House debates

Thursday, 10 August 2017


Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill 2017; Second Reading

4:15 pm

Photo of Nick ChampionNick Champion (Wakefield, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This is a very important bill which we are discussing in the House today, because it goes to the heart of what kind of country we are. Australia is a great country, with much of its greatness being developed in the postwar period. Of course, our nation's character in the postwar period has been defined in many ways by our successful long-term, large-scale migration program.

It was Arthur Calwell, a former member for Melbourne, who stood in this House soon after the postwar period and talked about Australia at this time having around 22 million people. He was prescient in what kind of country we were going to develop into it. When you look at Calwell's speeches around this time—it's important to see what he was saying as the postwar immigration minister and the father of this program—he said 22 November 1946:

We Australians are a young and virile people and our national heart beats strongly. But the body, of which that heart is the motivating force, is a huge land mass, an island continent of some three million square miles with 12,000 miles of coastline. Before a body of such vast dimensions can be operated at full efficiency, its heart must beat strongly and be fed by the extra life-blood which only new citizens can supply.

They are such noble sentiments in the wake of World War II, such a terrible period when so many Australians served, when the nation's territorial integrity was threatened, when there was the threat of invasion and when there was the threat of isolation from the United Kingdom and from America through interception of our sea lanes.

It was important that we put down this marker that we were going to develop as a country. As part of that development we were going to bring people to Australia, settle them and make them new citizens. That was part of the postwar settlement. That was part of the postwar recovery. That was part of the nation we were to become. Nearly every family has been touched by this migration program. Nearly every community has been touched. In my country town, which was a predominantly white Anglo-Saxon town, we had Lebanese shopkeepers: the famous Rawady brothers' deli in the main street of Kapunda.

Every community, every city and every town was touched by this postwar migration system, and it's useful to think back to the sentiments that Calwell said around 1945, this time on 2 August:

That these people can be absorbed into our community life in the course of one generation is proved by the fact that the Australian-born children of most foreign-born parents have played their part in the fighting services in the defence of Australia in this war and regard themselves as Australians, having equal citizen rights and bearing equal national responsibilities with every other Australian.

This was recognising that so many of our troops had foreign-born parents even at that time. He warned the House and the nation when he said:

Unfortunately, campaigns are fostered in this country from time to time on racial and religious grounds by persons who have ulterior motives to serve. The activities of such people cannot be too strongly condemned. They are antiAustralian and anti-Christian, and make not for national unity and national wellbeing but for the creation of discord and bitterness that is harmful to Australia at home and abroad.

That was what Calwell told this House, and they are words that echo down the generations. They are a warning of what could happen from time to time in Australia: outbursts of racial and sectarian intolerance, of racism and of sectarianism which is fostered by people who have ulterior motives and who seek to damage this country, not to protect it.

You only have to go and look at the One Nation memes and websites, at the sorts of things they are saying not just about good Australians but about members of this House and members of the other place, to know that those campaigns are still run from time to time. I know that the member for Bendigo has seen such sectarianism, such poison, in her own community and fought it off.

This bill is a sign of the Prime Minister's weakness and of the government's weakness—the fact that they would mess with what has been a bipartisan, community led, community accepted approach to citizenship over all of these years, which has been so successful when you compare it to the rest of the world. We do not have the problems of many other nations. When people come here, the sun doesn't just scorch their backs; it bleaches all of the troubles and the wounds of the old world out of their souls, and they become Australian very, very quickly. They are more Australian than they are anything else.

If you go to any citizenship ceremony, you see this. You see people proud to be citizens. I always remember these images from citizenship ceremonies. There was an African man literally covered with Australian flags. The children, the young people, always look more Australian—they are always dressed in the latest clothes, and they look more like each other than they do their parents. They look hip and trendy. I remember one bloke who showed up in his stubbies, and he had a singlet on. I think it was a Bundy singlet. He was a longstanding English migrant who came here as a child and was finally getting his citizenship. Any citizenship ceremony will tell you that these people want citizenship. They want to be part of Australia. They don't want to be part of anywhere else in the world. They want to bring their customs here. They want to protect their heritage. They want to honour the journey that they have made to Australia, in same way that everyone does, in the same way my English father did and the same way my forebears did, no matter when they came.

This is a critical bill about the character of the country, about the nature of our country. And to change it in such a way, without bipartisanship, without accord in the community, is a terrible indictment on this government. Those members of the government who think seriously about these things know it to be true. No matter what they say in their speeches or the sentiment they express, they must understand this is desperate, desperate stuff in attempting to appeal to sections of the community which, as Calwell reminded us, appear from time to time but must be resisted and must be faced down.

I could talk about all the problems of this bill—about the values statement, which we don't need, because people already make a commitment to this country in the current citizenship ceremonies. I could tell them that the English language test at the moment is perfectly okay and that, in the English language test that they seek to implement, many of the people who came here in that postwar migration process would not pass. And all of those good Australians, some of whose children sit in this very chamber, would have been excluded from our national life.

I don't think my friend the Treasurer of South Australia would mind me talking about his father, who came here from Greece, who worked in factories all his life. When we were in Young Labor, we used to go to the chicken shop down there on Jetty Road, in Glenelg, and Tom, who is now Treasurer of South Australia, used to always insist that we had free chicken and chips and stuff. His dad was there working day and night as a small business man. He did not speak very good English, but Mr Koutsantonis was a great citizen of this country—a very great citizen of this country. Tom always tells a story about his dad, who gets together with the next door neighbour every afternoon on the verandah. His dad does not speak very good English and the next door neighbour does not speak very good Greek but they get together every afternoon. That journey from Greece is the Australian experience, because his son is Treasurer of South Australia.

In the next breath, I could talk about Tung Ngo, who came here from Vietnam. He came out of a refugee camp in Hong Kong, I think it was. Half of his family, his parents, went to Louisiana and the other half came to Australia so he was separated from his parents but he was grateful for the opportunities that Australia gave him, and now he sits in the Legislative Council of South Australia. We are an extraordinary nation where people can, in one generation, be fully accepted into our national life, and yet this bill would have excluded so many of those people. It would have excluded most of the workers in the Snowy Mountains scheme, most of the workers in our factories at Holden and on the docks, all of those people.

Photo of Angus TaylorAngus Taylor (Hume, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation) Share this | | Hansard source

I grew up in this country.

Photo of Nick ChampionNick Champion (Wakefield, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We have the government minister telling me I am wrong. He tells me he 'grew up in this country' so he knows it.

Photo of Angus TaylorAngus Taylor (Hume, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation) Share this | | Hansard source

I grew up in the Snowy.

Photo of Nick ChampionNick Champion (Wakefield, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

He grew up in the Snowy, apparently, so he knows it. But he was not there in the Nissen huts at Jindabyne.

Mr Taylor interjecting

His granddad was the boss, he tells me! I bet you your granddad, if he was here, would tell you this is a stupid idea.

Photo of Angus TaylorAngus Taylor (Hume, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation) Share this | | Hansard source

Everyone had English lessons. They all learnt to speak English.

Photo of Nick ChampionNick Champion (Wakefield, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's good that you should raise this because this is at university level.

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

This is a very interesting debate but we must let the member for Wakefield conclude it on his own.

Photo of Nick ChampionNick Champion (Wakefield, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank you for your protection, Deputy Speaker. I do not often get it and I do not probably deserve it. I do not mind debating the government minister. I will take all his interjections into the Hansard. But this bill has serious problems with it, and those opposite know it's got serious problems. The government funds English language training—if we want to talk about that—to high school level, to conversational level, but they are asking people to meet a university-level test that, frankly, a lot of people would struggle with. I could think of a few members from other states who may struggle with it rather badly. Some of them would really struggle with it. So why are we making people who come here from Afghanistan or from Sudan or from the Congo or any of these other places, who desperately just want to start a new life, who want to become Australians and who, in a very short time, will become part of the national fabric? The daughter of one of the Afghan leaders in my community is a chemical engineer. From Afghanistan they came, she's a chemical engineer and she married an Irishman. This is a good story. Our country is a strong nation because of this experience yet those opposite are messing with it.

You can go and have a look at shadow minister Burke's speech to find all of the technical problems and all the reasons why we are opposing it and all the reasons why there should be a Senate inquiry. But the best thing would be for the government to withdraw it, to sit down with the community and with the opposition and start again. That would be a greater act of statesmanship than the sorts of interjections, platitudes and history lessons we get from the other side. It is tremendously important that this bill is resisted. The national character of our nation, which the Calwell and the Chifley governments gave birth to, but was supported and implemented in large part by the Menzies government, should be continued in the same spirit and faith in which it was begun.

Debate interrupted.