Monday, 14 August 2017
Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill 2017; Second Reading
I represent one of the most multicultural parts of Australia. More than half the people who live my electorate were born overseas. That's more than almost any other electorate in this place. It means I go to a lot of citizenship ceremonies, and, like all members of parliament, I love going to them. It's one of the best parts of our job. When I speak at these events, I tell new citizens that they're part of a long history of migration.
Except for the first Australians, we're all migrants or the descendants of migrants, and it's not just a story of British migration until the last few decades. The First Fleet had people from other parts of the world. There were former African slaves from the United States who fled with the British after the revolutionary war who were on the First Fleet. Arthur Phillip, the first Governor of New South Wales, was half German. The first Chinese migrant, Mak Sai Ying, arrived here in 1818—a good decade before my first convict forebear. He married a woman named Sarah Thompson, they had a bunch of kids and he ended up running a pub called The Lion, in Parramatta, not far from my electorate. That's the sort of story that's repeated itself time after time after time over the last two centuries—people who have come here from all parts of the world, some with barely two bob to rub together, and made a go of it and made a success of it.
Of the miners who rose up under the Eureka flag in 1854, there were people there from more than a dozen different countries, including Finland, Jamaica, Italy and Sweden. Among the soldiers at Gallipoli, there was a bloke called Billy Sing. His mum was English and his dad was Chinese. He was a sniper. He was the best the Anzacs had. His actions saved countless Australians on that rugged peninsula. If you go down the road from here and visit the War Memorial, you'll see a place littered with names. It includes the names of people who weren't born here but died for us. That's Australia. They're the sorts of stories that I like to tell at these citizenship ceremonies.
I also tell the story of an 18-year-old Vietnamese refugee who fled Vietnam after the fall of Saigon, being shot at as he left, and I tell the story of a 17-year-old Vietnamese girl who fled with her sister and one change of clothes. She made it to Malaysia where she was put in a UN refugee camp. She spent the next 10 months there until, one day, someone said, 'You're going to Australia.' Those two teenagers didn't know each other then, but they soon would. Soon after arriving in Australia, they went on a blind date at Bondi Beach. A few years later, they were married and had kids.
Those two Vietnamese refugees are my mother-in-law and father-in-law. If this legislation that we're debating here today was in place all those years ago, they would never have been able to become citizens of this great country. That's because what the government wants to do here is change the law so you can't become an Australian citizen unless you've got university-level English skills. That counts my mother-in-law and father-in-law out. They can speak English—their English is pretty good—but is it university level? No, and it never will be. But, I tell you what, they're good Australians, and, like thousands and thousands of other people who've come here over the decades, they've learned a new language, they've got a job, they've raised a family and they've made a go of it. They've even set up their own business. These are the sorts of people who we should be congratulating. This legislation says that they shouldn't even be citizens. How on earth could I vote for that? How on earth could I vote for something that says they shouldn't even get a vote? How could I?
How could I look my little boy in the eye when he grows up and tell him that I voted for something that meant that his grandparents shouldn't even be citizens of Australia?
I don't want people to get the wrong impression here; I understand how important English is. English is critical if you want to succeed in Australia, and I see how important it is in my own electorate. In Blaxland, in south-west Sydney, the unemployment rate is double the national average. It won't surprise anyone in this place that it varies depending on how good your English language skills are. The unemployment rate amongst people whose first language is English is about five per cent. In other words, it's around the national average. But, among people who don't speak English very well, or at all, the rate of unemployment is about 25 per cent. That tells you how important English is. The better your English, the better your chance of getting a job, the better your chance of getting ahead and the better your chance of integrating properly into our society. But that doesn't mean we should be denying people citizenship because they don't have university-level English skills. It means we should be doing more to boost these skills. It means providing more English language training and making sure people finish the skills courses that they start. This legislation doesn't do any of that.
It's important to make the point here that the test to become an Australian citizen is in English. So, to become a citizen, you already need to be able to speak English, and read and write it. You just don't need university-level English. Now apparently, unless you can write an essay, unless you can write a university thesis, you're a threat to national security. That's the argument the government's making here. That's what Peter Dutton, the Minister for Immigration and Border Security, the future Minister for Home Affairs, has said—that this is all about national security. What a joke! What a joke!
In the last parliament, in the previous government, I was the Minister for Home Affairs. I held that job for two years, and, throughout all of that time, no-one told me that we need Australian citizens to have university-level English skills in order to make this country safer. And the people who are advising this government are the same people who advised me. None of them ever made that argument to me.
If this is about national security, where's the evidence from ASIO? Where are the recommendations from the AFP? Where's the advice from the department of immigration that this is necessary for national security? It doesn't exist, because it's not about national security. That's just a made-up argument to make the government look tough. It's about politics. If anything, this sort of legislation has the potential to make us less safe, because what this does is divide us into two groups: a group of Australians who are citizens or could become citizens, and those who know they never will be citizens. And, for that second group, knowing that they can never, ever become Australian citizens is going to make them feel like they're not one of us—like they don't belong. When that sort of thing happens, well, that's very dangerous. That's when bad things happen, and we've seen plenty of evidence of that recently overseas.
The fact is that this is not about national security. It is just wrapped up to look like national security. The reality is that it's about politics. The government are behind in the polls, and they think this makes them look tough and they think this is going win them votes. But my response to that is: if you think this is going to win you votes, then think again, because there are a lot of people in this country like my mother-in-law and father-in-law: people in their 60s, 70s and 80s; people who came here in the 1960s, the 1970s and the 1980s; people from places like Greece, Italy, China, Vietnam, Serbia, Croatia and parts of South America—people who have come from all around the world in the last few decades.
Twenty-eight per cent of Australians were born overseas, and a lot of those people don't speak perfect English. But, I'll tell you what, they work damn hard, they've paid their taxes and they've voted a lot of times over the years, sometimes even for the Liberal Party. Some of them live in marginal seats, like Banks, Reid and Chisholm. This legislation is a slap in the face to them because what the government is saying with this legislation to all of those people is that they think they shouldn't be citizens, that they think that they shouldn't even be allowed to vote. Well, that should go down well! That should go down real well in all those marginal seats. Good luck convincing all of those people from all around the world who have lived and voted here for decades that you don't think they should be citizens and that you don't even think they should get a vote on election day. I think when they find that out this government are going to have a lot of trouble convincing them to vote for them again. Don't worry, Mr Deputy Speaker Irons—we'll be reminding them what this legislation is all about. We will be saying to voters: 'Do you have university-level English skills? No? Well, Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberal Party think that you shouldn't be a citizen. Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberal Party don't even think you should get a vote on election day.' Let's see what happens then.
This is a big mistake by this government. One hundred years ago they wanted to stop people coming here by using a dictation test. This isn't that, but it's certainly using similar techniques. That might have been popular 100 years ago, but it's not going to work now because we are a different country to that. This is bad law. It's bad for national security and it's bad politics. If the government don't get it now—well, boy!—they'll work it out soon enough, because this is not good for national security. No-one's going to be safer because of this, particularly not marginal Liberal members of parliament. If this government were smart, they would back down from this at 100 miles an hour. But I don't think they're smart enough. They should back down from this before they do more damage to our community and before they do more damage to themselves. But I know they won't do that, because I don't think they even realise what they're doing to our community or to themselves yet—but they will. They'll work it out eventually, except it will take an election for them to work out what a mess they have made of this. I'm proud to represent my community, a multicultural community, one of the most multicultural communities represented in this place. I will be very proud later this day to vote down this terrible legislation.