Thursday, February 25, 2016

rights and responsibilities

Well I've finally made it, I've got my citizenship of Aotearoa New Zealand. It has taken a few months over ten years since I moved here and I really don't want to think about how many dollars the Depts of Immigration, and Internal Affairs have had out of me between them along the way, and there's still a passport to pay for! However no matter what happens to the rules and regulations about permanent residents I know I'm safely ensconced here and I can come and go (once I've obtained aforementioned passport) whenever I like.

It was a strange experience going to the ceremony and affirming my loyalty to Queen and country (Queen Elizabeth II of New Zealand that is, quite who they think QEI was I don't know). For some there it was a obviously a very emotional event. I'm not really one for ceremony and dignitaries etc, and I probably have a rather cynical view of such proceedings, I would've been quite happy just getting a letter in the post. But it was nice to be able to go through the ceremony in the atrium at Te Ahu which I'm rather fond of, and to be able to have Phyllis and William with me in support.

In many ways though it felt like rubber stamping; transferring my Quaker membership here felt like it had far more significance to me emotionally, and spiritually. Getting citizenship has been the legal side of things. As we were about to head over I said to Phyllis that I felt like I was dressed for a wedding; something old (my brooches), something new (my shawl), something borrowed (Nancy's shoes) and something blue (the shawl again). I've known a few folk who've got the legal side of their weddings done separately from the more meaningful (to them) celebration of their relationship and commitment and it does all feel rather similar, albeit lacking any kind of party 8yrs or so ago when I was formally handed over from the care of South East Scotland MM (or no doubt Area Meeting by then) of Britain YM to Waitemata North MM of the YM of Aotearoa New Zealand.

The way many Kiwis have become second class citizens in Australia in recent years, with limited or no rights to citizenship, benefits, education grants for them or their children etc etc etc has certainly been an extra incentive to ensure I did get my citizenship here. Thankfully our Government hasn't stooped to playing the same game against the Aussies, or those from any other country, yet, but to be quite honest I wouldn't put it past them. Especially now Britain has started removing rights Kiwis have previously had to health care whilst in the UK. When folk jokingly or otherwise had suggested in the past that I take the 'green card' route to residency I'd pointed out that aside from the dearth of eligible options I wouldn't want my ability to stay in the country to hang on my ability to stay in a relationship. Nor would I want it to hang on my ability to stay healthy! I don't exactly have an outstanding track record on either front, and yes the two have certainly been related at times.

There have been various occasions over the years when people I know well have risked getting arrested whilst taking part in non-violent direct action. I've never dared take part in case it affected my ability to stay here. As Kiwis are being bundled off to detention camps ready for deportation from Australia for being of 'bad character' or having clocked up a cumulative two years in jail again it is a reality that if the powers that be decide they don't like you they can kick you out if you aren't a citizen. We won't go into the irony of Australia kicking convicts out whilst still considering their convict early settlers to be next to royalty! It doesn't matter why you were in jail either; so clocking up jail time from protesting against weapons trade fairs, or against keeping refugee children in detention camps where there is torture and other human rights abuses going on would have you treated the same way as someone done for fire arms offences or grievous bodily harm. Now I'm not about to rush out and get myself arrested at the next protest march (they can still stop my benefits!), but at least my concerns on that front now are the same as the next Kiwi's, and there is certainly plenty to protest about. I'm not sure if my British citizenship (which I retain) would protect me from being treated like a second class citizen in Australia or not now I'm a Kiwi, but as I have absolutely no desire to live there (too many nasty poisonous bitey things, and that's just the politicians....) it is a moot point.

So yes, I'm proud to be a Kiwi and it is most definitely home, but that means taking the rough with the smooth. Much as we like to describe this country as paradise it is a relative term, and there is much room for improvement. I see part of my responsibilities as a citizen are to challenge the inequalities; to speak truth to power; to be part of kicking up a noisy fuss when things aren't right; especially on behalf of those who, like I was just a few days ago, don't yet have the security of knowing their place here is permanent.

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