Monday, 05 June 2017

Address to the Menzies Research Centre, Sydney


Ladies and gentlemen, I want to start by saying thank you and I've spoken to Nick privately about this, but I wanted to publicly acknowledge the work of Nick in particular, of the organisation of many people within this room who would have contributed to the success of the 75th Anniversary in Canberra only a couple of weeks ago. I thought it was a spectacular night and I thought it allowed us to revel in our history to recognise our founding father and to honour what was an amazing speech and life and to have Heather Henderson there as well, I thought it was a great credit to you as an organiser Nick, but the MC Alan Jones on the night, I thought added a special touch and it was certainly the case that we, with the set design, were very impressed with all of the work that had gone on behind the scenes. So congratulations.   

It is the case that for more than 20 years the Menzies Research Centre has served as a vital intellectual buttress for the Liberal Party. The Centre is home to great centre-right thinkers and sits at the very heart of policy development of our great Party. Your continued support of the organisation makes a real difference to policy debate in this country and major parties today face significant policy and political challenges. Issues surrounding the composition and integrity of migration have been front and centre at some at some of the biggest political shifts and upsets of recent times. Many of today's key political issues distil down to debates about the movement of people, of goods and of capital across borders.

We gather tonight in the shadow of another attack on our closest friends and allies in London. The scenes are all too familiar and for too long this war has been raging against the West and our values, perpetrated not in a foreign land, but in our cities by a cowardly enemy within. The reality is though, like world conflicts before it, this will be a prolonged battle and in essence has only just begun. The security situation at home and in other Western democracies will only intensify as foreign fighters return, armed with lethal skills and a level of sophistication not seen in most recent attacks.

Appeasement has failed in the past and it will certainly not be a feature of this Government's posture.  We have a responsibility to all law abiding, hard-working Australian citizens regardless of their heritage, their religious beliefs, their birthplace or their place of residence. However, elements within our own society have taken advantage of our tolerance, of our generosity, of our adherence to the rule of law and our civilised modern institutions and democracy.  Their actions though will not weaken our resolve or core belief in these important principles. In actual fact, their actions will only strengthen our stance.

The Australian public must know that every decision our Government takes is designed to keep us safe and to eliminate this threat.  Whether it is our ADF deployment to work with allies to destroy ISIS in Syria or Iraq, or our record investment in our intelligence, law enforcement and border agencies here at home – we will defeat this enemy as we've done in conflicts past.

Every decision I take in this portfolio, supported by the Prime Minister and Cabinet, is designed to keep Australians safe.  Since being elected we have deployed more than 100 Counter Terrorism Unit officers to our 11 international airports.  Visa cancellations and refusals have increased by 1,200 and 425 percent respectively since 2013 – all designed to deport threats, potential or real.

We have been tough in our approach and that is what Australians expect.   In a recent poll conducted by JWS Research, one of the greatest strengths of the Coalition was seen as the protection of our borders – on par with the management of defence, security and terrorism policies. 

In a changing world and with traveller volumes increasing, the challenges we face of course become more and more complex. Border crossings are likely to grow from just over 40 million last financial year to nearly 50 million within three years.

As these volumes grow, the Government has invested in intelligence capabilities to prevent potentially dangerous individuals from ever being granted visas to enter our country.

Last year we announced a $100 million investment in a new Visa Risk Assessment capability, which will provide earlier identification of visa applicants who may pose a threat to national security and our way of life. This year we announced a further $60 million to upgrade biometric capabilities. Australians will be safer because of these investments.

Australians do support migration – it's part of the great success story of the modern day Australia – but they expect it will be controlled and well managed.

While we have regained control of our borders and have rebuilt confidence, our nation continues to be burdened by the legacy of recent years of border policy failure. To date, more than $14 billion taxpayer dollars has been diverted to remedying Labor's mistakes. For several years the Immigration and Border Protection sphere has been consumed by debates around refugees and asylum seekers.

As a country, we need to break the grip this legacy has on government resources and the policy agenda. For Australia to maintain our reputation as a world leader in migration, we must shift focus to significant structural reform.

The United States refugee resettlement arrangement provides an opportunity to move refugees out of the regional processing centres which have become the subject of so much heated debate. The Manus Island regional processing centre will close by October 31 this year. This comes on top of the closure of 17 detention centres onshore.

Through our 'lodge or leave' announcement we have set a firm deadline for the seven and a half thousand asylum seekers who arrived here by boat under Labor and continue, five years later, to refuse to provide details supporting their claims for protection. Some of these people unbelievably refuse to even provide the Australian Government with evidence of their identity or simply refuse to engage at all and it will not continue.

Those who don't comply with this October one deadline and those who are found not to be owed protection will be departing this country. Labor's Legacy Caseload is costing taxpayers $250 million dollars a year in income support alone and the meter is still running.

Advocates who protest the Government's border protection policies as being too strict, fail to recognise the positive security and humanitarian benefits they have already generated. A direct dividend of returning integrity to our migration programmes has of course been an increased scope to expand our humanitarian programmes.

It was our strong border protection policies that secured the public confidence necessary to undertake the additional intake of 12,000 refugees displaced in Syria and Iraq. The Australian Government made no compromises and cut no corners in the delivery of that programme.

Applicants were subject to rigorous security screening processes carried out with security agencies and in conjunction, most importantly, with our international partners.

Priority was given to women, children and families with the least prospect of safe return to their home country. The final analysis of this caseload confirms 90 percent of those individuals granted protection were persecuted minorities, predominantly Christians fleeing persecution. Prime Minister Turnbull was adamant that we deliver on this objective of prioritising persecuted minorities, predominantly Christians, and we have.

Now it's not hard to be moved by the lengths that officials within my own Department have gone to in delivering the Government's priorities for this programme – and I want to acknowledge them tonight. Highly dedicated officials in my Department bravely sought out people who couldn't come to us.

These include Yazidi women and girls who have been captured, held in ISIS servitude, traded, yet managed to escape. These women and girls had no freedom of movement, couldn't get to a neighbouring country and had been through the most horrific of circumstances.

We had female public servants willing to go into Northern Iraq, with intense and heavily armed security, to listen to the most horrific cases, grant visas and bring those persecuted women and girls to our country.

Many of these Yazidi women witnessed the execution of their husbands, of their fathers, of their sons and brothers before they were captured and subjected to the vile acts of ISIS militants. Words cannot do justice to what they have been through. It is near impossible to read their stories and as a country we've brought 700 Yazidis, so far, been granted visas and more are currently being processed.  They've been given the safety and security that our country can offer – and that they truly deserve. Our policies have given good decent people the chance at a better future and a new life in Australia. I believe very strongly it is something of which all Australians can be most proud.

As we clear the decks of Labor's legacy asylum seeker issues, we are also looking toward the challenges of the future and tackling major reforms. We are making some of the most substantial changes to Australia's legal migration programme in decades.

We have announced reforms to strengthen the integrity of Australian citizenship. These reforms are designed to maintain public confidence in the citizenship programme and secure a safe and prosperous nation.

The events in London only underscore the importance of ensuring Australia's citizenship and our settings around the programme meet the current times.

Becoming an Australian citizen is an extraordinary privilege and becoming an Australian should be about more than passing an administrative test. Citizenship provides migrants with full and formal membership of Australian society, including all of the associated rights and responsibilities.

Indeed more than five million people have become citizens since the introduction of Australian citizenship on Australia Day in 1949, and each year increasingly large numbers of people apply. In fact over 100,000 people have attained Australian citizenship by conferral in 2016-17 alone. At the end of April there were over 70,000 conferral applications on hand and the community should have confidence these aspiring Australians are integrating and contributing to our country.

Ladies and gentlemen the importance of Australian values such as democracy, freedom and the rule of law cannot be overstated. They form the basis of the success of our modern society. We define ourselves and our nation by our commitment to the fundamental principles of allegiance to Australia, integration and unity. The unfortunate truth is that not everyone who seeks to become an Australian citizen shares these values.

There are those who seek to abuse the privileges bestowed upon them. The most flagrant among these are foreign fighters and Australians are right to question why we would allow these malicious traitors to return to our shores. As the Prime Minister and I have said, the best outcome is that these people are killed in the theatre of war.  We can prevent a foreign fighter who is a visa holder and who does not hold Australian citizenship from returning to Australia. We have made some mistakes in the past decades in granting citizenship to people who are unworthy of the honour, and we would be fools not to learn those lessons.

The global environment is also changing and we cannot rest on our past successes and refuse to acknowledge today's challenges. Tension, conflict, and uncontrolled movements of people have led in some countries to public disharmony and a breakdown in trust of migration processes. We must not allow this to happen in our country.

The Fierravanti-Wells and Ruddock review conducted in 2015 found that there is a sense of Australians believing that citizenship is under-appreciated and misunderstood. We are, through our announcement, actively seeking to address the public's concerns.

The package of reforms to strengthen the test for Australian citizenship includes:

  • An increased residence requirement of at least four years of permanent residence in Australia, which brings us into line with most comparable western democracies. 
  • A new stand-alone English language test at the competent level of English.
  • A new requirement to demonstrate integration into the Australian community, including working, where there is capacity to do so. 
  • New citizenship test questions on Australian values of respect, equality and freedom.

Now together these measures will place Australian citizenship on a firm footing to face the evolving challenges of our times. They will ensure that Australians can have continued confidence in an institution which serves as the cornerstone of Australia's egalitarian democracy. They will ensure the community can have confidence welcoming our newest Australians with open arms.

With our temporary skilled migration and citizenship reforms wide ranging and substantial, they do not mean the hard work of policy formulation can now stop. Australia will not maintain its status as a world leader in migration policy if we adopt a 'set and forget' attitude to government policy. Governments which fail to think big, which fail to make timely and tough decisions, fail their nation.

So it falls to us, all of us, to communicate effectively with Australians that we are addressing their concerns. It falls to us to communicate to stakeholders that these reforms are necessary and we do have a winning hand in this country, but we cannot win the debate if we do not engage. Everyday people must feel that they are being listened to, and we must speak to them.

Most of us in this room, at a Menzies Research Centre event, know it is only the Coalition that has the conviction and the ability to secure the integrity of Australia's migration programmes and our borders.  National security cannot be achieved without integrity in our border security settings. Those of us in this room know that together we can deliver those reforms in our national interest at a time when we must. It's up to all of us here and across the country to act on the decisions that we have taken so far and to make sure that we work together collectively to stare down this current scourge and stare it down we will.

Thank you very much.