House debates

Thursday, 12 November 2020

Bills

Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021; Consideration in Detail

11:31 am

Photo of Alan TudgeAlan Tudge (Aston, Liberal Party, Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure) Share this | Hansard source

Let me address a few of the questions which have been put so far. Firstly, in relation to citizenship ceremonies, in the last 12 months we've had record numbers of people becoming citizens. More than 200,000 people, in fact, pledged their allegiance to Australia in 2020, which is a 60 per cent increase on the previous year. We have very much got on top of the backlog that was there previously, in part due to COVID.

Secondly, in relation to the permissions platform which the shadow minister was asking about and the $75 million which has been allocated in the budget, the answer is no, that's not just for procurement. Of course that's not the case. In fact, that money goes to procurement and processing costs, ICT preparations, biometric and identity systems developments, business case developments et cetera. So it's a full suite of things which that funding will be going towards.

In relation to the humanitarian questions which the shadow minister asked, he asked directly whether this was in fact a cap. It is a cap. It's no longer a target. That was a decision which was made in this particular budget. Of course the 13,750 figure, if achieved this financial year, will in fact, be a higher number than it was last financial year, when the figure was in the low 13,000s. With that figure, we'll still be the third most generous country in the world, on an absolute basis, in relation to our humanitarian intake.

Finally, in my last three minutes let me address the member for Berowra's question in relation to English language. I commend him, first of all, for the outstanding remarks that he just made in relation to English language, when he pointed out the critical importance of it for our social cohesion. It was a beautiful story that he gave himself, which he related to this chamber. I'll give a couple more stats on that. Today, of those who do not speak English, only 13 per cent are in work. I'll say that again. Only 13 per cent of those who don't speak English in Australia today are in a job. That's the employment rate, not the unemployment rate. If you do speak English, it's well into the 60s. Today you cannot properly engage fully in the employment market, or you certainly have great difficulty doing so, without English. This has changed from the 1950s and 1960s, when that English language wasn't so much required. Today, with the occupational health and safety requirements, you do need that English to have the best opportunity of getting work. Those statistics which I just outlined indicate that.

It's not the case that just by being in Australia you'll naturally pick up the English language. The data doesn't support that. Fifty per cent of people who have been here for 15 years still don't have English language. So we are making three fundamental changes to support migrants to learn English. First, we're completely opening up the accessibility for our free adult English language programs. This means that any migrant at any time can get as many hours of English language tuition as they need. Second, we're improving the quality of those courses. That work is being undertaken now and, when the next contracts go out, we'll be insisting that there is better performance by those providers to get better outcomes, because we haven't been getting the outcomes we would like to see. Third, we will place higher expectations upon individuals to take up the English language courses which are available to them. In particular, we're asking people who are applying for partner visas to make a reasonable effort to learn English before they put in their permanent residency application. In most cases, 'reasonable efforts' will be defined as simply taking part in those free English language classes. There's nothing fixed. We're not setting a standard. There's no bar. We're just asking for a reasonable effort while they're here in Australia before they get their permanent residency.

We think those three things will make a substantial difference. It will help the individuals, it will give them the best chance of seizing all the great opportunities in Australia, and it will add to our social cohesion so that we can all communicate together and, ultimately, continue our success as the greatest multicultural country in the world.

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