OLIVER PETERSON: A little earlier today the Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge dropped by the 6PR live studio where we caught up.
Alan Tudge, welcome to Perth.
ALAN TUDGE: G'day Ollie.
OLIVER PETERSON: Alright, what brings you here?
ALAN TUDGE: I am here for a few days actually and I am largely going to be speaking to businesses and multicultural leaders about various issues of concern to them, particularly skilled migration.
Some of the issues concerning multicultural affairs and also doing a South African farmers forum tonight with Andrew Hastie and Ian Goodenough to discuss some of the issues in South Africa, some of their concerns and what we might be able to do to help.
OLIVER PETERSON: Okay, do South African farmers need assistance more over than perhaps anybody else in the world? Why is there such compassion here in Australia for South African farmers?
ALAN TUDGE: I think we are a very compassionate country generally towards people who are facing persecution around the world and we are a very generous country and we try to reach out to those people who are in need.
We did that very well with for example the Syrians last year and there has been some advocacy made to say, well let's have a look at the South Africans.
There does seem to be some issues there according to reports of people being murdered; reports of people being tortured and the like and…
OLIVER PETERSON: Discriminated against based on colour.
ALAN TUDGE: …discriminated against. We are here, well I am here to hear about what some of those concerns are and explain what some of the pathways might be forward.
OLIVER PETERSON: Okay and obviously there is a big South African population in Western Australia right across Australia in particular.
ALAN TUDGE: There is, yes.
OLIVER PETERSON: What are some of those pathways? What are you grappling with at the moment with your own Government to try and help those who are affected by this?
ALAN TUDGE: Yes so there are a few different pathways and I will be explaining this tonight at the forum.
But Minister Dutton has said he is going to look very specifically as to whether or not there are options, specific options there and that work is ongoing but in the meantime of course most South Africans have come to this country through the Skilled Migration Program.
And they have come here in their tens of thousands, many to Western Australia and they have made incredible contributions to this country and I will be emphasising that that program is still available and indeed as the labour market constricts - contracts if you like, then there may be further opportunities there.
As well as there are the ordinary humanitarian program which people can apply for.
OLIVER PETERSON: Alright, talking of immigration front page of The Australian today there was a quote. Secret plan to cut back on migrants that Peter Dutton put forward last year to cut the annual permanent migration rate from a 190,000 to 170,000. He has since clarified.
But is that an issue at the moment, Alan Tudge, particularly on the eastern seaboard where you are from in Victoria and New South Wales we hear over here that there is a push on to cut down on immigration.
ALAN TUDGE: The Prime Minister and Minister Dutton have made it very clear that we won't be changing the immigration intake.
Most of the immigration intake is skilled migration and it is demand driven and what that means is that businesses need those skills because they can't get them here in Australia. There is no Australian that will do the job. And so we want to ensure that that continues.
We do hear, and I am from Melbourne and in Melbourne we absolutely are seeing the congestion, the high housing prices and the like in that city.
The answer if you like, most importantly, is to get infrastructure built and built fast. In Sydney there is infrastructure going on all over the place; in Melbourne less so because we have had a state government there who likes to cancel projects rather than build projects.
But that really is what we need to focus on, getting infrastructure built to keep pace with the population growth.
OLIVER PETERSON: And to keep pace with that population growth, is there an argument Alan Tudge to put the pause button on migration levels for some time or at least have a conversation around that?
ALAN TUDGE: I have been going around the countryside and meeting with businesses who all over the place are telling me that they can't get Australian workers anymore to work in their businesses.
Because the labour market is so tight and they need people in order for their businesses to continue to grow, to thrive, to create wealth, and then create further opportunities for other Australians.
We would not want to see those businesses in essence not be able export, not be able to operate, because they cannot get workers.
OLIVER PETERSON: Of course it is sort of a two-speed economy as well because here in the west coast we are seeing actually the number of those who perhaps moved here from New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria or overseas are starting to move back to the eastern seaboard.
And our migration rate, if you like, from those who lived interstate, they are not moving over here as much. Is there some incentive the Government can provide particularly to Western Australia to create more jobs to see more people want to set up shop here and hopefully to try and see our house prices as well start to increase?
ALAN TUDGE: It is a very good question. I get asked this all the time in terms of, in essence, a couple of things. Can you, in essence, require new migrants to go to particular geographical areas…
OLIVER PETERSON: Yes.
ALAN TUDGE: …and that is easier said than done. We do have a regional migration program where, in essence, state governments sponsor people to come to a particular state and about 15 per cent of our overall intake is done on that basis.
But generally the migrants who come here, come here for particular jobs in particular locations and most of the jobs growth happens to be in the big capital cities of Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane at the moment.
More broadly what we have got to do is make sure the business environment here in Western Australia is strong. So we need to ensure there is infrastructure built.
That is why we want taxes to be low because that creates an incentive for businesses to thrive and to grow and through that you create more jobs and house prices go up.
OLIVER PETERSON: I can see it is a difficult balancing act because we have seen as well our State Premier Mark McGowan when the Labor Party came to power cut the skilled migration list for job and opportunities in Western Australia.
So in some ways while you are trying to be parochial and promote jobs first for Western Australians you might be almost cutting the head off the snake because we are not seeing the same number of people move here.
And the collateral because of that - housing prices, the opportunities in investment and business, so it is a difficult issue regardless of what political party you are from to try and manage the entire country.
ALAN TUDGE: You are right and it is a tough balance and there is often different issues in different states and territories.
At the moment in Melbourne for example we have got very high house prices whereas over here in Perth you have had a decrease in house prices and so there are different issues there and in relation to the migration program, it is obviously a national program which we try to manage.
We try to balance out wanting to ensure most importantly that Australians have the first chance of getting the jobs which are available but we also have to be cognisant of the fact that sometimes there aren't any Australians to fill the positions and the businesses do need those skills.
And then you do want to be able to find a person from overseas to be able to fill that spot.
OLIVER PETERSON: Alright, you are currently working, as the Minister for Citizenship, around the idea here that we are changing our English test for migrants. We have had a conversation about this before. How is that progressing through the Parliament?
ALAN TUDGE: I have been having good discussions with the crossbench in relation to this and the essential proposal is that before a person becomes a citizen of this country they should have to sit a basic English language test.
And the reason for that is firstly to ensure that that migrant themselves has good English capability so that they are more likely to get a job.
And secondly from a social cohesion perspective the English language is vital because at the end of the day it is very hard to integrate into the mainstream community if you can't speak the language.
There is an interest for the individual and there is also an interest for the nation in everybody speaking a common language and that common language being English.
OLIVER PETERSON: Do you think that the Parliament will pass harder tests on English and migration standards?
ALAN TUDGE: At the moment there is no English language test at all to become a citizen. You have to sit a written citizenship test and that test itself is in English.
But there is no test which assesses your ability to communicate verbally for example, to listen, understand and communicate back which of course is so vital in workplaces and in discussing with your neighbour in participating more broadly in the community and that is what we are talking about.
OLIVER PETERSON: I just want to ask as well, I have got an e-mail overnight from a lady named Beth who has asked me not to identify her child, has asked me not to identify the school here in Perth.
But says that her daughter came home from year four, learning about Australia and the discovery of Australia, came over to say Mum do you realise it was invasion of Australia? Now Alan Tudge, is this what we should be teaching our students in year four?
ALAN TUDGE: I don't think we should and I don't like using that term. I know for many Aboriginal people, they might refer to it as that, although not all do.
I refer to it as European settlement, because that is what I think did occur back in 1788. Broadly, I think we should be talking in schools and teaching in schools the three great pillars which underpin our community and have built our community.
The Indigenous heritage, which has been a core part of our society, and we should be very proud of that; the European foundations, if you like, the British foundations, which brought with us democracy, parliament, the rule of law, all of those sorts of things; and then of course our modern multicultural fabric.
They are the three pillars, if you like, which we should celebrate all three and teach all three in the schools, rather than just do one to the exclusion of the others.
OLIVER PETERSON: And if we are doing this for people who are aged nine and whatnot, we are starting to create a very difficult job for citizenship ministers and the like, around we are trying to segregate society straight away and become finger pointers and political animals in nine year olds.
Let them go and be children, let them go and play and enjoy what we have, the advances here in Australia - we live in the best country in the world.
ALAN TUDGE: We absolutely do, Ollie, and I completely agree with you. Particularly for a nine year old, and I have got an 11 year old and a 13 year old, and they become pretty sophisticated kids, even by the time they are 13 years of age.
But when they are at school, when you are nine in a primary school, let's ensure they are learning the basics of English and of maths and some basic history. Get those things down pat first. And we have not necessarily nailed that yet.
I am actually concerned about overall the standards of the civics education as well, because the results show that we have been doing very poorly in terms of kids' understanding of the basic institutions which govern our country.
That should be a more important focus than talking about 'Invasion Day'.
OLIVER PETERSON: Have you been enjoying the Commonwealth Games, Minister?
ALAN TUDGE: I have, but I have not seen a great deal of it, to be honest, Ollie, and I catch up with it more in the newspapers than seeing it live on TV. But it has been terrific to see, for example, the Campbell sisters just smashing it out in the pool.
OLIVER PETERSON: Absolutely, it has been brilliant. Did you find it interesting, though, and it is probably because this is the Commonwealth Games being on, the republican debate rears its head.
And I ask you because we see today that more or less Australians are becoming lukewarm to the republic idea. Is this an opportunistic time to be talking about, once again, whether we are a republic or we are not, because the Commonwealth Games is on?
ALAN TUDGE: To be honest, I think it is such a low water priority for most Australians that is just not in their consciousness.
I mean, I am out there speaking to Australians every single day of the week and no one ever raises this with me. They are raising all sorts of issues: energy prices, congestion, house prices, you name it, but this doesn't come up.
I don't think we are going to move in terms of on this issue until the Queen eventually passes, and may she live a longer life. Personally, I would like to see us become a republican in a model which is a president selected by the parliament.
I don't think I would support a publicly elected president, though, because I think it would change the model fundamentally.
OLIVER PETERSON: Okay. In your former role in Human Services you were responsible for rolling out the cashless welfare card. Today, it goes lives in Kalgoorlie and the Goldfields.
I can see, as well, there has been some opposition, particularly from the Labor and the Greens here, around not wanting to continue the roll out of this trial. What are you hoping to achieve in Kalgoorlie and the Goldfields?
ALAN TUDGE: We are hoping to see a dramatic decrease in the level of alcohol-fuelled violence and abuse caused by caused by excess consumption of alcohol.
And, as you know, in places like that you have got all sorts of problems which are caused by excessive use of alcohol and we hope that the cashless welfare card will have a significant impact in reducing that.
It rolls out from today. I happen to be going out there tomorrow with Rick Wilson to talk about other things, to talk about skills shortages and meeting some of the multicultural leaders out there, but I will also get an opportunity to see how it is working on the ground.
OLIVER PETERSON: I think Rick Wilson is actually going to trial himself; so the Member there for O'Connor is going to give it a go.
ALAN TUDGE: That is what I understand. It has been a very successful program, as you know, already in two locations which has been up and running, one being up in the East Kimberley, the other being in Ceduna in South Australia.
We would like to roll it out to further locations, but Labor and the Greens have blocked the further locations being rolled out post the Goldfields.
OLIVER PETERSON: So this might be an opportunity to collate more data to…
ALAN TUDGE: We will definitely collate more data. Hopefully it will continue to work as it has been working in the East Kimberley.
But, you know, you go out to these places and you hear of some dreadful stories of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, i.e. babies, in essence, being born brain damaged…
OLIVER PETERSON: Yeah, it is horrible.
ALAN TUDGE: And the level of violence towards women, largely caused by alcohol paid for by the welfare dollar.
We have got a tool here which can in essence still allow a person to spend their money on whatever they like, but it just won't be able to be spent on alcohol or on drugs or on gambling, and I think it is a good, useful tool for communities like that and hopefully it will have an impact.
OLIVER PETERSON: My guest this afternoon is Alan Tudge. I need to ask you, as well, about the Newspoll yesterday. 30 in a row. Should Malcolm Turnbull call a spill?
ALAN TUDGE: No, he shouldn't. He shouldn't.
OLIVER PETERSON: But wouldn't this just put it to bed? If all of a sudden he turned up to the Liberal Party room and said, alright, it is open.
Let's put it on the table. Somebody might put their hand up, they might not put their hand up, and then it disappears. It is done. It is over. We will stop talking about it.
ALAN TUDGE: No. Listen, to be honest, I think the media are far more interested in this topic than the everyday Australian that is out there.
I mean, the everyday Australian, they want us to get on with the job of governing in their interest, to focus on electricity prices, to build the roads, to ensure that the prosperity continues to exist in this country, that we have a clean environment, et cetera.
That is what they want us to focus on. I often reflect, too, Ollie, in terms of, it is very common for governments to fall behind in the polls between elections.
And John Howard did this almost every single term, certainly before the '98 election, before the 2001 election, before the 2004 election.
And on each occasion he came back. Before the 1998 election, believe it or not, Ollie, he was behind 39-61 at one stage, and yet came back to win to win that election.
OLIVER PETERSON: Is Malcolm Turnbull as good as John Howard?
ALAN TUDGE: Malcolm Turnbull is a very good Prime Minister and he has the potential to be as good as John Howard if he is there as long as John Howard. I mean, but John Howard is clearly one of the very great prime ministers that we've ever had.
OLIVER PETERSON: What about Barnaby Joyce yesterday saying that if the polls do not improve by Christmas, the Prime Minister should go. Is that now a marker, a point that we will continue to talk about between now and December?
ALAN TUDGE: I did not think that was a particularly useful contribution from Barnaby Joyce in that regard. We are not going to have markers like that.
There is still a long way to go, and these days in politics things can turn on a dime and when we get closer to an election, Ollie, people's minds very much focus on what the alternatives are as well.
And the alternative of Bill Shorten is placing $200 billion more tax on everyday Australians, it is a tax on your house, it is a tax on your savings, it is a tax on your small business, it is more taxes on your income, and it is a tax on your pension, on the pensioners these days as well.
That is going to be the alternative which people will very clearly look at before they vote next year and I think that they may think differently once they have a good hard look at that.
OLIVER PETERSON: And if we take it away from personalities and rewind about two weeks ago, that was the conversation.
It was around a tax policy that Bill Shorten, the Labor Party, put up verses, at the moment, probably the Liberal Party, the Government's policy wanting to cut company taxes.
I am sure you would agree here, Alan Tudge, it will be good when the conversation resumes to debating policy.
ALAN TUDGE: Oh, absolutely. That is what we want to do and want to do that every single day. We have debated a lot of policies even during this interview.
But we have a stark difference, which I think the Australian public will continue to focus on as we get closer to the election.
On the one hand, we have got the Turnbull Government where we have been creating jobs, we have been lifting wages, and we are trying to get on top of energy prices.
On the other hand, $200 billion more taxes on the everyday Australian. That is $8,000 for every man, woman, and child in this country that Bill Shorten wants to place onto an individual.
OLIVER PETERSON: Well, enjoy your trip here to Western Australia, Alan Tudge. Really appreciate your dropping past the 6PR Perth Live studio today.
ALAN TUDGE: Thanks very much, Ollie.
OLIVER PETERSON: Alan Tudge there.