship requirements was struck down 2017, when the Government missed the deadline for the Senate which saw it struck off by default.

The Greens, Labor and the Nick Xenophon Team had all opposed the changes.

But One Nation senator Pauline Hanson introduced it again 2018 and it was referred to a committee for inquiry.

Among the proposed changes will be a separate English language test, which will check for a ‘competent level’ of listening, speaking, reading and writing skills.

It would also increase the general residence requirement, meaning newcomers will need to live in Australia for eight years before applying for citizenship.

The citizenship test would also include questions about Australian values and the privileges, and responsibilities of Australian citizenship.

In April 2017, when the first bill was launched, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the Federal Government was “putting Australian values at the heart of citizenship processes and requirements”.

The Multicultural Council of the Northern Territory wrote a submission to last year’s bill, stating that while it was important for migrants to learn English, proficiency should not be an indicator for a person’s ability to make a positive contribution.

It said the idea may have adverse impacts for those from non-English speaking backgrounds and humanitarian entrants.

“It is our experience that fluency in English to the level proposed for migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds in a stand-alone English language test is not usually gained within the period of settlement, but can be viewed as a lifelong skill,” it said.

It said many of the proposals were “at best, unnecessary and, at worst, divisive and counterproductive”.

‘Language cannot be devoid of racial identity’

During Mr Koramannil’s time in Maningrida, he said Indigenous children, who had seldom met an Indian person before, would come up to and say “You are from India”.

It fascinated him.

“I said ‘How did they know?’ You know Maningrida — 600 or 700km away from here, one of the largest standalone Aboriginal communities — and kids of six years old [recognised me],” he said.

Looking back on it, he said he believed the children had sensed a familiarity between the two ancient cultures, just as people who spoke more than one language could recognise features of languages they didn’t speak.

In his opinion, if citizenship tests focussed so closely on English proficiency, it would come at a cultural and linguistic cost.

Mr Koramannil now works in Darwin teaching linguistics at a tertiary level.

The way he sees it, language is so deeply ingrained in a person’s racial identity that selecting citizens based on their language skills is tantamount to profiling.

“[Selecting people based on] language is profiling. And these days we speak multiple languages. And especially people trying to come to Australia, very few people won’t be bilingual.”

As a linguistics professional, and former IELTS examiner, he said he’d seen many “monolingual anglophone Australian professionals” fail to get their band score in writing.

The only reason he could see for such a test was to keep people of certain backgrounds away.

“The question is why are you trying to keep people away? Do keep people away on character for example, criminal background and that. But language is racially profiling,” he said.

Mr Koramannil said forming connections with Australia’s culture, values and history should instead form the basis of citizenship.

He believes newcomers should spend some of their time in Australia prior to becoming citizens learning about the country’s past, culture and values.

He has suggested ‘cultural welcome centres’, where Indigenous people could meet new migrants and explain their perspective of Australia to them, acting as “cultural translators” and helping forge connections.

Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs is due to file a report by December.

The ABC has contacted the committee for comment.

Source: Australia’s citizenship program should focus on Indigenous introduction, Darwin linguistics teacher says

Australian citizenship approvals record dramatic slowdown

In its last report, the department only met its service standard 45 percent of the time:

The processing of citizenship applications has been painfully slow this year with the Department of Home Affairs approving 54,419 applications during the first eight months of 2017-18, compared to 139,285 last year, according to information released to the Federal Parliament on Monday.

During this financial year, a total of 141,236 citizenship applications were received as of February 28, the Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs revealed.

The Department of Home Affairs last month told the Federal Parliament that over 200,000 people were awaiting the outcome of their citizenship applicants as of April 30 this year with the average waiting period for processing applications ballooning up to 16 months.

The relatively low number of citizenship grants is attributed to the period of April- October 2017 when the Department held on to new applications after announcing the citizenship reforms that sought to increase the general residence requirement and introduce a standalone English language test. The Government is planning to bring back a reworked version of the Bill after its proposed law was defeated in the Senate.

Home Affairs officer Luke Mansfield told a Senate Estimates hearing last month that an increased number of applications coupled with tightened national security requirements had led to an increase in the processing time of citizenship applications.

Citizenship applicants facing uncertainty

Atul Vidhata who runs an online forum – Fair Go for Australian Citizenship, says many migrants have been waiting much longer than sixteen months.

“When these people contact the department, they are told it’s not a service standard to process the applications within this timeframe,” he tells SBS Punjabi.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty due to a lack of clear communication. In our experience, some applications that were made in 2018 are being processed faster whereas applications made in 2017 are still held up.”

MP Julian Hill had questioned the Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge about the criteria applied for applications requiring ‘thorough analysis’ or ‘further assessment’.

“All applications for Australian citizenship are assessed on a case-by-case basis against the legislative criteria,” Mr Tudge responded.

data

India overtakes the UK as top source of Australian citizenship

Responding to questions by Victorian Labor MP Julian Hill, Mr Tudge revealed the country-wise break up of citizenship statistics.

Data

India has been the top source of citizenship in Australia for the last five years overtaking the United Kingdom.

Since 2012-13, over 118,000 people born in India have pledged their allegiance to Australia by becoming Australian citizens. Indian migrants also top the list of country-wise visa recipients in Australia’s annual immigration program.

As of February 28 this year, 10,168 Indian-born migrants were granted Australian citizenship with 25,408 Indian-born people applying during the same time. The 2016-17 figure stood at 22,006 citizenship grants to Indian migrants with 29,955 Indians applying for it.

Source: Australian citizenship approvals record dramatic slowdown

Australia: Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge wants new English language test for migrants

Unclear exactly who this will apply to beyond economic immigrants who most likely largely meet this requirement already given their version of express entry (which Canada largely was inspired by). Dependents of economic immigrants? Refugees?

But a shift from international tests to testing for conversational English has merit. But as always, the devil is in the details:

MIGRANTS could face a primary school level conversational English test as a requirement to becoming permanent Australian residents and citizens.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said speaking English was the key to integrating in society and engaging with the economy and education.

“Everyone should recognise we all have a vested interest in being able to converse and engage in the national language,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Hobart on Thursday.

He said the initial goal of primary school-level English was reasonable, saying it was an obvious measure to help migrants achieve in Australia.

“It is plainly in everybody’s interest that everyone, ideally, should have English language skills,” Mr Turnbull said.

Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge said Australia could move to a locally designed test focusing on conversational English, rather than using international exams.

“If you have a lot of people not speaking the language then you start to get social fragmentation and we don’t want to see that happen,” Mr Tudge told Sky News.

He said the government was considering extending the test to make it a requirement for permanent residency.

“We’re looking at whether or not we can have a reasonable, basic conversational English language requirement at that stage,” Mr Tudge said.

“We want people to be able to interact with one another, work together, play together and continue to contribute to Australian society.”

Australia is approaching a million non-English speakers and the increase is concerning, Mr Tudge said.

He wants to avoid “parallel communities” developing, which he said were an issue in some European countries.

“The secret to our success is we’ve largely had integrated communities where people have blended together regardless of where they’ve come from,” he said.

It’s not the first time Mr Tudge has flagged the importance of English for migrants.

In March he suggested migrants must demonstrate they’ve made an effort to integrate before becoming citizens, steps which could include joining a Rotary Club or a soccer team.

Any changes would need to pass parliament, but that is by no means guaranteed.

Previous changes to citizenship laws were blocked in the Senate last year and fresh talks with cross bench senators would be needed.

Source: Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge wants new English language test for migrants

Australia: Citizenship discount for migrant pensioners, widows scrapped

Migrant pensioners, veterans and widows who receive Centrelink payments will soon have to pay full price when applying for Australian citizenship after Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton removed a regulation that offered them a discounted price.

Most people pay a $285 fee when they apply for citizenship, but disadvantaged pensioners and widows have long been granted a concession rate of $20 or $40.

Mr Dutton lodged a legislative instrument on Thursday last week that removes the concession, effective from July 1. The Greens have already promised to attempt to overturn the regulation when parliament sits next week.

The change mostly affects those who hold a pensioner concession card and receive certain welfare payments, including Newstart, the aged pension, the disability support pension or parenting payments.

The Federation of Ethnic Communities, which represents migrant groups in Australia, is calling for the change to be reversed.

“This is a needless imposition,” chair Mary Patetsos told SBS News.

“It puzzles me why you would want to create a hurdle that makes a resident who is entitled to claim for citizenship choose between paying their bills and applying for citizenship,” she said.

Veterans with pensioner cards who receive income support payments – including payments for aged service, invalidity service or partner service – will also lose their discount, as will some widows who hold health care cards.

The changes will also capture those applying for citizenship a second time, who will now have to pay the full fare with each application.

SBS News asked Mr Dutton to comment on the matter but was referred to the Department of Home Affairs.

A spokesperson for the department said only three per cent of people who applied for citizenship via the entrance test – as opposed to those who became citizens by descent or adoption – paid a concession fee in the past 12 months.

“Australia’s citizenship application fees remain internationally competitive and among the lowest in OECD nations,” the spokesperson wrote.

“The Department is committed to ensuring that application fees remain compliant with the Australian Government Cost Recovery Guidelines.”

Greens move to overturn changes

The changes were introduced via a legislative instrument that amends the Australian Citizenship Regulation, meaning they did not require legislation to pass the parliament.

But the Senate can still move to disallow the motion and overturn it. Last month, the government backflipped on controversial changes to parent visa sponsorship rules after it became clear a disallowance motion was about to pass.

Greens senator Nick McKim said he would move a disallowance motion when parliament sits again next week and called on Labor and the crossbench to support him.

“It’s an incredibly small-minded and vindictive move by this government,” Senator McKim told SBS News on the phone from Hobart.

The senator questioned why the government would close the concessions when only a small number of applicants applied for a discount.

“If it’s correct that this only applies to about three per cent of applicants in the recent past, it begs the obvious question as to why in fact the government is moving forward.”

Ms Patetsos said the change was inconsistent with Australia’s approach to encourage migrants to join the broader community and would impact the most vulnerable applicants.

“We’ve always encouraged new arrivals and migrants to apply for citizenship as soon as they’re eligible and that encouragement shouldn’t be dependent on a capacity to pay,” she said.

Source: Citizenship discount for migrant pensioners, widows scrapped

Changes to UK law may provide more dual citizenship drama – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

The never-ending saga of dual citizenship and the Australian Constitution:

As the apocryphal Chinese idiom goes, we live in interesting times. We can give qualified agreement to Prime Minister Turnbull’s assertion that there has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian constitutional law expert.

So far, 15 members and senators have resigned or been ruled ineligible by reason of section 44(i) of the Australian constitution. That section provides:

Any person who: “is under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power; shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.”

All the disqualifications under s44(i) so far have related to the first part of the clause. These involved MPs who were “citizens” of a foreign power at the time they nominated for Parliament.

However, s44 does not only disqualify “citizens”. It also disqualifies anyone: “entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power.”

The High Court has not yet ruled definitively on how this provision works. However, in light of the decision in the Katy Gallagher case, it appears the dual citizenship saga may not yet have run its course.

Entitled to the rights or privileges

Citizenship is a little like herpes: you might not even know you have it. One can contract the “rights and privileges” of citizenship without showing any outward symptoms.

What are the symptoms of being “entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen”? In Nick Xenophon’s case, the High Court had to consider whether being a British overseas citizen disqualified a person under s44(i). It held it did not.

The then senator remained eligible to sit in Parliament because British overseas citizens were, essentially, only “second-class” citizens. The High Court found: “… a BOC [British Overseas Citizen] does not have the right of abode in the United Kingdom. The right of abode includes the right to enter and to reside in the country of nationality.”

As Mr Fransman observes, the right of abode is one of the main characteristics of a national under international law.

Someone without a right of abode will not be considered a citizen for the purposes of s44(i). Of course, this implies its opposite. Anyone who has a “right of abode” might fall foul of the second part of s44(i). Despite technically not being a citizen, they may be found to be “entitled to the rights and privileges of a subject or citizen”.

What is a right of abode?

Since 1983, the only way to obtain a right of abode in the UK has been to become a British citizen. People with a right of abode in the UK are exempt from customs control. They may work, live, own property and register to vote in the UK. In a deeply ironic twist, they may also stand for office.

One does not need to do anything to obtain the right of abode. The UK Home Office explains: “The right of abode is a statutory right which a person either has or does not have…”

And as we learned in the Canavan decision, when it comes to s44, ignorance is no excuse.

Contracting a right of abode

Prior to 1983, British citizenship was patrilineal; a fancy way of saying deeply sexist. Only your father could pass it on. It took a change to the law in the British Nationality Act, which came into force in 1983, for women to be able pass British citizenship to their children.

Section 44 casualties

This is where it gets complicated — and interesting. The operation of section 37 of the British Nationality Act and section 2 of the Immigration Act together mean that anyone born in a Commonwealth country before 1983 to a parent who is a UK citizen is granted a “right of abode” in the UK. Australia, of course, is a Commonwealth country.

If your father was a British citizen, or you were born after 1983, nothing changes. You would have been a British citizen by descent anyway, which means you already had a right of abode in the UK.

However, if your mother was a British citizen, and you were born prior to 1983, the British Nationality Act operates retrospectively to grant you a right of abode in the UK.

For many people, this newly discovered right will come as a welcome surprise. MPs born before 1983, who believed that they were not caught by s44(i) because only their mother was a British citizen, may find the surprise far less welcome.

Another round of section 44 cases?

One of the few things Mr Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will agree on is that predicting how the High Court will rule is a mug’s game.

We will not know whether those who possess a “right of abode” in the UK will be excluded by operation of s44(i) until the High Court explicitly considers the matter. Even then, each case turns on its own facts.

However, in light of the High Court’s fairly blunt ruling in Katy Gallagher’s case, some MPs who may have inherited more than just an inexplicable love of Coronation Street from their mother might have good reason to be nervous.

via Changes to UK law may provide more dual citizenship drama – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Australia’s Immigration Solution: Small-Town Living

Similar to strategies to encourage rural immigration in Canada (e.g., Atlantic Canada, Francophone communities outside Quebec):

PYRAMID HILL, Australia — A lanky Filipina girl with long black hair stood at the wickets behind St. Patrick’s School, waiting for a bowl from a burly dad with a reddish beard.

The cricket ball came in slow. Her swing was quick as a bee’s wing, sending the ball skyward as a gaggle of kids — mostly Filipino, some white — cheered and elbowed to bat next.

The game, played on a recent afternoon, was a typical mixed gathering for Pyramid Hill, a one-pub town of around 500 people in central Victoria that has become a model of rural revival and multicultural integration.

“I’m still surprised they’re as open to us as they are,” said Abigail Umali, 39, a veterinarian from Manila who works at a local pig farm, and whose daughter, Maria, was the girl at bat.

“This school wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them,” said Kelvin Matthews, 36, the bowler, as he watched the children interact.

Towns of a few hundred people are fading like puddles in the sun

Filipinos now make up nearly a quarter of Pyramid Hill’s growing population. New homes are going up here for the first time in a generation — and both the newcomers and lifelong residents say they have found the answer to rising concerns about immigrants straining resources in Australian cities.

It’s called small-town living.

“People in the country mix, and need to mix,” said Tom Smith, a pig farmer who inadvertently started the town’s revival in 2008 when he sponsored visas for four workers from the Philippines. “It’s just different out here; it’s the only way to survive.”

Rural collapse is a familiar tale, seen across the American Midwest and in many areas of Europe, where small communities have been squeezed by globalization. It’s no different in Australia: an urbanizing country, as physically large as the United States, where towns of a few hundred people are fading like puddles in the sun.

But the success of Pyramid Hill — and many other small Australian towns — suggests that there are opportunities being missed and lessons to be learned. At a time when politicians in Australia, and around the world, are calling for restrictions on immigration, small towns in Australia are asking for more immigrants.

“There’s a real network of people who know how to make this work, who make it work in their community and can share it with others,” said Jack Archer, the chief executive of the Regional Australia Institute, a government research organization. “This is something we should really be thinking about scaling up.”

Landmarks of Despair

Pyramid Hill is a quiet drive of about 240 kilometers, or 150 miles, from Melbourne, finishing with a stretch of land that is mostly empty except for golden wheat fields and lint-gray sheep.

The community took its name in 1836 from a granite outcrop on the town’s edge. From its peak, I had little trouble seeing newer landmarks, which rose above the countryside and hinted at local despair: grain silos that are no longer used; a pet food factory that shut down in 2008.

Residents still talk about the era before the Filipinos came as one of quiet desperation. Streets without children. Homes decaying. The town’s population bottomed out at 419 in 2011, down from 699 in the 1960s.

“We were in dire straits,” said Cheryl McKinnon, the mayor of Loddon Shire, the municipality that includes Pyramid Hill. “We needed our population to grow.”

Economists often discuss immigration in terms of a multiplier effect. Newcomers don’t just fill jobs, they also create them, by bringing demand for new products and services.

This is especially true in Australia, where the minimum wage is 18.29 Australian dollars an hour ($13.70) and most migrants are skilled workers or students.

“Australia’s focus on skilled migration has demonstrated positive effects for economic growth,” a recently published government report on population growth found, “because our migrants on average lift potential G.D.P. and G.D.P. per capita.”

In many cities and suburbs, though, population growth has brought frustration. Melbourne added 125,000 people during the last fiscal year, its largest recorded increase, and Sydney added 102,000. In both cities, immigration was the primary cause, prompting complaints about housing, crowded schools and traffic.

The areas reviving most quickly tend to offer new arrivals not just jobs but a sense of community

The government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has responded to such concerns by restricting immigration: maintaining harsh offshore detention centers for asylum seekers and limiting the number of skilled-worker visas.

Places like Pyramid Hill offer an alternative.

“There just has got to be some employment opportunity,” said Mr. Archer of the Regional Australia Institute. “There’s more of that than people think.”

Statistics from the institute suggest that many rural communities suffer not from a lack of employment, but a lack of employees.

Labor market participation in regional Australia — the areas outside major cities — is well above the national average. And since rural populations tend to be older, that means many people continue to work well after they might have wanted to retire.

Research from the Regional Australia Institute shows that the areas reviving most quickly tend to offer new arrivals not just well-paying jobs but a sense of community.

In the Shire of Dalwallinu, a town in Western Australia’s Wheat Belt that is coming back to life thanks to migrants from the Philippines and elsewhere, residents helped workers move their families from abroad.

In the small town of Nhill, in northwestern Victoria, locals have managed the arrival of ethnic Karen refugees from Myanmar since 2010, helping them find housing, learn English and engage in social activities.

Pyramid Hill’s evolution has been just as personal. Neighbors regularly meet to share food and learn about each other’s cultures.

“Every month there’s one Australian speaker and a Filipino speaker, and we cook for each other,” said Helen Garchitorena, 47, a leader of the exchange. “We explain the importance of the food, and we talk.”

Compared with those in many cities and suburbs, people in Pyramid Hill seem to have more time and interest in building bonds across ethnic boundaries. An annual Filipino “fiesta” was added to the town’s events calendar in 2015, and every week seems to include an opportunity to socialize.

Australia: Citizenship crisis: coalition resists referendum in favour of new rules for candidates

Understandable reluctance giving risks and divisiveness of referendums (and not clear whether winnable) with the unfortunate result that Australian parliaments will continue to be significantly under-representative:

Candidates will have to disclose the birthplace and citizenship of themselves, their parents and grandparents before the next federal election under changes announced by the government to try to put an end to Australia’s citizenship crisis without a referendum.

On Thursday an inquiry examining section 44 of the constitution warned that, without a referendum, elections could be subject to “manipulation” by challenges against candidates with dual citizenship or other disqualifications.

Despite the electoral matters committee’s bipartisan push for a referendum to reform or repeal section 44 of the constitution, the special minister of state, Mathias Cormann, confirmed that the government was “not inclined to pursue a referendum”.

Instead the government will pursue steps “to minimise the risk of a recurrence of the eligibility issues” that have plagued the 45th parliament, in which 14 parliamentarians have resigned or been ruled ineligible since mid-2017 owing to dual citizenship.

The government set up the inquiry into section 44 by the joint standing committee on electoral matters after the high court ruled five senators and MPs ineligible in October.

In a bipartisan report released on Thursday, the committee recommended the government prepare a referendum question to either repeal all the disqualifications for standing for parliament in section 44 or to give parliament the power to set the disqualifications itself.

But the committee acknowledged a referendum “will not be positively received by Australians and the outcome … is uncertain”.

It accepted the “preconditions for a successful referendum on this issue will take time” and cannot be achieved before the “Super Saturday” byelections triggered by the high court’s ruling against Katy Gallagher or before the next federal election.

The committee suggested a series of measures to “mitigate the impact of section 44” including:

  • a requirement that all candidates reveal their family citizenship history at the time of nomination and information relevant to other disqualifications;
  • an “online self-assessment tool” to be developed by the Australian Electoral Commission;
  • improved education for minor parties and independents; and
  • exploring expedited citizenship renunciation processes with foreign governments.

At a press conference in Brisbane Malcolm Turnbull said the government did not have time to deal with a referendum before the next election and the Australian people “expect us to deal with the constitution as it stands”.

Even in the longer term, the prime minister said he “very much doubted” whether Australians would support a change to the constitution.

Cormann said the government would instead “move to improve the existing candidate nomination process for elections”.

In November the government introduced a new citizenship register requiring current and future parliamentarians to reveal their birthplace, that of their parents and grandparents and to produce documents showing renunciation of foreign citizenship 21 days after their election.

Cormann announced those requirements would now be applied to “candidates for election to the Australian parliament” who will provide the information to the AEC “as well as information on other potential disqualifications under section 44 of the constitution”. This is likely to require disclosure of criminal convictions, bankruptcies and interests in contracts with the government.

The committee warned that section 44 opened the electoral system to “the risk of manipulation, where a successful candidate could have their election challenged on the basis of preference flows from an ineligible candidate”.

“This raises the possibility of deliberate manipulation of disqualification rules to overturn an otherwise valid election,” it said.

The committee noted that when all the disqualifications in section 44 are considered – including foreign citizenship, employment in the public service and an “indirect pecuniary interest in an agreement with the commonwealth” – more than 50% of the Australian population is ineligible to run for parliament.

The report argued that the ban on dual citizens caused numerous problems, including uncertainty for parliamentarians who were unsure of the citizenship of their parents or grandparents, and the possibility that foreign governments could manipulate eligibility by not processing renunciation in a timely manner.

“Challenges to sitting members will continue into future elections; disrupting electoral outcomes, causing uncertainty and confusion, and having the potential to undermine the authority of both federal parliament and the constitution itself.”

Despite those dire warnings the chair of the electoral committee, the Liberal senator Linda Reynolds, told Guardian Australia she was “not [so] pessimistic” to suggest it will take further disqualifications to convince Australians of the need for a referendum.

“We need to start a conversation about whether the rules are the right ones for today’s society,” she said.

Reynolds cited the fact that public servants have to give up their jobs to run for parliament, and the citizenship requirements favour “Australians with a long-term unbroken family history” and those who can afford legal advice to remove disqualifications.

via Citizenship crisis: coalition resists referendum in favour of new rules for candidates | Australia news | The Guardian

Further article: Will we actually vote on changing the constitution after the dual citizenship fiasco? – Politics – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Australia: Citizenship inquiry to recommend referendum, which Turnbull rejects

Although I believe that s. 44 of the Australian constitution is a historic anachronism, holding a referendum would be  high risk and divisive:

Malcolm Turnbull has given a strong indication that the government will oppose a referendum to fix the citizenship crisis, arguing they are hard to win and that aspiring politicians should “get their act together” and renounce foreign citizenship instead.

The prime minister’s opposition to a referendum puts him at odds with the Liberal senator Linda Reynolds, who has spearheaded a six-month inquiry into section 44 of the constitution. She believes there are “no easy options” to fix the crisis and a referendum is needed to reform or repeal the “profoundly undemocratic” section.

Guardian Australia understands that the joint standing committee on electoral matters will meet to finalise its report on Friday and will lay out a series of options – all of which involve a referendum.

These include options to remove section 44 entirely, to replace the ban on foreign citizens with a requirement for parliamentarians to swear an oath of allegiance, or to allow parliament to set the disqualifications in legislation, not the constitution. The overwhelming weight of evidence to the committee supported constitutional change.

It is understood that the government is keen to make only administrative changes – such as improved disclosure or new Australian Electoral Commission powers to check compliance – but these options are not supported by the electoral committee.

On Thursday the Labor leader in the Senate, Penny Wong, reiterated that a section 44 referendum was not a priority for Labor, citing the need to make other constitutional changes first.

The high court decided to disqualify the Labor senator Katy Gallagher on Wednesday, triggering the resignation of four MPs – including three Labor MPs – over dual-citizenship issues.

Turnbull told ABC’s AM that the high court’s decision meant “you have got to get your act together before you nominate”. He noted that most of the cases had been dual citizens with UK citizenship, which he said was “very straightforward” and “not complex” to renounce.

Pressed on whether Australia should have a referendum on section 44, Turnbull said the government had put forward its preferred interpretation of the disqualification of dual citizens in the “citizenship seven” case last year but the high court had not accepted it.

In that case, the commonwealth argued that parliamentarians who were unaware of their dual citizenship could not have allegiance to a foreign power but the court held that the section barred all foreign citizens.

Turnbull said changing the constitution “is very hard and [it’s] very hard to get support for [a referendum]”.

“So I think the best advice, given that the election will be next year, is for everyone to get their act together and make sure they are not a citizen of anywhere else before they nominate.”

Turnbull played down expectations that the Coalition could win seats in byelections to be held in Fremantle (Western Australia), Braddon (Tasmania), Mayo (South Australia) and Longman (Queensland), arguing that “byelections are always tough for the government”.

He said it would be up to state divisions to decide whether to run candidates in those seats but the Liberal party believed in fighting for government.

Turnbull said the byelections were “a test for Bill Shorten” who had failed to take responsibility for the Labor MPs’ refusal to resign after the Matt Canavan decisionset the test for dual citizens in October.

On Wednesday Shorten refused to apologise for allowing his MPs to sit in parliament while ineligible, citing the fact they had relied in “good faith” on legal advice.

On Thursday the manager of opposition business, Tony Burke, offered that Labor was “sorry it has turned out this way” while Wong told ABC Radio National: “We regret voters are put to the inconvenience and cost of byelections.”

In reference to warnings from academics that, after the Canavan decision, “reasonable steps” to renounce were not sufficient, Wong said “lawyers say a lot of things” and Labor had acted on its advice.

She said the test for dual citizens was strict but Labor would rather have referendums on Indigenous recognition in the constitution and other “more important issues”.

“Parties just now have to apply the high court decision to their processes,” she said.

Before the Gallagher decision, Linda Reynolds, the chair of the joint standing committee on electoral matters, said her view was “the evidence to the committee is the only way these problems will stop is via a referendum”.

The deputy chair of the joint standing committee on electoral matters, the Labor MP Andrew Giles, said the uncertainty about eligibility “can’t continue” as it was “compounding frustrations with the state of politics today”.

“It’s a collective responsibility to resolve this uncertainty, and also to make sure that all Australians can have their say in what restrictions should apply to running for election to our national parliament.”

Source: Citizenship inquiry to recommend referendum, which Turnbull rejects