Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Identity Bill

The Identity (Citizenship and Travel Documents) Bill passed its first reading last week. The bill will make a number of changes to the Citizenship and Passports Acts, some of which are sensible and justifiable - tilting the balance so that people with serious criminal convictions will not generally get citizenship; fixing a loophole which had deprived some Tokelauans of their New Zealand citizenship - and some of which aren't. The provisions of greatest concern are those extending the length of time people must be resident in New Zealand before becoming eligible for citizenship, and allowing the government to refuse or cancel passports on security grounds.

The first strikes at the heart of what this country is all about, and shifts us from being an open, generous and welcoming nation to one with a fortress mentality based on distrust. It seems to be driven primarily by the Australians, who are worried that "undesirables" (meaning non-whites) can use New Zealand as a "back door" to Australia by the cunning ruse of becoming New Zealanders. It's mean-spirited and tells immigrants "we don't want you". Is this really the way we want to be advertising New Zealand to the world?

The second provision relating to passports is more concerning. While it has been tightened significantly (the Minister can now only cancel or deny a passport if a person intends to commit a terrorist act, WMD proliferation, or unlawful activity causing devastating economic damage to New Zealand for commercial gain), it is still a gross violation of the presumption of innocence and effectively punishment on the basis of suspicion. As I've said before, suspicion is not enough; if the government wants to take people's passports away, they should have to go to court and get a judge to OK it.

While it is not presently part of the bill, the government also plans to move an amendment (after the select committee process, to prevent public scrutiny) removing the automatic right of citizenship by birth. Their "justification" for this is that a handful of people apparently come here specifically to give birth so that their children are New Zealand citizens (hence pregnancy tests for Tongans). Again, this is a matter of who we are as a country - and I don't think its worth undermining our fundamental values of inclusiveness for a tiny "problem" like this. If people want to come all that way so their kids can be part of our family, then let them.

If you feel strongly about any of this, then you can make a submission on the bill. Twenty copies, by Friday, 10th September, to:

Michele Charleton
Government Administration Committee Secretariat
Parliament Buildings

(No postage required)

If you need help with a submission, there's an online guide here.