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Immigrants Becoming Aussie Citizens

November 3, 1999

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ Iranian immigrant Susan Ghaemi lived in Australia for almost 10 years before becoming a citizen.

It wasn’t any lack of love for her adopted home that delayed Ghaemi’s decision for so long. It was that in becoming a citizen, she had to swear allegiance to a foreign monarch.

In one of the few lingering links with former colonial ruler Britain, immigrants becoming Australian citizens must swear allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II _ the country’s official head of state.

``I really hated doing it because the British are not popular in Iran and are associated with exploitation in Iran and throughout the Middle East,″ Ghaemi said.

Of Australia’s almost 20 million people, 23 percent were born overseas. When Australians vote Nov. 6 on whether the country should have its own president as the head of state and become a republic, Ghaemi _ like many other immigrants _ will be voting yes.

Last year, the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia, the national umbrella group of various migrant organizations, overwhelmingly endorsed the proposed switch to a republic.

Randolph Alwis, the federation’s chairman, said the British monarchy is viewed as monocultural, a slap in the face to Australia’s cultural diversity and multiracial mix.

``We all know the monarchy stands for a certain group,″ Alwis said. ``It does not reflect diversity and has a bias against women. It’s time for our own head of state.″

Australia has been independent since 1901, but like many Commonwealth nations, it still recognizes the British monarch as its head of state.

Under the proposed new system, the president would be elected by a two-thirds parliamentary majority. The position would hold the same, largely ceremonial powers as the Queen’s current representative in Australia, the governor general.

Australia’s immigrant population hails from around the world, including Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Thiam Ang, an immigrant of Malaysian-Chinese descent, thinks having a president would promote inclusion.

To be Australia’s head of state under the current system, he said, you have to be British, Anglican and a member of Britain’s Royal House of Windsor.

Not all migrant groups are on the same side, though. Abraham Constantin, chairman of a group called No Republic of Cultural Diversity, said many migrants like Australia as it is and don’t want change.

``In Australia, it was a case of we came, we saw, we stayed,″ Constantin told The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.

But for Ghaemi, change is crucial. It wasn’t until then-Prime Minister Paul Keating raised the prospect of Australia becoming a republic in the early 1990s that she decided to swallow her pride and take the oath required for citizenship.

``I wanted to pledge my allegiance to the people of Australia,″ she said. ``Australia is home.″

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