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Senate Inquiry into Australian Expatriates: Overview

Final Inquiry Report Tabled on 8 March 2005

The Australian Senate's Legal and Constitutional References Committee finally tabled its Report in the Inquiry into Australian Expatriates in Canberra on 8 March 2005. The 168-page Report can be accessed here. In its introduction, the Committee states:

In the same way that most expatriate Australians still embrace Australia as their home, we should embrace our expatriate community as part of the Australian nation, and recognise that our expatriates are an important part of Australian society.

The Senate Committee has made 16 recommendations. They include the establishment of a dedicated government information and services website portal for overseas Australians, and the establishment of a special policy unit within DFAT to coordinate and consult on diaspora policies.

Importantly, the Senate Committee also recommends that the Australian Citizenship Act 1948 be amended to ensure that children of people who lost their citizenship under the now repealed Section 17, as well as children of those who renounced their citizenship under Section 18, become eligible to apply for Australian citizenship by descent. This recommendation, if and when it becomes law, would provide access to Australian citizenship for the children of some 2,000 Australian-born Maltese citizens in Malta.

Perhaps most significantly, on the issue of voting rights, the March 2005 Report marks a fundamental shift in thinking among Australia's federal parliamentarians concerning the entitlement of Australia's overseas citizens to be engaged in the electoral process. The Senate Committee has recommended that the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 should be amended as follows to assist expatriate Australians to maintain their electoral enrolment:

This recommendation is explicitly supported by Government senators. The Committee has also recommended that voting for overseas Australians should continue to be non-compulsory.

We stress that the Committee's recommendations on citizenship issues and voting rights are only recommendations at this stage. For these recommendations to be implemented, the Government would have to amend certain legislation.

The Southern Cross Group welcomes the Senate Committee's Report, and thanks the Senators on the Committee, as well as all the Committee's Secretariat staff for the efforts they have put in. The SCG would also like to thank all those Australians at home and abroad who took the time to make submissions to the Inquiry in late 2003 and early 2004. We can be proud that 677 submissions from all corners of the globe were logged by the Committee's Secretariat. They have contributed to a wide-ranging, comprehensive and carefully thought out Inquiry Report, a document which can now serve as an initial blueprint for Australia in engaging with its overseas citizens going forward.

The Southern Cross Group made a substantial primary submission to the Inquiry which is on the Committee's webpage as Submission No. 665, followed by a number of supplementary submissions - click here to read the many interesting contributions. Hearings were held on 27 July (Sydney), 28 July (Melbourne) and 29 July and 4 August 2004 (Canberra). The SCG's Australian Co-ordinator, John MacGregor, and SCG Co-founder Anne MacGregor, were witnesses at the Canberra hearings. Hansard transcripts of the hearings can be found here.

Do you have comments or thoughts on the Senate Committee's Report and the Recommendations it contains? Share them with us by writing to info@southern-cross-group.org.


The material below is for background purposes and of historical interest only, as the submission deadline for this inquiry was 27 February 2004. The Inquiry Report was tabled on 8 March 2005, and the Inquiry is now closed.

The Australian Senate's Legal and Constitutional References Committee has opened an inquiry into all aspects of the Australian diaspora. This is your chance to tell Canberra your thoughts and views - don't miss this unprecedented opportunity to make your voice heard, whether you're in Australia or overseas! The closing date for submissions is Friday 27 February 2004. To read some of the submissions already sent in, click here.

You can make your submission directly from this website. But before you go to our E-mail Submission Template, we suggest you read the practical information below, and browse our "Ideas for your Submission" page. Alternatively, download and print out a pdf version of the information on these pages to keep at hand when you write your submission.

If you are an Australian-born Maltese citizen who had to renounce your Australian citizenship by your 19th birthday, we encourage you to make a special submission based on your particular situation. Please download our guidance document here and/or call our SCG volunteer committee member in Malta, Norman Bonello, tel + 356 79 468 329 for further information. If you are a a member of the Maltese community in Australia, please support your compatriots in Malta by sending the Senate Committee this Letter of Support by 27 February 2004, by fax: 02 6277 5794 or to legcon.sen@aph.gov.au.

What's This Inquiry About?

The terms of reference for the Senate's Inquiry into Australian Expatriates are very broad. They should allow individuals and organisations ample scope to cover the issues that they believe are important on a personal level or more widely for Australia and its diaspora as a whole.

Terms of Reference

(a) the extent of the Australian diaspora;

(b) the variety of factors driving more Australians to live overseas;

(c) the costs, benefits and opportunities presented by the phenomenon;

(d) the needs and concerns of overseas Australians;

(e) the measures taken by other comparable countries to respond to the needs of their expatriates; and

(f) ways in which Australia could better use its expatriates to promote our economic, social and cultural interests.

Go to Ideas for Your Submission Page >>>

Who Should Contribute to the Inquiry?

Any individual or organisation that has something to say on any of the above terms of reference should contribute to this inquiry. Contributors can be in Australia or overseas. They might be Australians citizens, people who have lost their Australian citizenship, people who have never been Australian citizens but have a link with Australia or Australian heritage, or other individuals or organisations with a connection or interest in Australia. We also encourage Australians who have lived overseas and then moved back to Australia to contribute their perspective on "repatriation" or "re-entry" and issues associated with "going home". Migrants to Australia who have become Australian citizens or spent many years in Australia and now live outside Australia again will also have an important perspective to offer.

Go to E-mail Submission Template >>>

What's Not Relevant for this Inquiry?

If what you have to say can be related to one of the above terms of reference, then it will be relevant. On the other hand, if you wished to make general comments directed towards aspects of Australia's foreign policy, for example, without somehow relating this to diaspora issues, this would probably be considered as falling outside the terms of reference for this inquiry. The Legal and Constitutional References Committee may reject a submission that is not relevant to the inquiry.

Remember that at any point in time there are a number of parliamentary inquiries into various subjects underway. You may have something to contribute to another inquiry. For a full list of current inquiries, click here.

Go to Ideas for Your Submission Page >>>

Privacy Issues and Confidentiality

All submissions made, unless otherwise stipulated, will become part of the public record that anyone may have access to.

It is a requirement of making a submission to a Parliamentary inquiry that you sign the submission. If it is an e-mail submission, and you can't physically sign it, you are nevertheless required to supply your name, phone number and postal address so that your submission can be verified by the Committee if need be.

During the inquiry, the Legal and Constitutional References Committee will meet regularly and at each meeting will take note of the submissions it has recently received, accept them and approve them for publication on the Committee's website page. After each submission has been approved in this way, it is normal for them to appear on the Australian Parliament House website on the special page for the particular inquiry. Until your submission is released by the Committee (i.e. published on the APH website) you must not disclose it to others. If you disclose your submission to others before it is released, it will not be protected by Parliamentary Privilege.

Your submission will be published in whole, i.e. including your personal contact details, unless you communicate clearly to the Committee that you do not want certain details published. If you want your personal contact details kept confidential, or if you want the content of your submission to be kept confidential in whole or in part, you must say so clearly at the top or in a covering note. You should also state why you want it to be kept confidential. If you only want a part of your submission to be kept confidential, put that part on a separate page(s). If you have concerns about privacy or confidentiality, please take up contact directly with the Committee Secretariat, contact details below, before you make your submission.
If you do wish to request confidentiality for some or all of your submission, then it is probably wise to make your submission as a Word or pdf document with clear stipulations on each page as to whether the contents of that particular page is confidential or not. Your document can be then attached to an e-mail, and/or sent by post or fax.

You may also wish to read the document "How to make a submission to a Senate Inquiry" on the Australian Parliament House website.

Go to E-mail Submission Template >>>

Parliamentary Privilege

Making a submission is protected by Parliamentary Privilege. Under Australian law, it is an offence for anyone to try to stop you from making a submission by threats or intimidation. It is an offence for anyone to harass you or discriminate against you because you have made a submission. The content of the submission is also protected but only after the committee has accepted it. This means that what you say in the submission, once the Committee has accepted it, cannot be used in court against you or anyone else.

How, Where and When Should I Send My Submission?

The deadline is 27 February 2004. If you have no privacy or confidentiality concerns, then the body of the text of your submission can simply be sent in an e-mail. You may wish to use the e-mail submission template on the Southern Cross Group website to do this.

Or you can send an e-mail directly to legcon.sen@aph.gov.au, either with the body of your submission in the e-mail itself, or attaching a Word or pdf document.

If you don't have access to a computer, or if you have confidentiality concerns then you might want to send a hard copy. Submissions can be typed or clearly hand written in black ink. The Committee prefers to receive electronic versions of submissions on disk or by e-mail accompanying hard copies. But if you can't get this organised, it's fine to simply send a hard copy by itself by post or fax:

The Secretariat
Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee
Room S1.61, Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
Telephone: +61 (02) 6277 3560
Fax: +61 (02) 6277 5794

Go to Ideas for Your Submission Page >>>

Go to E-mail Submission Template >>>

Format and Length of Submissions

A submission may be as short or as long as you like. It doesn't matter if you only have a few words to say - it's still important for your voice to be heard.

A submission may contain facts, opinions, arguments or recommendations. It may cover all the points in the terms of reference or only some of them, depending on what interests you. Supporting documents may be attached.

To have a look at some of the submissions already received by the Senate Committee in this inquiry, click here.

There is no prescribed format. But if your submission is a longer document, it might be helpful to structure it with headings, perhaps based on the terms of reference, or to provide a summary at the front.

Go to Ideas for Your Submission Page >>>

Go to E-mail Submission Template >>>

Tell Others About This Inquiry

The success of this inquiry will depend on the number and quality of the submissions the Committee receives. Can you help encourage other Australians, either overseas or at home, to participate? Maybe you are involved in a local Australian expat group or you have friends who might want to contribute. We've prepared a general flyer to help spread the word. Download an A4-size version here, or a US Letter-size version here. The flyer can be given out at functions and events, sent to your mates, pinned up on noticeboards, or reprinted in newsletters. Thanks for lending a hand!

Where did the Impetus for this Inquiry come from?

The SCG has been lobbying for this inquiry for some time. In January 2003 we secured an undertaking from the ALP in its Citizenship Policy Paper to put such an inquiry on its agenda. Then, on 14 October 2003, Labor Senator the Hon. Nick Bolkus gave notice in the Australian Senate of a proposed reference to the Senate's Legal and Constitutional References Committee for an inquiry into all aspects of the Australian diaspora. See the Hansard extract here. Also see the joint media release of 14 October by Senator Bolkus and Laurie Ferguson MP, Shadow Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Minister for further background. The motion received the formal go ahead from the Senate without opposition on 16 October 2003. On approval of the motion, the SCG issued a media release. The new inquiry was also reported in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on 25 October 2003.

Go to Ideas for Your Submission Page >>>

Go to E-mail Submission Template >>>

General Information About the Australian Diaspora

When the Southern Cross Group was formed in early 2000, the "Australian Diaspora" was simply not a concept. Few people knew that there were over 800,000 Australian citizens living outside Australia. The Australian expatriate community was largely forgotten about in Australia.

The word "diaspora" is derived from the Greek verb speiro (to sow) and the preposition dia (over). It means "dispersion". The ancient Greeks thought of diaspora as migration and colonization. Probably the most famous use of the word is in connection with the Jewish diaspora.

Today, various peoples abroad who have maintained strong collective identities have come to define themselves as modern diasporas, even though, unlike older diasporas, they were neither active agents of colonization nor passive victims of persecution.

Five years ago, no one envisaged that thousands in the Australian expatriate community in all corners of the globe would come together over several years to successfully work for the repeal of Section 17 of the Australian Citizenship Act 1948. In the twenty-first century, e-mail and internet increasingly link overseas Australians to each other and to Australians at home. Our collective identity is continuing to consolidate.

The Southern Cross Group's Australian Coordinator, John "Sid" MacGregor, developed a paper in early 2001 outlining his thoughts and vision for what he termed the "Australian Diaspora". His paper was originally published on our old website, and is currently being updated for inclusion on our new website here soon.

During 2002, the SCG began calling for a general, comprehensive Parliamentary Inquiry into all aspects of the Australian diaspora. This was reflected in our media release for Australia Day 2003, distributed on 23 January 2003.

The Australian Labor Party announced on 26 January 2003, as part of its Citizenship Policy Statement, that it would initiate such an inquiry. Read the ALP's accompanying media release of the same date here. We hope that the Opposition, working the the Democrats in the Senate (where those two parties hold the balance of power together) will be able to set the wheels in motion for this Parliamentary inquiry to begin in the course of 2003.

The SCG has used the term "Australian Diaspora" in much of its work, and the concept has also been picked up by the media in Australia and elsewhere. The establishment of the concept has contributed to the increasing recognition and ever-growing understanding in Australia that Australians overseas are an important part of and resource for Australia, even though they may live geographically outside its territorial boundaries for part of their lives.

Other documentation of interest about the Australian Diaspora is available in the Australian Diaspora folder of the SCG Archives on this site, including the SCG's 2004 Australia Day Media Release.

Below we have extracted some recent material from the Australian print media about the Australian diaspora.

The Australian - 27 January 2003
"Expats feel snubbed at home", by Simone Pitsis

BRW - 18 April 2002
"The missing link is an expat web", by Terry Cutler

The Weekend Australian - 7-8 December 2002
Inquirer, page 23, "EXPATS, precious EXPORTS", by Kate Legge

The Australian - Monday 9 December 2002
Editorial, page 8, "By losing citizens we gain the world"

It's not surprising diaspora - the scattering of people overseas from their homeland - has been regarded as a misfortune. The archetypal diaspora of the Jews arose from catastrophe. Others - the exodus of the Irish and Chinese - were attempts to flee poverty and find survival, if not prosperity, abroad.

As a nation that has benefited from the disaporas of others, Australia should be alert to the truth that a scattering of its people sows seeds for a richer and more interesting future. In the 1950s, many talented young Australians went to Europe, leaving behind what they regarded as a stultifyingly provincial culture. The diaspora of recent years has less to do with cultural angst and more to do with the vast opportunity of the global market for the young and highly skilled, especially in the professions and services made more dynamic by communications technology.

Almost a million Australians - 5 per cent of our population - are living abroad on a long-term or permanent basis, according to official figures. Many are members of a new class of highly mobile workers much sought after by nation states in pursuit of economic growth. Asia and the US are especially common destinations.

The conventional view of such emigration used to be to deplore it as "brain drain". In fact, Australia still manages a net inflow of skilled workers. The broader point is that Australians abroad promote Australia's interests, often in unexpected ways. Even if they do not consciously set out to do so, they tend to establish contacts and networks overseas that can advance the cultural and commercial interests of Australia.

In many cases, as the time to establish a family arrives, young professionals return to Australia with the myriad benefits, tangible and intangible, of their experience abroad. Those benefits may be economic or they may be social - a society cross-fertilised by a range of international contacts is a more vital and interesting place to be.

For these reasons it makes sense for federal government policy to encourage the eventual return of many young and skilled expatriates. The Government has the advantage of a recent report by Graeme Hugo, head of geographical and environmental studies at Adelaide University. He concedes that the decision to return is often influenced by considerations remote from policy. He cites the "grandparent factor', and there is also the wish to raise children in a safe and pleasant environment, as is still possible in many parts of Australia.

But there is work for government to do. Professor Hugo's suggestion of a register of overseas professionals - which embassies and consultants could use to ease the process of return - would be a practical beginning. Also worth a review are tax (young professionals returning to Australia will find themselves too quickly in the top tax bracket) and superannuation (global portability is the ideal).

However, if a significant number of young Australians decide to live their lives elsewhere, that should be no cause for regret. They are expanding the boundaries of what it means to be Australian.

The Australian - Tuesday 10 December 2002
Extract from Editorial, page 10, "Axe the taxes for a fair go"

Australia is supposed to be the land of the fair go...Is it any wonder that high tax rates are sapping the motivation to work hard, and driving increasing numbers of Australians overseas? Look at the US, where the top tax rate of 39.6 per cent applies to incomes of around $500,000 and above to find out why. The Australian's reporting on the Working Rich and our diaspora speak volumes about the tax trap. Who'd think Australia could ever be the source of "economic refugees" escaping to less-taxed and more lucrative shores, where extra work is rewarded rather than poured down the tax drain?

The loser, of course, is Australia. High tax rates that cut in at low thresholds force many highly skilled expats, who have been working at the cutting edge of the new economy, to think twice about returning. And when it comes to attracting skilled workers from overseas, there's only so much that Australia's climate, environment and relative security can offset against uncompetitive salary packages...

If you have any thoughts or comments on the "Australian Diaspora", please get in touch with John "Sid" MacGregor in Canberra. You can also browse further documentation on the Australian diaspora in our Archives.

Go to Diaspora Inquiry E-mail Submission Template >>>

Go to Ideas for Your Submission Page >>>

Read the 8 March 2005 Report resulting from this Inquiry

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15 September 2008