24 June 2015
The right to be a citizen is one of the most fundamental rights we possess. Be it something we acquired because of our birth in this country, or because it was subsequently awarded to us, or whether it be the citizenship of another country, it is an inalienable characteristic of who we are. Throughout history the assertion of the right to citizenship has been paramount in the fight for equality. It cannot be easily cast aside or removed. The French Revolution, the American Civil War, and more recently President Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, and Nelson Mandela’s long walk to freedom have all in their own way emphasised the importance of citizenship.
The quest for citizenship makes moves like those currently under consideration in Australia to remove citizenship from Australian foreign fighters abhorrent. While New Zealand properly retains the right to cancel a person’s passport for security or other reasons to restrict their rights of movement, we would never contemplate stripping a New Zealander of citizenship and leaving them stateless, nor should we.
But there is another far more positive aspect to citizenship to consider. Citizenship is a badge of belonging – a recognition that the country of which one is a citizen is not just the place where one lives, but the place one can properly call home. And with that goes a certain amount of pride. Citizenship helps bind us all together, no matter the diversity of our origins and circumstances. Every week, I approve the applications of hundreds of people, from all over the world, who have met the 5 years residency requirement to become New Zealand citizens. On many occasions throughout the year, local Councils up and down the country hold ceremonies at which new citizens take the oath of allegiance as citizens of our country. (It is now hard to imagine that up until the mid 1990s citizenship certificates were just routinely mailed out to new citizens without any other fanfare. I was also the Minister back then and I made it mandatory for there to be proper locally run citizenship ceremonies that all new citizens were required to go through. Despite the grizzles from some Councils at the time at the additional costs they would incur literally for tea and biscuits, it was the right decision, and we are clearly the better for it.)
Today, I think there is scope for further changes to better promote citizenship. In short, I want to see more of those who come to live in New Zealand encouraged to become citizens once they qualify. I have therefore asked officials to look at ways we can better promote the advantages of citizenship to residents, and encourage more of them to apply to become citizens once they qualify. The diversity of our citizens makes us stronger, and the infusion of their languages, cultures, histories and traditions into ours makes us a better, stronger nation, more able to make an effective contribution in the international community.