Monday, June 14, 2004

A minor victory on the Identities Bill

The government has backed away from removing the automatic right of citizenship by being born here in the new Identities Bill, but it's still far from perfect. The chief problem - and the one I did my nut about when the bill was first floated - is that the government can take your passport off you and forbid you from travelling "where national security is threatened". While this has been tightened up considerably, with the introduction of a time-limit and rights of appeal to the High Court, it still is not enough. The balance is still tilted too far in favour of the government; the default is that you lose your passport until you successfully appeal (assuming you can afford to). This flies in the face of the presumption of innocence, one of the pillars of our whole legal system. Furthermore, it will allow unscrupulous Ministers to abuse the system, relying on the expense or length of the appeals process to effectively bar people from travelling overseas for specific events (my obvious fear here is the targeting of those wanting to attend international protests or conferences, where NZ participation may be embarrassing to the government-of-the-day). Unless it shifts the balance so that the government must go to court and prove its case before being allowed to forbid travel (surely a requirement in a free and open society?), or an automatic, cost-paid, expedited appeal (which amounts to the same thing), this move should be opposed.

The bill also tightens up the requirements for moving from residency to citizenship - a move which seems to be driven mainly by mean-spiritedness and a desire to pander to Australian fears about people using us as a "backdoor" to their country. This goes against our long tradition of being a generous, open and welcoming nation, and it should likewise be opposed.

So, while there's been a minor victory on this bill, there's still a lot of fighting to be done.