Subjects: US air strikes in Syria; South African farmers; Australian citizenship; leadership.
Alan Tudge, thanks for joining us. The first ever guest on Kenny on Sunday.
Great to be with you, Chris.
I want to start with the news of the day and of course we have had these air strikes in Syria, led by the US, of course with the support of the UK and France.
Australia has given diplomatic support, if you like, to these air strikes, but what is the end game here?
Air strikes cannot put Syria back together again and there is no country in the West that has the appetite to actually go in there on the ground either with soldiers or peacekeepers.
No, those military strikes as you said led by the United States but supported by the UK and France and they were very much in response to the use of chemical weapons by Syria.
No country in this day and age should be using chemical weapons and this was in response to that usage by the Assad regime.
They are a brutal regime and I hope that will be a warning to them to stop using them on their own people or using them on anyone for that matter because we should be beyond that in the 21st
But is there an end game here in terms of what is going to happen in Syria? Is Australia at risk of being drawn into any sort of settlement or any sort of end game in Syria?
From what I understand this was a surgical strike done in response to the use of chemical weapons in this particular instance.
There is no further action contemplated, to my understanding. Australia was not asked to be involved in the strikes according to the Defence Minister.
We just hope that the Syrian government led by Assad will actually start to behave as an appropriate international citizen, a good international citizen, rather than being the brutal regime that he has been to date.
Let’s segue back to your portfolio then, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, and of course one thing Australia has done to help the situation in the Middle East is that we have taken as a country a special group, a special intake of 12,000 Syrian refugees.
You are now being lobbied to take a similar special intake of humanitarian migrants, white South African farmers, is there any chance that that could be taken up?
Certainly we are looking at the situation. I have just been over in Perth for the last few days and I attended a large South African farmers forum attended by probably 600 people.
In that forum I heard some brutal stories of family members who had been murdered or raped or tortured or all three.
We are a very generous country to those who are in need and we do not distinguish which country people come from. If they are facing persecution then we will consider their application.
We are closely looking at the situation in South Africa. I suspect that we may well be able to take some in but they will be each considered on their merits and according to the criteria of our humanitarian intake.
We have had a lot of South African farmers, indeed many other South Africans migrate to this country because they are concerned about the situation in South Africa.
They have come under skilled migrant intakes and the like and we are still getting those applications.
Have there been any South African farmers who have actually applied under our humanitarian program?
There have been many South African- many applications from South Africans to our humanitarian program. I do not know the details in terms of what occupation they had.
But you are right, we have had in the vicinity of 60,000 South Africans come to Australia in the last ten years under the Skilled migration program.
We have had a further 10,000 come in under the Family stream. Typically they might be a spouse of an existing Australian citizen.
That is certainly a pathway for many South Africans to come to Australia.
They have made a tremendous contribution here in Australia and we hope that they will continue to apply for those programs as well as if they are facing persecution to apply for the humanitarian program.
That is the point though here isn't it, I mean I think it's been a good exercise for Australia to talk about this issue, to try and draw attention to the plight of South Africans farmers.
What really needs to happen is their security and their property rights need to be protected in South Africa. But in terms of those who do want to escape South Africa, don't most of them have the skills, the means, the opportunity to actually come here through our normal migration process?
Well that is certainly how most people have come here in the past. When I was at the South Africans farmers forum in Perth last week, my message to them was to look at those visa streams as well.
Because that is indeed been the way most South Africans have come here. Our humanitarian program does not distinguish who you are or what country you are from.
If you are facing persecution we will consider the application. From what I heard at the forum, I heard many gruelling stories of people who on the face of it appeared to have suffered from persecution and so that avenue is available.
We have had applications already. They will be considered on their merits and many of them may well get to settle in Australia through the humanitarian program.
Of course just on the politics of this with you in those meetings in Western Australia was the Liberal MP, the Liberal backbencher, Andrew Hastie, who's been very prominent in this debate.
The Labor Party have now circulated a fundraising letter accusing him of, through this issue, linking up with extreme right-wingers and looking to remove the non-discriminatory aspect of our humanitarian program. This is pretty ugly campaigning isn't it?
This was disgraceful. This was on the day of the South African farmers forum which I attended as the Government representative, it was organised by Andrew Hastie.
The Labor Party did a fundraiser off the back of that. They were so disgusted that we would listen to the voices of South Africans, that they said, let's campaign and raise funds off the back of this.
My message to Bill Shorten is that he should apologise for the grubby nature of that and for trying to exploit the South African tragedies. If any money has been collected in that way that should be given to a humanitarian cause because it was a disgrace.
I don't think I have ever seen such grubby politics frankly, Chris.
When we were there listening to story after story after story of people who had their family members murdered or tortured or raped or all three and the Labor Party's campaigning against us because we were listening in and suggesting that we might be generous in response.
Yeah it's very ugly stuff and it's also very hypocritical and paradoxical if you like because as you and I have just discussed there is a debate to be had here about whether or not South Africans farmers are there other options.
But to say a special provision for them would be an end to our non-discriminatory humanitarian program is absolutely inflaming a situation and dishonest.
Because Labor never said there was end to our non-discriminatory program when we created a special category for 12,000 Syrians.
Yeah of course. Of course. It was a disgrace. I can't say any more about that. It is so appalling and they should do the right thing and apologise to all of the South Africans Australians in this country.
And if they raised any money they should give it to a good humanitarian cause.
Yeah, well good luck on that one.
That would be the appropriate response [indistinct] Labor members. [Indistinct].
Fat chance of that happening. Now I want to get back to an issue that you've spoken about as Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs. I think you've made some great speeches talking about integration being at the heart of our multicultural success.
A lot of people seem to want to ignore this issue and ignore any problems when it comes to integration.
But you roll out all the statistics that demonstrate your argument and that is that if people are migrants to this country, the more that they speak English, the more that they engage in study and in work, the better they integrate, the more independent they are, the better everything flows in terms of their financial welfare and the rest of it.
Are you concerned that in particular in this country our large numbers of migrants from Middle Eastern countries, Muslim countries, over recent decades are not integrating to the extent that we've seen with previous cohorts of immigrants?
Chris, I certainly am concerned that in recent times the data shows that we are not integrating our migrants quite as well as we did in the past.
I do not think it is cause for alarm but we should take count of it and put in place measures now to prevent the further deterioration.
The key bits of data which I have looked at is the fact that we've got a higher concentration of the overseas born in particular pockets and often that is overlaid with a complete lack of English as well.
You have got many suburbs now which have a one in five or one in four people who are not speaking English and typically from the same country background.
Whereas ideally in the past we've built our multicultural success on the base of people integrating together and having a common language so that you can communicate with each other, work together, play sport together and therefore all get along.
I want to ensure that we can maintain our success of a unique multicultural model based on integration and not go down a more European pathway if you like, where you have got more separatism rather than integration.
I couldn't agree with you more. Strangely you have to be brave to speak about these issues in this country at the moment.
Of course there are hard elements that want to end particular kinds of immigration. They want to end Muslim migration and cut migration very heavily elsewhere and you have others who just don't want to talk about this issue.
But the real story here is if we have a problem with integration we need to do better. Now it should be up to the individuals primarily, I would suggest Minister, but what can a government do to try and ensure that our migrants do integrate?
In other words they keep their culture, keep whatever aspects they want of their culture, their language, their religion, the rest of it, but do become integrated into our Australian community.
That is exactly right. And in the speeches I have made, Chris, I have talked about three different models of multiculturalism which exists.
One is based on assimilation where you almost have to give up your heritage and leave that behind and we do not necessarily need or want that.
And one is based on separatism which you sometimes see in European countries whereby communities live side by side rather than join together.
Ours is based on integration where people merge together, you learn from each other, you work together, you play together, et cetera.
We are putting a few building blocks in place to guarantee our integrated multicultural success.
One of them is to ensure that people have at least a basic understanding of the English language as a prerequisite before becoming a citizen.
Because other than passing a multiple choice questionnaire at the moment there is no test before becoming a citizen.
I think that is absolutely fundamental because, Chris, if you cannot communicate with each other you cannot integrate.
I think this is basic common sense. Now, we are not after university level English as the Labor Party keep saying and keep misleading the Australian public.
We are after conversational level English, so that a person can go to the shops, interact with the shopkeeper, can chat with their neighbours and get along with other Australians. I think that is fundamental.
We also want to put a values test in and a test to ensure that people are making an effort to enter the workforce and join community groups.
Those three things together I think can make a difference.
Yeah as you say it is nothing but common sense and I think most Australians have got pretty straight forward [indistinct].
It is nothing but common sense but the Labor Party, Chris, today is out there campaigning, particularly against our requirement for English language.
I mean it is the glue to our society. It underpins your success of being able to get employment. And of course our democracy depends upon people being able to engage in our national language.
To me it's a no brainer. Many of the multicultural bodies support it but for some reason the Labor Party is campaigning against it.
Okay, I can't let you get away this Sunday without asking you about the current leadership shenanigans within the Liberal Party.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott is out there putting quite strongly alternative points of view on immigration policy and on energy policy in particular, challenging his own Coalition government's policies at the moment. Should he stay quiet?
I am always very reluctant to give advice to a former Prime Minister. I mean…
He is not reluctant in giving advice to the rest of the party.
I have had discussions with Prime Minister Abbott about my views. At the end of the day, Chris, as you know, disunity is death in politics.
Now, we need to present a united front. We have got a good agenda to sell to the Australian people, we have got good plans for…
Well therefore should Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull give Tony Abbott a job, put him in Cabinet or the ministry, do something, to put his talents to good use rather than have him as a destructive outsider I suppose?
At the end of the day that is up to the Prime Minister who the makeup of his Cabinet is.
I just think we've got a great story to sell in terms of record jobs growth, wages now starting to increase. We have got downward pressure through the NEG on electricity prices and other cost of living issues which we're trying to address, massive infrastructure spend.
And the contrast to the Labor Party which as we get closer to the election the Australian people start to focus more and more on, is $200 billion of more tax on every day Australians.
Taxes on your business, a tax on your house, a tax on your investment, a tax in your retirement savings.
Okay, good segue. We'll get on to all of that when Turnbull and Abbott stop bickering I suppose. I really appreciate you joining us tonight, Alan Tudge.
Thanks very much, Chris.