Subjects: Population growth; conversational English; regional migration; migrant integration
Alan Tudge joins me now. Look, it's great to have your company. Tim Soutphommasane, a former Labor hack, says you're a racist dog whistler; he said the same about me, I think, in the same speech. What do you say to him?
I say to Tim that it's the easiest trick in the book to yell racism at somebody and try to shut them down. I think it's much more difficult to actually sensibly and honestly discuss the issues which are in front of us.
While we have been tremendously successful as a multicultural nation, there are some emerging issues in relation to integration and I think we should discuss those maturely, because if we can't discuss them, how do we actually address them?
Let me give you how my parents came here and you tell me what's changed to make what we're talking about, this growing of… sort of almost like separate colonies. That's my word, not yours, in Australia.
When my parents came out here from Holland, my father got offered work in factories on day one. On day one, the first day he was here.
If he wanted to speak to relatives in Holland, you had to save up to pay for a phone call and then you had to talk really fast when it came through because it cost a bomb. And it cost a fortune to travel, he didn't go back to Holland for many, many years, 20, 30 years.
Now it's very different to that, isn't it?
That's true and that's what makes the integration challenge greater today than it was back then because in essence, I think, when the southern Europeans, the other Europeans came to Australia in the 50s and 60s, A) there was full employment, B) you didn't necessarily need to have English to get those jobs because you didn't have the occupational health and safety issues that you have today.
We had car factories as well. Easy, walk in.
Exactly, and it was almost a one way ticket, where you had to come to Australia and it was very difficult to go home because it was so expensive. And as you pointed out, very expensive even to communicate back.
Whereas today of course, the communication is free effectively back, you can even fly back very frequently as well because it's quite affordable.
And also, if you don't have the English language it's so much more difficult to get work, in fact near impossible if you don't have English today. So there are some significant differences today which make actually the challenges greater for us.
Of course, we have greater numbers, more diverse numbers as well and that's why I have been pointing out, Andrew, that we've done phenomenally well and I want to emphasise that, and I do in all my key speeches.
We are still by far and away the most successful multicultural country in the world, but our model has been firmly built on integration. Not assimilation as such, where you have to give up your heritage, but nor separatism, which is sometimes seen in Europe, where you almost have parallel communities. But integration.
There are just some emerging indicators that we are not doing quite as well as we have done in the past. And I think we want to address those now, discuss them, and address them so they don't become bigger issues and more intractable issues down the track.
Now, one of those differences, too, is the critical mass. We are now getting suburbs where, as I said, with majority ethnic communities, where one third might speak the same foreign language.
People naturally tend to cluster with their own, and we have also got those satellite dishes all beaming back to getting their news from overseas rather than from here. How significant is this a challenge, do you think?
Ideally the communities blend together more than are in isolation from each other and typically we've done that very well.
Now, naturally of course, people will want to co-locate with their family members or maybe people from similar country of origin, that's always been the case and perhaps always will be the case. But as I said, ideally they'd blend together more over time.
I think the key thing, actually, to this is not the fact that people can speak a foreign language, but the fact that many people don't have the capacity to speak English.
And if you don't have the capacity to communicate with other Australians, it's obviously very difficult to integrate with other Australians.
And we are rapidly approaching a million Australians who don't have any English language capability, or can't speak the English language very well.
We will probably hit that in about 2021, 2022. There are 800,000 today.
When the numbers are very small it doesn't matter but when the numbers start to get reasonably significant as that is, then it does put some pressure on social cohesion and that's why I've been talking about the importance of this.
It is important for the migrant and of course it's important for social cohesion and it's critical for democracy so that people can fully participate in our compulsory voting system.
Now, to the idiots who - you know, The Guardian, the Crikeys, the ABC, they are claiming I am a racist because I don't like people speaking foreign languages - I speak one and a half myself.
It's not that, it's a measure of how some suburbs are getting increasingly dominated by one particular ethnic group. Now the point is, you are saying nearly a million soon, well 800,000 now do not speak adequate English or any.
It's more easy now to sustain that and not have to make the effort because if all your neighbours, or many of your neighbours speak your home language instead and the local shops as you see in Box Hill are predominantly of one ethnic group, you don't need to make that effort anymore, do you?
And that's in part true and many people have said this to me, that there just isn't the same requirement to speak English if indeed you are in one of those larger communities and can get by on a foreign language more easily.
I suppose the point that I'm saying is that it's actually in the individual's interest to at least have some conversational English language capability, so that they can go and communicate with the rest of the country.
Yeah. But 800,000 Australians clearly have told you it's not worth their bother and this is the point, you can't force them to do this.
And the critical mass, which is the key here, the critical mass and the lack of integrating traditions now make it almost impossible to unwind this. Now, I'm just wondering…
Just on that point, Andrew, we are looking at some of the requirements of learning English before you get your full permanent residency or citizenship.
At the moment, only about 30 per cent of people who come into the country face an English language test before they come in and have to have good English. But 70 per cent don't.
The wives, the spouses?
And sometimes that's the spouses, sometimes through the family stream or the humanitarian stream. When of course everybody has an interest to at least speak conversational level English.
We are taking a very close look at that to see if we can raise the expectations upon people to make that effort, to do the classes, to get to that conversational level English.
But what about the sheer number of people coming in, which seems to be overwhelming. You've fairly cut that back, you say you made a cut in the permanent immigration, a small cut, but the total immigration's still about 240,000 a year.
That is huge and most of them are crowding into Sydney and Melbourne.
The latter is the real issue and I have been talking about that today - 87 per cent of our skilled migration goes to Melbourne and Sydney, when we've got other parts in the country who are actually screaming out for more workers.
Yeah, but they're losing their kids because there's no work there. I come from the country. One of the towns I grew up in, doesn't exist anymore.
But that's not quite true. In some places that's right, but you go and speak to the Mayor of Warrnambool, for example, and they want a thousand people. They want a thousand people now.
I have been speaking to the Premier of South Australia, he would like to see an additional 15,000 people go to South Australia each year. So, if we can get a better distribution…
I'm from South Australia, there's so many people going from South Australia because there's no work there.
The unemployment rate is coming down, it's 5.9 per cent now and it is coming down.
We have got a very strong pro-business agenda, a pro-economic growth agenda there under the new Liberal Government, and so the Premier there is very confident that he can actually accommodate a larger population there and we want to support him in that effort.
If we get a broader distribution of migrants, Andrew, then we'll not only take pressure off Melbourne and Sydney, but we'll also support the growth in those other places.
But if you force them or encourage them or make restrictions to force them to go inter-state, to country, it'll be like the taxi drivers.
The Indian taxi drivers I've talked to in Adelaide say, look I'm forced to, as a condition of my visa, to work in Adelaide for two years or three years, and then I can go back to Melbourne.
You can only stem this for the two years or so that your restrictions would apply. They'll still go back to the city.
Let's wait and see about that. I mean, there's certainly a fair bit of evidence that has been put to us, that people once they do get their permanent residency, they do quickly come back to Melbourne or Sydney and we want to address that, so that at least there's a requirement to stay in those smaller states or the regional areas for a few years.
Now, if you're there for a few years, you hope they put down roots, their kids go to the local school, they have friendships there and then they're more likely to make it their home.
Well, good luck to you in your endeavours, but it might be easier just to turn off the tap of immigration anyway.
Well, we have slowed down the immigration intake as well, to its lowest level in 10 years, this year it is likely that the temporary immigration will also come down.
Okay. Alan Tudge, thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it.