Friday, 20 September 2019

Press Conference, Sydney

Topics: Australia Day citizenship ceremonies, strengthening the character test


DAVID COLEMAN: Good afternoon. Australia Day citizenship ceremonies are fantastic. Anyone who has attended an Australia Day citizenship ceremony sees the pride of people who are joining us as citizens of Australia.

In my own electorate, in places like Georges River Council and Canterbury Bankstown Council, we see every year tremendous ceremonies - people joining us as Australians. People who are committing to Australia join us in this nation, to respect the laws and values of Australia and contribute to our fantastic multicultural society. They’re a great thing and our government wants to see more citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day. We want that opportunity to become an Australian on Australia Day to be available to more people, because what better day to become an Australian than Australia Day.

Under the Citizenship Code which I have released today, the Government will be requiring all councils – with the exception of some small councils – to hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day. That’s going to mean more people get the opportunity to become Australian citizens on Australia Day.

It’s already the biggest day of the year – Australia Day is already the biggest day of the year for citizenship ceremonies, but this will make it even bigger. I’m confident that with this new rule in place that next year Australia will have the largest ever number of new citizens sworn in on Australia Day and joining us in this country. That’s a very good thing.

Happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: So, you consulted with councils before doing this. What was the tone of the feedback?

DAVID COLEMAN: Well there was a variety of views but ultimately this is a matter for the federal government. Citizenship is something that is federal government policy and the federal government very strongly believes that Australia Day is a critical and fundamental part of our national calendar. We think Australia Day ceremonies for citizenship are fantastic things, they're uplifting things, they’re great to attend and we want more of them to happen because we want more people to become Australian citizens on Australia Day - and that's what this will do.

JOURNALIST: Do you anticipate that some councils will defy the code?

DAVID COLEMAN: Well look if councils don't follow the code they will not be able to hold citizenship ceremonies anymore. And the federal Government will step in and hold ceremonies in their place. We already hold a number of citizenship ceremonies around the country and we're willing to do more if necessary.

I'd expect that councils will comply with this new rule. The majority of councils already hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day, but for those that don’t, they will be required to do so from this point forward.

JOURNALIST: I think from the information that you previously released, about 300 councils do hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day but 36 don’t. Would you be anticipating that the federal government have to step in dozen, fewer, more?


So we know that 300 councils hold citizenship ceremonies but 36 didn't. How many are you expecting that the federal government had to step in in their stead?

DAVID COLEMAN: The majority of councils already hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day and now all councils, except for very small council areas, will have to hold a ceremony. We expect the vast, vast majority of councils to comply with that rule, but if they don't, the federal government will step in and that council won’t be able to hold citizenship ceremonies anymore. We think it's absolutely fundamental that people who want to become Australian, who have done all the work and have followed all the correct procedures and rules to become Australian citizens, they should have the opportunity to become an Australian on Australia Day. That's what this is all about.

JOURNALIST: What would success look like here – only having to step in in a dozen cases?

DAVID COLEMAN: Well look, as I said, I'm not going to speculate in terms of how many councils and so on, but I would expect that the vast majority of councils will comply with this rule and they should - because this is simply saying we should hold citizenship ceremonies to become an Australian on Australia Day.

We have seen, over the years, a number of councils for political reasons - councils like Byron Bay, councils like Yarra in Victoria and others - say they don't want to hold a ceremony on Australia Day for political reasons. They've sought to politicise Australia Day and what this new code is saying is we want all councils to hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day, because why shouldn't people have the opportunity to become an Australian on Australia Day.

JOURNALIST: Have any councils told you that they’re simply not going to do it?

DAVID COLEMAN: Over the years there've been a number of councils that have said that they wouldn't hold citizenship ceremonies previously. We've had, as recently as yesterday, Launceston Council say they didn't want to hold a ceremony on Australia Day and the rule is very clear. If councils don't want to hold a ceremony on Australia Day they won't be able to hold ceremonies in the future and the federal government will step in and do so.

The vast majority of councils do a great job in holding citizenship ceremonies and the substantial majority do already hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day. This is about saying we want people who are becoming Australians to have the opportunity to become an Australian on Australia Day. That's a great thing and that's what this is about.

JOURNALIST: On the dress code what would fall short in your opinion? I know local councils are going to set the final rules, but what would you see as unacceptable attire at an Australia Day citizenship ceremony?

DAVID COLEMAN: Becoming a citizen is a very, very significant and important event. It's a very big deal. It's a great privilege to become an Australian and we welcome significant numbers of new citizens every year. The dress code is about ensuring that people come to those ceremonies and treat them with the appropriate respect. Now that dress code might vary - Darwin is obviously very different to Hobart and so on and so we'll leave that to the discretion of the individual councils, but it's really important that people who are attending citizenship ceremonies treat that ceremony with the appropriate level of respect and dress codes are part of that.

JOURNALIST: I think some councils in the past, one WA council I think in particular, said they're simply not going to have a dress code. What would happen in those circumstances?

DAVID COLEMAN: A dress code is a requirement of the new code and if a council doesn't put in place a dress code that would be a breach of the code. I'm confident that councils will do that. It's just common sense to say clearly, when people come to something as important as a citizenship ceremony, when they are becoming an Australia, we want to make sure that people are treating that with appropriate respect and that's what the dress code is about.

JOURNALIST: On the character test – you’ve got to get that through the Senate. Labor, pretty clearly, have no interest in supporting it. What’s your best option now?

DAVID COLEMAN: Labor’s position on the character test in Parliament this week was absolutely outrageous. The character test law that the Government brought to the House of Representatives said that, if a foreign citizen has been convicted of a serious offence against an Australian, a violent offence, sexual offence, firearms offences or breaches of AVOs, that the Government should have a clear, objective way of kicking that person out of Australia. Now that is just common sense, because if a non-citizen comes to Australia and commits a serious crime against Australians, of course they have breached faith with Australia and they deserve to have their visa cancelled.

We welcome about eight million people a year to Australia – eight million visas are issued – and we’re a very welcoming country. But we’re not going to tolerate people who come to Australia and commit serious crimes.

The Labor Party - every member of the Labor Party in the House of Representatives - walked into the chamber on Wednesday night and voted not to allow the government to have that power to kick out non-citizens who have committed serious crimes. It is absolutely outrageous. It is something that they should be held to account for and they will be held to account for every single day from now on.

In terms of the next steps, that now goes of course to the Senate and we'll work with the senators as we always do in a respectful way. It’s a very important piece of legislation.

We've cancelled seven times as many visas of non-citizens in the 6 years we've been in government than Labor did in the six years that they were in government. We’ve got a strong and clear approach which protects Australians from non-citizens who commit serious crimes. What we want to do through this law is extend that and make it simpler to kick someone out of Australia who’s committed a violent offence, or a sexual offence, or a firearms offence, and the Labor Party – all of them walked into the House of Representatives and voted no. And that's outrageous

JOURNALIST: One Nation, I believe, has concerns as well. What have you been able to tell them to assuage their concerns?

DAVID COLEMAN: I don't go into the discussions we have with the crossbenchers. We talk to the crossbenchers all the time in a respectful way and discuss issues with them as appropriate. The bottom line here is, this law is about protecting Australians from noncitizens who commit serious crimes.

The Labor Party voted no to a law that would make it simpler for the government to kick out people who committed serious crimes, who are not Australian citizens, who have committed those crimes against Australians. It is absolutely outrageous.

JOURNALIST: The Senate committee inquired into this particular piece of legislation. They received submissions that set out cases where it's believed that people were murdered by those who might not have been in Australia had this law being in effect. Will it be on Kristina Keneally’s head if we see a repeat of that because this legislation can't get through parliament?

DAVID COLEMAN: This legislation is absolutely critical. The Labor Party, in opposing it, have followed Kristina Keneally down a completely inappropriate path. To say that the alternative government of Australia does not support a law that protects Australians from non-citizens who commit violent crimes is outrageous.

I wonder if all of the Labor Party members who voted against this law actually understood what it was they were voting against. Because I am sure that in electorates right across this country there would be people who would be outraged to know that their local representatives voted against that law.

Our government has a very strong track record of protecting Australians from non-citizens who commit serious crimes. We’ve cancelled the visas of seven times as many people as Labor did in their six years in office.

This law is about making it simpler to kick out violent criminals, people who commit sexual offences, people who commit serious firearms offenses. It is unbelievable that the Labor Party, led by Kristina Keneally and Anthony Albanese, voted against this law.

Thanks guys