Chapter Ten - The Committee's conclusions
10.1 It is clear to the Committee that those who make up
the large global community of expatriate Australians feel very strong links
with their homeland, despite the physical distance that separates them from our
shores. This is true for many, whether they are the so-called 'gold-collar
workers' employed in highly-skilled professional jobs, or whether they are
migrants who have returned to their country of origin after many decades of living
10.2 Australia as a nation needs to reach out and embrace
its expatriate population. Not only are they a part of our nation, but as many
have stated, they are our ambassadors-at-large. The growth in the size of the
Australian expatriate community reflects the increasingly mobile and globalised
world in which we live. Expatriates can play a vital role in increasing
Australia's foothold in world markets.
10.3 The Internet has made it much easier for expatriates
to stay in touch with news and developments in Australia. Many, however, feel a
sense of exclusion; that they are 'over there, out of mind'. This is especially
so when expatriates attempt to deal with Australian government agencies and
find it difficult to access information and services. The Federal Government has
a clear role in providing services to these Australians.
10.4 It is important that Australia reaches out and engages
with the expatriate community. The nation's leaders have a clear role in
articulating the inclusion of expatriates in Australian society, and expressing
the value of expatriates to Australia.
Communication and access to information
10.5 A recurrent theme in evidence to the inquiry was the
concern of expatriates over difficulties experienced accessing government
information from a distance, and the sense that they were forgotten once they
left Australia. Despite living in a world of high-tech communications and sophisticated
Internet connections, Australian expatriates around the world regularly
experience frustration when trying to contact Australian government agencies,
or when attempting to find out information for themselves on websites provided
10.6 Governments have a responsibility to provide
information, and to provide it in a way that is accessible. In the age of the
Internet, and with over three-quarters of a million Australians living
overseas, it is difficult to understand why the Australian Government does not
have a central web portal to cater to the needs and concerns of such a large
group. This is especially so, given the fact that unlike other groups, Australians
living overseas do not have the option of phoning the toll-free numbers of
agencies such as the Australian Tax Office, for example, or of visiting their
nearest Centrelink Office.
10.7 As discussed in Chapter 4, the Federal Government has
recognised the need to create and maintain dedicated web portals for specific
groups of Australians. Under the Government's 'Customer Focussed Portals
Framework', a number of web portals have already been developed which allow
easy online access to government information and services for specific customer
groups, in the one place, without users having to know which government agency
to contact. Web portals have already been developed for specific groups of
Australians including seniors, Indigenous Australians, and Australians living
in regional areas.
10.8 Expatriates are a large customer group needing access
to government information and services. Their needs and concerns cannot be
ignored by government. The Committee is strongly of the view that expatriate Australians
would greatly benefit from the existence of a web portal, and that a web portal
for expatriates should be included in the Government's Customer Focussed
10.9 A primary purpose for an expatriates web portal would
be to provide information about government services targeted and focussed towards
expatriates, and news of changes in legislation affecting expatriates. In
addition, an expatriates web portal could include links to websites of
expatriate groups and forums, and to professional groups and networks that
foster interaction between expatriates and their counterparts in Australia.
10.10 The Committee recommends that the Australian
Government establish a web portal devoted to the provision of information and
services for expatriate Australians. A suggested name for the portal is www.expats.gov.au.
The Committee recommends that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
should be the lead agency in the development and administration of the expatriates
Policy formulation and coordination
10.11 The Committee agrees with suggestions by many who made
submissions to the inquiry that there is a need for a body dedicated to
developing and coordinating policy as it relates to Australian expatriates.
Responsibility for the needs of expatriates lies across many departments and
agencies. Although existing frameworks of government administration may have
worked well enough to date, it is clear that expatriates must be recognised as
a growing segment of the Australian population that cannot be ignored, and for
whom governments must develop specific policy.
10.12 There is clearly a need to coordinate Commonwealth
policy in some way. The sense of exclusion from Australian society felt by many
Australians living overseas is heightened by the absence of any organised
approach by government to their particular needs and requirements.
10.13 The Committee supports calls for the establishment within
the Federal Government, of a policy coordination unit focussed on expatriate
affairs. The many issues of concern raised during the course of the inquiry and
discussed in this report illustrate the need for such a coordinating body.
10.14 The Committee recommends the establishment of a policy
unit within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to facilitate the
coordination of policies relating to Australian expatriates. Responsibilities
of the policy unit should include:
- formulation of a coordinated policy regarding
- consultation with groups from the expatriate
community, industry, academia and other stakeholders in the formulation of
- monitoring research developments and opportunities in
relation to expatriates.
10.15 In order to assist policy development relating to
expatriates, the Committee recognises that it would be desirable to improve the
statistical information collected about Australian expatriates. However, the
Committee does not believe that it is necessary or desirable to attempt to
include expatriate Australians in the Australian Census. Rather, the Committee
strongly believes that the focus should be on improving the existing methods
used by the ABS, DIMIA, and DFAT. The Committee considers that improving the information
collected from incoming and outgoing passenger cards could prove particularly
10.16 The Committee recommends that the Australian Bureau of
Statistics, the Department of
Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and the Department of
Foreign Affairs and Trade should continue to improve the statistical
information collected in relation to Australian expatriates, particularly
through the use of incoming and outgoing passenger cards.
Australian missions overseas
10.17 The Committee received evidence of much useful
collaboration between expatriate Australians and their local Australian
missions in promoting Australia's interests overseas. However the Committee
also notes evidence that there is potential for improved communication between
mission staff and expatriates, and that the level of interaction and engagement
between mission staff and expatriates is inconsistent across overseas posts.
10.18 The Committee supports calls for an increased priority
to be given to engagement by mission staff with expatriates, and for such
engagement to be made a part of official directives to heads of missions.
10.19 An important part of mission engagement occurs when mission
staff and expatriates collaborate to advance Australia's interests, for example
at consular functions promoting Australian business. To facilitate this
collaboration, the Committee sees significant benefits in the development by
missions of a database of local expatriates.
10.20 A database would allow expatriate Australians to
register as having specialist skills in certain areas or professions, or as
working or living in particular geographic regions. Missions would then have
access to a useful database of skilled local Australian expatriates, available
to be called on in relation to activities promoting Australia and Australian
business. Missions could also use this register to provide notification of
upcoming events and business opportunities. Such a database would be in
addition to the DFAT online registration service, which is operated primarily
as a way of contacting Australians in the case of emergency.
10.21 The Committee recommends that the consular role for
foreign missions be revised to contain a specific requirement that posts engage
with the local expatriate community, in any and all ways possible appropriate
to that location.
10.22 The Committee recommends that the websites of
Australia's foreign missions should include an online registration facility to
enable local expatriates to register their professional profiles. The profiles
database will facilitate stronger engagement between missions and expatriates,
and will provide a resource for missions in their work of promoting Australia's
interests overseas. It would also be used to notify expatriates of news and
Concerns regarding voting and citizenship
10.23 The Committee strongly believes that, in order to
fully embrace our Australian expatriate community, the concept of Australian
citizenship needs to be more inclusive. Australians living and working overseas
are part of the Australian nation, and should be valued and recognised as such.
10.24 The Committee acknowledges the concerns of former
Australian citizens who have had difficulties in resuming their Australian citizenship,
especially those who lost their citizenship under the now repealed section 17
of the Citizenship Act, or who were forced to renounce their citizenship under
section 18 of the Citizenship Act. The Committee supports the proposed changes
to the Citizenship Act to rectify
these situations, but considers that the proposed changes do not go far enough.
10.25 In particular, the Committee believes that all
children of people who lost Australian citizenship under section 17, and
children of people who renounced their citizenship under section 18, should be
eligible for Australian citizenship by descent.
10.26 The Committee recommends that the Australian Citizenship Act 1948 be amended to ensure that children
of people who previously lost their citizenship under section 17 of the
Citizenship Act are eligible to apply for Australian citizenship by descent.
10.27 The Committee recommends that the Australian Citizenship Act 1948 be amended to ensure that children
of people who renounced their citizenship under section 18 of the Citizenship
Act are eligible to apply for Australian citizenship by descent.
10.28 Further, the Committee is concerned that Australians
living overseas in countries with restrictions on dual citizenship may continue
to be forced to renounce their Australian citizenship while section 18 remains
in the Citizenship Act. For this reason, the Committee supports the suggestion
that it is time to review section 18 of the Citizenship Act, particularly
whether the provision may be disadvantageous to Australians living in countries
with restrictions on dual citizenship.
10.29 The Committee recommends that the Department of
Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs conduct a review of
section 18 of the Australian Citizenship
10.30 The Committee acknowledges DIMIA's recent efforts to
respond to certain concerns relating to the provisions of the Citizenship Act.
As noted above, the Committee supports recent proposals to amend the Citizenship
Act to address these some of these concerns.
However, the Committee recognises that there may be other situations and
circumstances relating to citizenship issues, in addition to those mentioned
above, that need further detailed examination.
10.31 In particular, the Committee strongly believes that
Australian citizenship law and policy needs to continue to evolve to reflect changing
global conditions, and our increasingly mobile population. The Committee therefore
considers that the Citizenship Act should
be reviewed on an ongoing basis to ensure that the legislation continues to
reflect notions of citizenship in modern Australian society. The Committee
believes that DIMIA should establish an advisory committee to assist it in reviewing
10.32 The Committee recommends that the Department of
Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs establish an advisory
committee to review the Australian
Citizenship Act 1948 on an ongoing basis to ensure that the legislation
appropriately reflects notions of citizenship in the 21st century.
10.33 The Committee considers that improvements could be
made to the information made available to Australian expatriates in relation to
citizenship. The Committee recognises DIMIA's efforts in relation to providing information
relating to citizenship, but believes these efforts could be further improved
where expatriates are concerned. In particular, the Committee considers that
DIMIA should continually review its website with a view to providing detailed
and accurate citizenship advice for Australian expatriates. The proposed web
portal for expatriates should also contain information and links in relation to
relevant citizenship issues, including links to the DIMIA website.
10.34 In addition, the Committee recommends that DFAT and DIMIA
should work together to improve citizenship advice and services at overseas
missions, and in particular to ensure that staff at DFAT's overseas posts receive
appropriate training in relation to citizenship issues to enable them to handle
queries about citizenship from expatriates.
10.35 Finally, the Committee considers that the Citizenship
Information Phone Line administered by the DIMIA could provide better services
to Australian expatriates. In particular, the Committee believes that an
internationally accessible phone number should be provided for Australians
10.36 The Committee recommends that the Department of
Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs continually review its website
with a view to providing more detailed, accurate and specific advice and
information in relation to citizenship issues for Australian expatriates. The
web portal for expatriates (proposed at Recommendation 1) should also contain
information on citizenship issues, including links to the relevant parts of the
website of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous
10.37 The Committee recommends that the Department of Foreign
Affairs and Trade and the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and
Indigenous Affairs work together to improve citizenship advice and services at Australian
overseas missions, and in particular that the Department of Immigration and
Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs conduct regular training for staff in
overseas missions to enable to them to handle queries about citizenship from
10.38 The Committee recommends that the Department of Immigration
and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs provide an internationally accessible
phone number for the Citizen Information Phone Line.
10.39 The Committee recognises the efforts of the AEC to
improve education and awareness of enrolment and voting provisions among
Australians overseas. The Committee considers that these efforts should be
supported and continued.
10.40 However, the Committee believes that a greater number
of expatriate Australians should be entitled to enrol, and subsequently to vote,
in Australian elections. The Committee recognises that many Australians living
overseas maintain their connections to Australia, and are able to keep informed
in relation to Australian affairs. In particular, Internet technology means it
is easier than ever for Australians overseas to keep informed of events and
issues in Australia. For this reason, the Committee considers that the
enrolment provisions for Australian citizens overseas should be relaxed to make
it easier for expatriates to maintain their electoral enrolment (or 'EOE
status'). At the same, the Committee supports the notion that such Australians
should be required to demonstrate some form of continuing connection with
Australia, such as having returned to Australia in recent years, along the lines
of the approach taken by New Zealand.
10.41 The Committee therefore considers that Australian
citizens moving or living overseas should be entitled to register as an
'Eligible Overseas Elector' if they:
- left Australia in
the previous three years or have returned to Australia (for any length of time)
in the past three years; and
- intend to resume
residence in Australia within six years of their departure.
10.42 In the case of Australian citizens who have been
living overseas for over six years, the Committee recommends that they should
be entitled to renew their enrolment for up to three years at a time if they
have returned to Australia (for any length of time) within the last three
10.43 At the same time, the Committee believes that voting
should continue to be non-compulsory for overseas Australians.
10.44 The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 should be amended as follows to assist
expatriate Australians to maintain their electoral enrolment:
citizens moving or living overseas should be entitled to register as an
'Eligible Overseas Elector' if they left Australia in the previous three years,
or have returned to Australia (for any length of time) in the past three years;
and they intend to resume residence in Australia within six years of their
citizens who have been living overseas for over six years should be entitled to
renew their enrolment as an Eligible Overseas Elector if they have returned to Australia
(for any length of time) within the last three years.
10.45 The Committee recommends that voting for overseas
Australians should continue to be non-compulsory.
Engagement with expatriates
10.46 The Committee recognises the benefits to be gained
from maintaining links with Australian expatriates in the academic field and in
the professional field, and supports and encourages schemes that encourage
collaboration and networking.
10.47 The Committee is particularly encouraged by the growth
in the number of expatriate networks that have been set up in recent times.
These networks play an important role in linking up Australians overseas with
each other, and with professional, business and social organisations in Australia.
They are invaluable for facilitating networking and in providing useful
information and support. The Committee supports these networks, and considers
that the proposed expatriates web portal could provide a home for a listing of
these networks, thus facilitating increased awareness.
10.48 The Committee recommends that the web portal devoted
to the provision of information and services for expatriate Australians
(proposed at Recommendation 1) should include a page of links to expatriate
network websites, to facilitate engagement and information exchange in the
expatriate community. The web portal should include a page where expatriate
networks can apply to have their websites linked.
10.49 The Lowy report pointed out that there is potential
for a greater contribution from expatriates to non-profit organisations and
philanthropic causes in Australia, such as to universities and arts
organisations. The Lowy report argued that Australian institutions needed to
connect with potential givers overseas and maintain sustainable relationships
with them. The Committee supports the recommendation of the Lowy report that non-profit
organisations should pursue the fundraising opportunity offered by this
potential 'pool of philanthropic income', and should combine their efforts to
achieve benefits of scale.
10.50 The Committee recommends that Australian non-profit
organisations such as universities and arts organisations should pursue
philanthropic contributions from expatriate Australians, and should combine
their efforts to achieve benefits of scale.
Senator the Hon Nick Bolkus