TOPICS: Australian citizenship test, international flight caps
DEB KNIGHT: Now, what do you reckon are core Aussie values? Freedom? Maybe a fair go? What do you reckon are the typical Aussie values? It's all part of the re-jigged citizenship test, which is being looked at at the moment, and it's been unveiled by the Government today. The first big overhaul, in fact, of the citizenship test in more than a decade. It's going to roll out from 15 November, and Alan Tudge, the Acting Immigration Minister, is on the line with the details on this for us now. Alan, thanks so much for joining us.
ALAN TUDGE: Hey Deb.
DEB KNIGHT: Why are you wanting to shake this up? It's been a while since you've looked at these questions.
ALAN TUDGE: Yeah for a few reasons. One being because it has been a decade since we have looked at it. Second is being that we've got a lot of people who come to the country these days as new arrivals who have come from countries which have very different value systems to Australia's liberal democratic values systems. And so, we're really wanting just to reinforce in people's minds what our values are here in Australia. And thirdly, though, we're getting prepared really for 2021 and we're hoping that 2021 is a much better year than 2020 all around, and this is really an encouragement for people to also consider becoming a citizen if you haven't already done so.
DEB KNIGHT: Now, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison, he was on the Today show when I was on this morning, and we asked him about this and he said that the ability to speak English is a very important skill for any aspiring Aussie, anyone wanting to become an Australian citizen. There were plans to toughen the English language requirement, but that's been dropped. Why?
ALAN TUDGE: Yeah. So, there'll be no new English language test as such to become a citizen. You do have to sit the test in English itself and that has been the case for many years now. What we have done now in relation to English is relaxed the rules which gives you access to English language classes. So, previously, you only had up to 500 hours of classes which are available to you if your English is poor. We've relaxed those rules so that people can do more hours to get their proficiency up. At the end of the day, having English is incredibly important for the individual so that they've got a chance of getting into the employment market…
DEB KNIGHT: Of course.
ALAN TUDGE: …and participating in our democracy, but it's also important for a nation as a whole because you can't really have good social cohesion unless everybody speaks a common language and of course, our national language is English.
DEB KNIGHT: Yeah, and it's just an important skill to have if you want to be an Australian of course. Now, I've had a look at the Department of Home Affairs booklet for prospective citizens and it spells out Australian values based on freedom, respect, fairness, equality of opportunity, which sounds fair enough to me, but you know what's missing? Any reference to mateship.
ALAN TUDGE: Yeah. So, I think you'll see it throughout though in terms of there's a section, in fact, on community, which talks about making a contribution and talks about compassion for those in need. In fact, the word mateship is included on page, I've just opened it up here, page 38.
DEB KNIGHT: Oh, there you are. Good work. Good work.
ALAN TUDGE: [Indistinct] compassion for those in need. Australians value mateship. We help each other in times of need.
DEB KNIGHT: Because that's integral, don't you think?
ALAN TUDGE: Absolutely. Absolutely. Now, the section here, and we're putting a big emphasis on values in the updated citizenship test. So, we're moving away from just fact-based questions, if you like, and more to do with values because, at the end of the day, it's actually the values which underpin the success of our country and it's our values which bind our diverse community together. And what I mean by values are those liberal democratic ones and you've mentioned some of them like freedom of speech and freedom of religion. It's equality of opportunity between men and women. It's parliamentary democracy, whereby you have the rule of law rather than religious laws as such. All of those key things which, to be honest, many people take for granted who have been living in Australia for a long time…
DEB KNIGHT: Well that's the thing. I mean, forget about the…
ALAN TUDGE: …[indistinct] case in all other countries.
DEB KNIGHT: I mean, the fact-based questions are one thing that I think a lot of Aussies who were born here might struggle with, but even with some of the values, I think, I mean is it worth perhaps having a reminder for all of us?
ALAN TUDGE: Yeah, it is. And in fact, we're going to be doing that as well. Running a campaign nationally reminding people about some of these core liberal democratic values, which is important. It's in part important because I think we constantly need to re-emphasise these values particularly as our community becomes more diverse, as we have increasing amounts of foreign interference which sometimes tries to divide our community. We just need to emphasise these values as being the key glue which holds us all together regardless of our backgrounds or where we're from and the like. And so, we're keen to do more of that.
DEB KNIGHT: Yeah, we take it for granted sometimes, don't we? And look, there's no doubt about it, we are the best country on earth.
ALAN TUDGE: We are.
DEB KNIGHT: A lot of people want to come to Australia, want to call Australia home, particularly during COVID. And you've got a lot more people applying and interested. How many ceremonies are you having across the country, perhaps even today because it is Citizenship Day?
ALAN TUDGE: Yeah, so there's about 150 odd ceremonies. We'll make about 2500 people Australian citizens today. I did a ceremony myself this morning, an online one, with three different families from New South Wales, Queensland, and South Australia respectively, and I'm here in Victoria.
DEB KNIGHT: I'll tell you what, you guys get some rotten jobs as politicians. But that must be one of the best.
ALAN TUDGE: Oh it is, it's sensational, and particularly, to be honest, it's one of the greatest honours that you can have and particularly as the Immigration Minister where you're actually conducting the ceremony, conferring citizenship upon an individual or a family. And as you probably know, Deb, and others who have been to these citizenship ceremonies, people are typically over the moon to become an Aussie. They're so proud. And you can imagine, particularly those who have come from some pretty rough countries, you know, to finally be in Australia, have that document which says they are an Aussie, which means they're home here, they can never be evicted from the country, and typically they're proud as punch and so thankful to our nation for welcoming them here.
DEB KNIGHT: Yeah, it's a wonderful thing, that's true. Now, just a couple of other things, National Cabinet meeting tomorrow discussing lifting the cap, officially making that lifting of the cap on overseas arrivals rising from 4000 a week to 6000 a week. Welcome news. But, I mean, you've got Queensland saying that the Federal Government needs to stump up more resources, and WA saying that they've been blindsided here.
ALAN TUDGE: Yeah, well, the Federal Government's been stumping up a lot of resources generally for the pandemic, as you'd know. I mean, the biggest public, the biggest public investments in Australian history. And so the states have responsibilities and we ask them to step up where it's their responsibility, and this is one of those. In relation to Western Australia, I mean, the Transport Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister has been in negotiation with his counterpart in Western Australia for a few days, so it shouldn't have come as a surprise if there was proper communication over there.
DEB KNIGHT: And should we have more intervention with the commercial airlines? Because it's all good and well to increase the cap, but a lot of Aussies who are overseas are saying that they're being stranded, they're being bumped off flights by people who are willing to pay more for business or first class flights, tickets very expensive. Is it time for the government to step in and help out on that front?
ALAN TUDGE: Yeah. One leads to the other, Deb. I mean, the airlines will reduce their flights if they know there isn't the quarantine slots available as such in Australia. So, as soon as those quarantine slots are larger or the numbers are larger, then we expect the airlines to also put on more aircraft…
DEB KNIGHT: What about the profiteering though?
ALAN TUDGE: You know, most of these airlines operate their commercial airlines. We've had, certainly not myself but the Deputy Prime Minister who looks after this, has had some discussions with various airlines to ensure that they will be operating. And obviously we've been supporting them to do domestic flights as well, although the way things are it's pretty tough to be able to get across the country with some of these borders closed.
DEB KNIGHT: Yeah. And should some of these Aussies who are stuck overseas, should they have come back sooner?
ALAN TUDGE: I think many people did and there's not that many now who actually are stuck overseas. I don't know what the latest number is, but even last week it was about 18,000 or 20,000. And we're getting through, say, 4000 to 6000 a week now. So, we hopefully, most people who do want to come back will be able to come back in the not too distant future. This becomes important of course, though. The quarantine arrangements become the bottleneck for immigration more generally. So you mentioned before, Deb, that lots of great people want to come to Australia and invest, build businesses, et cetera. And we want to see that happening but the quarantine numbers, the bed numbers if you like, become that bottleneck. And so it's great that we're going to see an opening up to 6000 hopefully, and maybe it'll go even larger in the near future so that we can start to get some of those great people and ideas and entrepreneurs back in the country.
DEB KNIGHT: Yeah, because it is a fabulous country, you're right there. Good on you, Alan. Thanks for joining us.
ALAN TUDGE: Thanks very much Deb.
DEB KNIGHT: Alan Tudge there, the Acting Immigration Minister.