Thursday, 10 August 2017
Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill 2017; Second Reading
Last night, I spoke about the response of my electorate to the Turnbull government's ill-considered Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill 2017. It is a bill that is lacking any clearly or concisely articulated purpose or imperative. It is a bill that does not clearly and concisely outline what is broken and why there is a need for change. While I was speaking, the Minister for Urban Infrastructure interjected—I am glad he is in the House—interjected, saying: 'Your electorate is Canberra. That's no guide.' The minister then went on to suggest that Canberra was totally out of touch and that it was not in the real world. So I say to the Canberrans working in the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development: your minister thinks you're out of touch. Your minister thinks you don't live in the real world. Your minister thinks you do not reflect the rest of Australia. Your minister doesn't think you pay rent or have a mortgage. Your minister doesn't think that you are juggling that rent or that mortgage with your car repayments and your bills. Your minister has no understanding of you. And from that you should construe that he has no respect for your public service, for the service that you give to our country or for you. I say that to his department: he has no respect for you.
But we should not be surprised given this government's complete and utter contempt for Canberra. Coalition governments have got form when it comes to Canberra. It's just the axing of thousands and thousands of jobs, no investment in infrastructure and complete and utter contempt and scorn.
I'm very pleased to be able to speak on this bill today. As soon as I heard about the proposed changes to immigration measures in the Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill 2017, I immediately started planning a community consultation on these changes in my electorate office because I knew that it was an issue that was going to cause a lot of a lot of anxiety and a lot of distress and I knew that it would be an issue that my constituents would want me to go in to bat for them about. It is a divisive effort by this government; it is shameful.
The attendance at the consultation in my office was overwhelming. I've never seen so many people at a meeting in a space like that. I really almost needed a football field. There were that many people distressed about the effects that these measures that this government wants to put forward would have on their families. It was clear to me that there are a couple of major problems with this bill. The constituents who attended and their family members made these things very clear.
The first was the English language testing. There is obviously a view that the proposed testing doesn't actually measure peoples' ability to communicate. Instead it is a test that measures university-level English. I want to commend the efforts of the Multicultural Council of the Northern Territory. In their submission they mention this issue and note that the bill, at paragraph 212(e), requires applicants seeking to satisfy the general eligibility criteria for citizenship have competent English and note that there is a concern in the multicultural community that the legal definition of 'competent English' as defined by the department is that you've achieved a score of at least six in each of the four test components. I want to commend again the work of the Multicultural Council of the Northern Territory. It's clear to anyone who's at all in touch with our community that a measure of university-level English is not an appropriate measure of the standard of English that's required to communicate effectively and to contribute to our society.
I fear that this will see skilled migrants with family members who haven't got level 6 English leaving our country at exactly the time when we need them. We want people coming into our country. We want people to become citizens. We do not think it is necessary for them to have university level English. It is an incredibly unfair and anti-family measure. This is a big point that was brought up by the distressed people who attended that consultation. This new test will effectively be splitting family units based on their English language ability.
I just use as one example a Greek roofer who came to see me. He has been working here for about eight years, but his English language will never be at university standard. His wife is an Australian citizen. Their children were born in the Royal Darwin Hospital and are Australian citizens. But under the Turnbull government's plan, he will never be an Australian citizen. His wife and his kids are. He's been paying tax. He's contributing. He's a coach down at the football club. How is he coaching young Australians to play football? He has not got university level English, so how is he able to communicate? How is he able to fix roofs in Darwin without university level English? It's amazing how he's got by working, providing for his family, living the Australian dream in the Top End of Australia. He will never become an Australian citizen, and that is very sad and unnecessary. I ask those opposite: what do you want to be remembered for? Do you want to be remembered as the mob who just went about dividing our country based on whether people had university level English or not?
Someone who managed to become an Australian citizen without having to do university level English testing contacted me recently, wanting to know if I could help her to bring forward her citizenship. She has already got permission from the department. Minister Dutton has already written her a letter to say, 'Well done, you're going to become an Australian.' What I noticed in her letter to me was that the English was not absolutely perfect, but I understood every word she was saying. In particular, I understood this part, 'We want to be a proud Australian citizen soon as we love and settled in this country.' Anything that is not clear there to those opposite? She has been living in our community. She has been contributing to our community. Her family, her children, are Australian citizens. She has waited longer than expected to become an Australian citizen, but she is patiently waiting and asking: 'I've been approved. Can I just get to a citizenship ceremony so that it can be confirmed, because we love this country that we've settled in?'
The concept of Australian citizenship is effectively how we define what it is to be Australian. I believe that the changes that those opposite want to bring in actually undermine what it means to be Australian. It will change the way we define our country and ourselves, and I don't believe it's in the Australian spirit. I believe that the changes those opposite want to bring forward are not in the Australian spirit. It all comes down to what type of Australia do we want to be. Those opposite—probably they're a bit distressed about their lack of leadership, lack of vision for our country, lack of any new ideas other than taking from those with not much and giving it to the top end of town. I feel for them, in a way. It must be dispiriting to be a part of an organisation that is more about dividing the Australians than uniting Australians.
While we are talking about social cohesion, those opposite are trying to bring forward a raft of changes that will mean that there is a group of people working and living in our society that, in reality, will never become Australians. I hope those opposite are not proud of that. It seems that this fear is crippling those opposite. In the face of this fear, we need to stand up, as I am doing today and as many on our side have been doing, to say these changes aren't helpful.
We are a nation at a crossroads, in some ways. We could go down this track of disunity by dividing people by the level of university English they might have. Those opposite will continue to try to use reasons like national security. Our national security is far too important to be a plaything for those opposite to divide our country. All members agree that keeping Australia safe is vital, but have any of these changes been recommended by a security agency in this country? The answer is no. Will they stop people coming to our country? The answer is no. I'm not sure if those opposite are aware, but we actually want to build our country and build our society as we have from early in the 20th century when we had people coming from all around the world to literally build our cities and our society.
The Prime Minister goes on and on about how we are such a successful multicultural community. Well, how did that happen? How did we become a successful multicultural community? Perhaps it was because we had an immigration program that we can be proud of that brought people into the country, screened them and brought them into our citizenship. Those opposite are deliberately trying to change a system that is not broken. They are trying to stand in front of flags and say it is part of national security. I, personally, find that a bit offensive. What is it actually going to do to improve national security? That's a fair enough question to ask. I can't see how it will do it. Commonsense says that, if those opposite were genuinely trying to improve national security, they would be looking at ways to create a community that is cohesive and united in itself against those who would do us harm, not creating a subclass of people who will never be able to proudly say, 'I am Australian'.
Another reason, I have heard, for these are cruel changes is integration but this is not supported by these changes that those opposite seek to make. I have mentioned the Greek roofer in my electorate but I will also mention the Vietnamese horticultural community down in the rural area. This community of people came here after the Vietnam War and built a horticultural industry in that rural area that provides more output—more fruit and vegetable product—than the whole of the Ord system. Amazing, isn't it? Could they sit down and pass a university-level English test? Probably not. Some of them fought with our soldiers in the Vietnam War. They came out here as refugees. What does it say to those communities of people that we have taken into Australia? It says that we are going to deliberately change the rules of our country and our citizenship so that you are excluded and that, whilst your spouse or your children may be Australian, you will never be.
So the entire basis of these changes is completely flawed. They don't make sense. They are immoral. They are fundamentally wrong. We need to remember that security agencies have not put these changes forward. There is no evidence to support these changes. We need to remember that we are the most successful multicultural society in the world for a reason, and that is that we have a great immigration program. To use language that's probably not Oxford-level, university-standard English: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Perhaps those opposite could reflect on the fact that dog-whistling on issues like this is on its way out because Australian values have shifted a bit from when Prime Minister Howard so expertly used division to get political success. In some ways, that was carried on a bit by the member for Warringah when he was the Prime Minister. But I think it also showed that it was not particularly successful then, and it's probably something that those opposite should reflect on, because it is not sending our country in the right direction. We want to have strength in diversity rather than division.