Topics: Immigration, border protection, multiculturalism
CHRIS KENNY: Now, I want to go to Sydney CBD and the Immigration Minister David Coleman. Thanks for joining us, David. I haven't spoken to you since the election. Congratulations on your re-election and maintaining that portfolio.
DAVID COLEMAN: Thanks, Chris. Good to be with you.
CHRIS KENNY: What role do you believe that immigration as a discussion topic, as an issue, what role did it play in the election campaign, the election outcome, in your view?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well, I think immigration is always an important issue in the community, Chris. People know that this Government has a really strong record in immigration. They know that we secured the borders, that we stopped the boats, and they also know that we run immigration in an orderly fashion, and at the end of the day, that's what people regardless of their background, want to see. They want to see a mature, orderly approach to immigration, and they don't want to see some of the whacky proposals that we see from the Labor Party. You know, Labor's proposing a 71 per cent increase in the refugee intake that would cost taxpayers $6 billion. They had an extraordinary proposal in relation to unlimited parent visas that they took to the election. And I think that people looked at that and they said: well, we're going to stick with the government that has delivered very effectively in the immigration portfolio over a number of years.
CHRIS KENNY: David, two big differences in the immigration debate in the campaign but from my viewing of the campaign, they didn't figure particularly prominently. This, as you say, the big uncapped parental visa promise from Labor and also tied up in their in their machinations on border protection - they were going to massively increase the humanitarian intake. Given we didn't see this dominate the campaign debate day in, day out, was this something that the Liberal Party was feeding out in direct mail messages, in social media messages? Is this something that the campaign actually was pushing subterraneously, if you like?
DAVID COLEMAN: Look, I think there's no question that both of those issues were significant issues, and to be frank, Chris, in relation to their proposal for a completely unlimited number of parent visas, the Labor Party itself was very cynically trying to market that policy, particularly in multicultural electorates like mine and Reid and La Trobe and Chisholm and other parts of the country. But what the Labor Party seems to misunderstand is that Australians of all background, regardless of their cultural heritage, want a sensible and orderly approach to immigration. To say that you can just have a completely uncapped number of visas is absurd and people saw straight through that and they also saw through this policy, which as you rightly point out, came through the Labor Party's national conference. So, this is blackletter law, this policy for Labor, and what they are saying is they want to increase the refugee intake from the current 18,750 to 32,000. It's a huge increase, Chris. And we have, as you know, a generous and well-run humanitarian program - that's a good thing - but an increase of over 70 per cent at a cost of $6 billion is absolutely the wrong thing to do. And so, Anthony Albanese really needs to come out and say whether he's going to persevere with these two policies that Labor took to the election.
CHRIS KENNY: The other difference that you took to the election was a policy implemented already through the Budget, but that is a modest reduction in the permanent migration intake in the coming year from about 190,00 down to about 160,000. Some criticism from environmental and anti-immigration groups who didn't think that that was a big enough cap but Labor didn't really get into the argument. Are we then to conclude that that decision then was taken with the election, with electoral politics in mind as well?
DAVID COLEMAN: No, it was taken with regard to what was the right thing to do for the country, Chris, and what we've done, as you say, we've basically reduced the permanent intake in a relatively modest reduction but we've done that to say that the days of the permanent intake going up and up are over. The permanent intake is going to come down, and importantly 23,000 of those spots, within the permanent intake, will only be available for people who commit to living in regional Australia for at least three years. And so what that means is in places like my hometown of Sydney and Melbourne, where there are very significant congestion pressures and population pressures, a smaller proportion of people will be settling in those cities and a larger proportion in regional areas, and that's a good thing.
One of the unfortunate aspects of our immigration debate over the years, Chris, has been people had almost felt like they weren't allowed to say that they had concerns about the rate of immigration or congestion for fear of being told that they were intolerant of immigration. The reality is that congestion issues in Sydney and Melbourne are real. It's also the reality if you go down to South Australia that they're very much looking for more migrants to help stimulate economic growth. Same in Tasmania, bunch of other places around the country as well. So this is about having a rational, sensible, balanced approach to immigration. That's what people expect of this Government. They don't expect random policies like unlimited visas. They expect thoughtful, considered, and mature policy, and that's what we'll continue to deliver.
CHRIS KENNY: The Liberal Party did well in a couple of key city electorates where there's very high numbers of migrants. I'm thinking of Chisholm in Melbourne and Reid in Sydney among others. Did you, as a party, have special strategies in place to communicate directly with voters for whom English is not their first language?
DAVID COLEMAN: Look, what I'd say on that is Australians of all backgrounds share many characteristics. And one of those characteristics that I think is shared across the board in Australia is a desire to do the best you can, to create opportunities for the next generation, to have a go and be rewarded for having that go. And you know, it doesn't matter whether your parents came from Ireland in the 19th century, your forebears came from Ireland in the 19th century like mine did, or whether you came from India 10 or 15 years ago. I think that is absolutely fundamental to what it means to be an Australian. And it's one of the great successes of our multicultural society. And I don't think the Labor Party understands that. They wanted in this election to put people into buckets to say: you know, we're going to put senior Australians over here, and young people over here, and Australians of non-English speaking backgrounds over there. And that's just fundamentally different to how we see Australia. We see Australia as a place where everyone should have the opportunity to make the absolute most of their potential. Where people can work, and that where people who work hard and play by the rules are rewarded for that effort. That's what we're about and that's what so much of Australia, including multicultural Australia, is about as well.
CHRIS KENNY: David Coleman, you talk about the importance of border security and how that underpins a generous immigration program. You're now facing from the Opposition a new opponent in Kristina Keneally who's taking Home Affairs. She's having to walk back from some of her opposition in the past to boat turn backs and offshore processing, and the like. And she's switching her attack to the number of refugees or asylum seekers who come into this country on planes. Now I know of course it's a different order of problem here. They come in here, we know who they are, they've been granted a visa. But there are still incredible numbers now, thousands upon thousands of people coming in that way, who then claim asylum when they get here; often are repatriated but are often here for a long while on bridging visas. Is there more that you can do in this space? Are you worried about the number of asylum seekers who are flying legally into this country?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well Chris, if I could just pick up on your first part of your question about the new appointments on the Opposition side. You've got a pretty extraordinary contrast on border security. If you look at the teams, Scott Morrison who stopped the boats, and Peter Dutton who kept them stopped; or Anthony Albanese, who opposed turn backs, and Kristina Keneally, who opposed both turn backs and offshore processing. It's a very, very significant contrast.
CHRIS KENNY: We know about their history, but what about the issue of place arrivals claiming asylum. Is that getting out of hand, what more can you do to tidy that up?
DAVID COLEMAN: Yeah, look, a couple of points on that. The first point, Chris, is that last year, of those people who claimed asylum who arrived by plane, 95 per cent were rejected. So it's one thing to claim asylum, it's another to actually be successful. And if you’re unsuccessful you go home. And the other point of course on plane arrivals, is that, Chris, people who arrive in that way have done so lawfully with a valid visa, and they have not risked their lives, and frankly, they haven't put at risk the lives of Australian Border Force officers as do boat arrivals. So really big contrast. And to be frank, Chris, the last people we're going to be taking any lectures from when it comes to the management of our refugee program and border security is the Labor Party. Their management of this issue, when in government, was in my view the greatest public policy failure in Australia's post-war history; 1200 people drowned, 8000 kids were forcibly placed in detention, and 50,000 people arrived unlawfully. And it's cost taxpayers $17 billion. So we’re not going to be seeking advice from the likes of Kristina Keneally on these most important matters.
CHRIS KENNY: David Coleman, thanks for joining us.
DAVID COLEMAN: Thanks, Chris.