Thanks very much Mr Speaker. The Senate report has now come down on the
government’s changes to Australian Citizenship Act, and it is absolutely clear now why the
government should withdraw the changes that they have in front. When they first put these
proposals forward, they asked for public submissions. They got thousands of public submissions and
then they decided to keep them secret. We wondered why that would be. Public submissions
ordinarily are public things, but they decided to keep them secret. So the Senate inquiry
went through a new exercise in receiving public submissions.
They received more than 14,000 submissions. Guess how many were in support of the government’s
proposal. Two. One of those two was from the department—it’s
a bit tough for them to put in a submission that’s not in favour of the legislation—and
the other was from the Monarchist League. They were the only two.
There is a reason why the government are in a situation now where their citizenship changes
should simply be withdrawn. They have in front of us legislation which should be withdrawn
because it deals with a problem that does not exist. The arguments that they have put
forward for it don’t stack up, and the arguments against it are overwhelming. There are two
principles that the minister puts when he talks about citizenship. When you hear each
of them, in the first instance they sound reasonable. One is that you should have to
wait four years before you become a citizen. The other is that you should have competent
English. They both sound like reasonable arguments. Here is the problem: you already have to be
here for four years. What happens at the moment is: one of those years needs to be as a permanent
resident, but you have to have been here for four years.
Many people come to Australia initially on a temporary visa, and they are often here
on consecutive temporary visas before they end up getting permanent residence. The real-life
impact is not going from one year to four years, because everyone has to wait four years
already. The real-life impact of this will be people waiting in Australia for more than
a decade before they are asked to make a pledge to this country. How on earth is that good
for the country—to have people living here for more than a decade and not being asked
to make a pledge of commitment to Australia? It’s certainly not good for them, and I don’t
see how it’s good for the rest of the country. But the problems with the delay almost pale
into insignificance compared to the problems with the English-language test. When the minister
says, ‘You should have to have competent English,’ most people would hear that and think, ‘That’s
reasonable. You should have to have competent English.’ The problem is that the word ‘competent
‘ as it’s been put into this bill has a very precise legal meaning. It refers to level
6 on the IELTS test, a test based in Cambridge university, a test that costs hundreds of
dollars to sit for and thousands of dollars to get the training for, to get your English
up to that level. The government does provide English-language training. It doesn’t get
people anywhere near level 6. You can do your 500 hours—and not every visa holder is entitled
to that, but some are. Many people will get to level 2. Some people will get to level
4. No-one, through that course, is trained to get to level 6.
There is no shortage of people who have been living in Australia their entire lives who
would not pass this test at level 6. The minister then says that there are two streams, an academic
stream and a general stream, and they’re going to use the general stream, not the academic
stream. I went to the web page of IELTS, where you can get examples of the test, to test
the level. I will read from the comprehension test. And it’s not just a comprehension test—there’s
a reading test, a listening test, a writing test; you have to be able to write an essay.
All these forms of tests are part of getting to a level in IELTS. This is from the comprehension
test: Calisthenics enters the historical record
at around 480 B.C., with Herodotus’ account of the Battle of Thermopolylae. Herodotus
reported that, prior to the battle, the god-king Xerxes sent a scout party to spy on his Spartan
enemies. The scouts informed Xerxes that the Spartans, under the leadership of King Leonidas,
were practicing some kind of bizarre, synchronised movements akin to a tribal dance. … It turns
out their tribal dance was not a superstitious ritual but a form of calisthenics by which
they were building awe-inspiring physical strength and endurance.
For one, that’s not the academic test; that’s the easier one. But, where they’re both marked,
you end up having to get to the same level of proficiency with the English language.
But what on earth does that have to do with being a good Australian? What on earth does
that have to do with being a decent Australian citizen? We agree that you have to have what
people would generally regard as competent English, because there is already a test,
and the test is in English. Guess what—if the test is in English, I reckon it’s pretty
hard to pass if you have no English. If you asked me to pass a test that was written in
a different language, I would struggle, I admit.
I would not be able to do it. In the same way, if you don’t have conversational-level
English, you already can’t pass. But, as a demand, university-level English (1) is ridiculous
and (2) is an act of extraordinary snobbery that sends a message to every Australian who
doesn’t have that level of English that this government, if it had the choice, would prefer
they weren’t here. But here’s the catch: not everybody will have
to reach university-level English. There are lots of countries in the world that
have English as one of their official languages, like India and Singapore. But there are only
five where, if you’re a passport holder from one of those countries, this will result in
you not having to have university-level English. They are the UK, New Zealand, Ireland, Canada
and the United States. It just so happens the five white English-speaking countries
are the only countries where, if you’re a passport holder from one of those countries,
this will result in you not needing university-level English.
The minister will say, ‘But there are visas that pick out individual countries.’ There
are lots of visas that are organised on a bilateral basis. For example, there is the
backpacker visa. There are a series of visas that we negotiate, but, as a country, we have
never dealt with citizenship in a way that says, ‘If you come from any non-white English-speaking
country, you’ll have to have university-level English. But, if you come from a white English-speaking
country, it’s all okay.’ I don’t know how many people other than the minister knew about
this, but none of them have spoken out. From time to time, some of the members opposite
have spoken out about issues like 18C, but when you think of something as prejudiced
as the measures within these proposals, why have we heard nothing from the member for
Reid, the member for Banks, the member for Bennelong, the member for Chisholm or the
member for Deakin? Why are they so comfortable with the thought of having people in their
electorates who know that, if these members had their way, they’d rather these people
had never become citizens. All the bravery that used to be there on those backbenches
has disappeared on this. It has disappeared completely.
The minister will argue that it’s all because of national security. I asked about this when
I had my briefing from the department. Normally, I keep briefings from departments confidential,
but the minister decided to tell the media about my briefing, so I think I’m pretty much
off the hook. I asked the department, ‘Did this come as a recommendation from the ASIO?’
No. ‘Did this come as a recommendation from the AFP?’ No. ‘Did this come as a recommendation
from any national security agency?’ No; it came from none of them. Where did this come
from? It was a recommendation from a report written by two people, both of whom happen
to the members of the Liberal Party: Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and Phillip Ruddock.
This entire proposal is based on consultation with only them. When they go out to the rest
of the community, they discover it’s 14,000 to two.
What’s in front of us here is a proposal that changes who we are as a country. There are
lots of countries in the world that have people who are there as permanent residents who become
a permanent underclass of noncitizens. Australia has not been that sort of country ever since
we got rid of the White Australia policy. We should not go back to being a country with
a permanent underclass of noncitizens, a permanent underclass of people who live here their whole
lives but are told they will never belong. The welcome note that is read out at every
citizenship ceremony when people become Australian citizens used to finish with the words ‘welcome
home’. The moment this government got into office they took those words back. Let me
tell you and let me make it clear: citizenship is meant to be the way we build ourselves
as a society, not the way we divide.