Subjects: Proposed citizenship changes; English language testing; Australian values; Welfare payments for refugees
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Alan Tudge and Linda Burney, welcome to National Wrap.
LINDA BURNEY: Hi Patricia. How are you, Alan?
ALAN TUDGE: G'day PK. Hi there Linda, good thanks.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Alan, this English test that you are proposing is not as difficult as the original Government proposal for an English test, but it is a lot more onerous than what is currently required. Why do we need to do this?
ALAN TUDGE: What we are proposing is a moderate form of English that a migrant should have to pass before they become a citizen. The reason being is that English is fundamentally the glue to our society.
It underpins your success at getting a job, it goes to our social cohesion and of course it underpins our democracy which is fundamentally based in English.
We think it is in the interest of the migrants to have a reasonable command of English and it is also in the interest of society.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Linda, Labor opposed the original proposal for higher level English but the bar has been lowered by the Government. Is it something you would support now?
LINDA BURNEY: It has not been lowered very much. It is still university entrance level and that means that most of the people that came to work on the Snowy Mountain scheme back in the '50s would not qualify as citizens.
There is already, Patricia, an English test which is conversational English and we believe that that is very adequate. The other thing of course is that there isn't enough places for people to go and learn English so that they can actually qualify.
Citizenship is not just about being proficient in English and we have been to many citizenship ceremonies where the pride and the depth of people committing themselves to Australia is overwhelming.
Labor fundamentally believes that the test is still too onerous.
ALAN TUDGE: Linda said we are after university level English and Labor has repeatedly been saying this and it is absolutely wrong. We are after what is called level 5 English which is a moderate level.
It means you have a partial command of the English language but will still make a great many mistakes in the process and we think this is a reasonable level of English for somebody to be able to fully engage in the Australian community.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Linda Burney, I mean, even the Productivity Commission has found that increasing the bar, making more people learn English, would actually help them get jobs.
And there is no doubt that obviously if you have a better command over English you are more likely to get a job, that is pretty obvious if you look at most work places.
So isn't it a benefit to some of these migrants to actually do this?
LINDA BURNEY: I think we need to work in what is real. Alan, and I respect Alan very much, says level 5, that is still university entrance English and most…
ALAN TUDGE: It is not, Linda. It is not, I am sorry.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Let her finish…
LINDA BURNEY: Many Australians, if I can put it in parentheses, wouldn't even be able to pass that level of English.
I think the other thing to do is to blow up this myth that if you are a migrant or an asylum seeker or a refugee then you are going to be on the welfare dollar. We know very well that productivity of migrant communities, it is absolutely astounding.
I represent a migrant community. We know that children of migrants are doing exceptionally well both in university and secondary schools and I think it is really important we recognise the industriousness of migrants.
And the other thing is this; is I dislike very much this kind of them and us dichotomy that is almost assumed within some parts of the Parliament, because when you look at Australia, when you look at Australia, what you see back is an incredible story of migration and I think people need to be recognised for that.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Alan Tudge, these people are already in Australia. I know it is not retrospective, you have made that clear, but why make it harder for people already participating in Australian society to become citizens? Don't you want them to be citizens?
ALAN TUDGE: Absolutely. We do want them to become citizens but we also want a socially cohesive society. And you hit the nail on the head when you said that it underpins employment.
In fact, the data shows that you are 3.7 times more likely to be in a job after 18 months if you have got good English compared to not having English and it is the same in relation to the humanitarian intake as well.
Fundamentally it underpins your ability to get employment and that is particularly so these days when we are increasingly moving to a service economy and away from say manufacturing economy or where there are more jobs which are labouring jobs.
English is vital and it underpins and is the glue to our society. We have got English language classes there for the people who are here it is prospective, so if you have already applied for your citizenship…
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Sure, but if I can just cut in here…
ALAN TUDGE: …then it does not apply to you.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: We have communities of people living in Australia where their English is not of this standard and yet have been contributing enormously to the economy…
ALAN TUDGE: Absolutely.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: …and are very much part of this country. So with respect what on earth are you going to change by doing this given this is already working?
You talk about the Australian model being- the multicultural model being at threat or at risk but it does not appear that way if you actually look on the streets of Australia.
ALAN TUDGE: In some respects you are right and I did a big speech earlier this week, Patricia, in relation to this.
Basically, I said what Linda was talking about before where we have been the most successful multicultural country in the world and we have integrated people so well.
But there are some indicators that we are not doing it quite as well as we use to have done. And one of those indicators is that the level of English language proficiency has quite markedly declined in the last decade.
It used to be only one in five migrants did not have any English or very poor English. Now it is one in four, just in a decade, and often that is concentrated in particular geographical areas as well.
We want to ensure that they can prosper and thrive as previous generations of migrants have done and we want to ensure that we maintain our successful multicultural model which is fundamentally based on integration and in order to integrate well you have to have a basic level of English.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Linda Burney, Alan Tudge has said and he just said it there, he is talking about this geographical concentration of migrants being linked with poor English standards, what do you make of this concept that Alan Tudge has raised - these clusters of migrants living in some areas?
Because I have got to say I have lived in Australia since I was born, I was born in this country, and there have always been communities where people have clustered.
I mean the Greek community in Melbourne I lived in a suburb where there were a lot of Greeks for instance and that was fairly normal. Is there anything inherently wrong with that, Linda Burney?
LINDA BURNEY: There is nothing inherently wrong with that. In fact, in many ways it is reinforcing culture
and maintaining language. And I just see this happen so much with the Greek community in Elwood, with the Lebanese community in Rockdale, and the list goes on.
But I think the point that you have just made, Patricia, to Alan, is the key to why Labor does not support this level of English language testing.
And that is that there are people that have been living in Australia, many of them for most of their lives, that will never be able to qualify under this rule to become…
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But they are already citizens, Linda.
LINDA BURNEY: No, many of them have not taken citizenship and those people will become a sub-class within the community because they have not got citizenship yet, and under this present rule, or the rule that Alan is proposing, the level that Alan is proposing, they will never be able to attain citizenship. And I think that is very bad for our society.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Alan Tudge, I just want to question you on another thing that you have raised last week, which is this values test. What are you talking about here, what sort of values are you looking at people adopting?
ALAN TUDGE: What I outlined in terms of what we would like to see before a person becomes a citizen is firstly a basic level of English comprehension and ability. Second, an indicator that a person has made an effort to integrate into society.
And thirdly, that they are adhering to Australian values. In relation to that final one, we are talking about some of the fundamentals - the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, equality of the sexes, freedom of religion - those fundamental values which underpin our society.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But by living in Australia they already have to comply with that, don't they?
ALAN TUDGE: Well, yes and no. You do sign a values statement when you apply for your citizenship presently, but there is no assessment of it as such.
What we are suggesting is perhaps you could sign a values statement when you first come into the country, and then there is some sort of assessment against that when you are applying for your citizenship.
Of course, the vast majority of people are going to fly through that, but there will be some people who you might just say well, hang on, you may not have sent your daughters to school, for example, because you have a particular view about girls' education.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But it is the law in Australia to send your girls to school.
ALAN TUDGE: Well, it is. But as you know, Patricia, there are a great many places where kids are not going to school.
We want to ensure that kids are going to school and that that fundamental principle of equality of sexes is adhered to. And if you do not want to adhere to that fundamental principle, then maybe this country is not the right country for you.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Linda Burney, what do you make of this values test that Alan Tudge has articulated there?
LINDA BURNEY: I just do not think Alan meant a word that he just said. I mean, we have all been to those citizenship ceremonies and the people that take citizenship are absolutely grateful, they are committing themselves to this country.
They make a pledge that commits themselves to this country, and I think the most important values are the human values, the human rights values that everyone is committed to.
The thing that Alan is talking about, saying that there are some groups of people that do not agree with Australian values and somehow Australian values sit somewhere in a mythical place, is just not true.
People who live in this country, people who make this country home, understand that the values that are important to us as a nation are the values that they will learn about if they need to, but many of them already have them.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Alan Tudge, I just want to ask you about a story. Unemployed asylum seekers on bridging visas, including those studying English, might have their income support cut.
This is as you want to revive language tests for new immigrants, new refugees. Isn't that at odds with your push to stop people getting income support and welfare when they are studying English?
ALAN TUDGE: In essence what that proposal is, and this not in my responsibility, but it is saying that if you are on one of those bridging visas because you have been an unlawful arrival in this country, and you are applying for a protection visa, in that interim period we want people, if they have got the capacity to do so, to be searching for work and working if possible, rather…
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But you also want them to learn English, don't you?
ALAN TUDGE: …rather than doing a full-time course. If English is a barrier to that person getting employment, then of course they will still be able to do an English language course.
But what they won't be able to do it if they are, say, already proficient in English, they cannot do a university course or some sort of other full-time course.
Instead we are asking them to directly seek work and do work while they are waiting for that application to be processed.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Linda Burney, that is squarely in your portfolio area as the Shadow Human Services Minister. Is it a measure Labor opposes?
LINDA BURNEY: No, it is a measure that we will not support. The idea of cutting people off welfare support because they are on a particular visa type, is going to push people into desperation, it is going to push people to the edge in many cases.
One of the big issues, of course, very quickly, is that it is the social security system that is one of the few areas that the Federal Government can cut to save money. But cutting to save money should not cut off the opportunity for people. And this is what this measure is going to do.
Final word to you, Alan Tudge. Last time you tried to get these reforms through, the Government failed. Have you got the numbers this time?
ALAN TUDGE: We are in negotiation with the crossbench, and those negotiations will continue for some time. But what I am trying to do is outline the case of why these things are important both for the migrant as well as for society.
I am fundamentally a person who believes in the Australian model of multiculturalism, which is based on integration, not based on separatism, not based on assimilation but integration.
In order to integrate people, you do need to have a reasonable command of the English language, and that is what we are talking about here.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Thanks to both of you for joining me on National Wrap.
ALAN TUDGE: Thanks very much, PK.
LINDA BURNEY: Thank you.
ALAN TUDGE: Thanks, Linda.
Thank you, Alan.