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SUBJECT/S: Citizenship







SUBJECT/S: Citizenship


PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General and joins us from our Parliament House studio. Mark Dreyfus, welcome.


MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks for having me Patricia.


KARVELAS: How does changing citizenship requirements alter who we are as Australians?


DREYFUS: We’re a country which the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, likes to – and he says it over and over again – we’re the most successful multicultural country in the world. And what he doesn’t then do is ask how did we get there? And we got there Patricia, by talking about our values, by talking about being an inclusive society, by talking about being a welcoming society, by anti-racism campaigns. By a whole range of things that brought us together as a community. We haven’t always been like this, but I’m prepared to agree with Malcolm Turnbull that we’re a very successful multicultural society. What we’ve now got is a government that wants to spread division and there’s no other explanation for this bill being brought forward than it’s a government that is actually interested in creating division. Why would you set an English test that sets the level at university-level English? We already have a test that people have to sit for citizenship. It’s in English, and I haven’t heard anyone suggesting that the standard needs to be raised to university-level.


KARVELAS: Alright well let’s get to that test, because I think that’s been a very interesting part of this debate. The international language testing system, or IELTS, Level 6 would be the requirement described as “competent”. You say it’s too high and that some Australians don’t even meet this standard. But when you look at the definition, the test-taker has an effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies in appropriate usage and misunderstanding. So actually the test allows for an imperfect English speaker. The sort of language around an English language test at university-level implies perfect English. It’s not though is it?


DREYFUS: Well it’s university-level, and that’s clear. And by saying you’ve …..


KARVELAS: Inappropriate usage, misunderstandings, that allows for somebody from a non-English speaking background.


DREYFUS: I think that everybody in Australia, and all of your listeners, know very very many people who have migrated to Australia who speak English as a second or a third or a fourth language and who have contributed massively to our country. Who have been excellent citizens of our country. The suggestion that because you don’t speak perfect English you’re somehow not fit to be an Australian citizen, it’s elitist, it’s snobbery, it’s out of touch and it’s not the Australia that we are today. It…I’m at a loss for words – and I shouldn’t say I’m at a loss for words because I’m a politician – so I’m not often at a loss for words – but it is, I’m gobsmacked, put it that way, at the suggestion that we somehow need to raise the bar in terms of the level of English that is required to be an Australian citizen. What citizenship is about is wanting to belong to Australia. What citizenship is about is wanting to contribute. Saying that you are part of the Australian community. That’s why the Menzies government wanted to encourage people to become citizens. We’ve now got a so-called Liberal government who wants to discourage people from becoming citizens and I find that extraordinary.


KARVELAS: OK but if you look internationally, we’re looking at this proposition which Labor has now rejected, increasing the wait from one year to four years, but it still brings us short of where Germany is. I think that’s about eight years, Canada, what is it four or five – according to international comparisons…


DREYFUS: Well I don’t want to make international comparisons because we are already a very successful multicultural country. Why should we look to Germany? Seriously – no offence to the Germans or the German nation but why should we look to Germany to work out how to become the most cohesive, best multicultural society that we can be? And I am certain, it’s not by increasing the time it takes to become a citizen. There’s already a four-year wait. You’ve got to be in Australia for four years and be, and have qualified as a permanent resident, and have been a permanent resident for a year. So that’s a four-year period before you can apply to become a citizen right now, how on earth are we in any sense improving our community by making people wait longer? And I’d ask the same question about the English language test. How are we improving our community in any sense by saying to people who have been in our country for many years, you can’t become an Australian citizen because your English isn’t good enough?


KARVELAS: If you’re just tuning in, the Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus is my guest and if you want to send in your views about Labor’s decision to not support the citizenship law changes, 0418 226 576 is the text line…You support the government being able to change some of the questions on the citizenship test though – do you think the current set of questions needs to be updated?


DREYFUS: That’s what the law says now. We don’t need an act of Parliament for the government to change the questions, and the government I think has finally owned up to that. Although they wanted to throw into this debate lots of suggestions about what the questions should be, about whether they should be this or that – John Howard had a bit of a play with this idea and changing the questions. I think we had for a time questions about Don Bradman. And it’s always up to the government to change the questions, but let’s not, that’s not what this is about. The government has brought forward this legislation to create a political controversy with Labor, where there isn’t any need for one. They haven’t identified any problem, not one, that is going to be solved by this legislation. They hinted for example…


KARVELAS: Well the Justice Minister mentioned Man Haron Monis becoming a citizen today in an interview, and they’ve used him as an example before and said he shouldn’t have become a citizen. Would these changes stop him becoming a citizen?


DREYFUS: I doubt it, as best I can recall….


KARVELAS: Have you checked?


DREYFUS: I doubt it, because as best as I can recall, his English was very high level and I would have to check how long he had been in Australia at the point he became a citizen. But that is just the Justice Minister, who’s a pretty foolish minister most of the time, he’s showing he’s even more foolish now, trying to suggest that there is some national security component to this.


KARVELAS: So you’re confident there are no national security reasons behind this bill?


DREYFUS: The national security advice that the government has pointed to came from a government senator, Senator Fierravanti-Wells, who together with Phillip Ruddock, no longer in the Parliament, produced a report for the government. As far as we’re aware, no advice has been received from security agencies that suggest that these citizenship changes will in any way improve the security of our country and we certainly haven’t received any advice from security agencies to that effect. And when you look at the legislation you can see that it doesn’t have a national security aspect for the simple reason that citizenship is conferred on people who are already here and have been here for several years. So how making it tougher for people who have been in Australia for several years who are already permanent residents to get citizenship improves our security, I’m at a loss to understand, the government hasn’t explained it and I don’t think they’ll be able to.


KARVELAS: Whenever these issues comes up Labor almost always gives the government bipartisan support, and I’ve watched so many of these different bills come before the Parliament. Labor always providing bipartisan support. Labor has departed from that script this time. Is this something we should expect more from Bill Shorten’s Labor – a departure on these issues?


DREYFUS: On the contrary, when there is a genuine national security concern, we have a bipartisan position with the government which is to keep Australians safe. And that’s why we’ve cooperated with the government on now several national security-related bills which we have improved I might say with amendments and through the Intelligence Committee process. But in this area, Mr Dutton has already brought forward a ridiculous piece of legislation when he tried some months back to impose a lifetime ban on obtaining a visitor visa for anyone that had arrived in Australia by boat. You’ve only got to state it to see how stupid that would have been if it had become part of Australian law. It would mean that if someone had arrived here by boat but had ended up living in the United States and had become a Nobel Prize winner, couldn’t ever obtain a visa to visit Australia. And that was rightly rejected by Labor and rejected by the crossbenchers in the Senate and happily it didn’t become part of Australian law. We’ve now got another foolish piece of legislation that has been brought forward by Peter Dutton, not for any reason to keep Australians safer, not for any reason to improve Australia’s community or our multicultural society, but to create a political controversy for his own political purposes.


KARVELAS: Well he rejects that but he’s not here, you are, thank you so much for your time Mark Dreyfus.


DREYFUS: It’s been a pleasure, thanks Patricia.



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