Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Doorstop Interview, Parliamet House

Subjects: Refugee Week 2017; Bill Shorten's lack of leadership in supporting strengthening citizenship requirements.



Well everyone, thank you very much for being here today. Refugee Week is something that Australia should celebrate because we're a very generous country and a very generous nation in the number of people that we settle here each year and it grows each year to just over 18,000 people within a couple of years and that's something that all Australians should be proud of.

When you look at the people that we've met today, these are people that have fled from war-torn countries, where civil war has ravaged communities, displaced millions of people and for a country like Australia it is a great thing that we are able to take the opportunity to provide support to those people to allow them to create a new life in our country, to work hard, to educate their children and to become the next great generation of migrants – as has been the case in this country for a very long period of time.

So I'm really pleased that the community, including the community leaders who were here today, took the time to talk with us and to provide a wonderful demonstration of what it is that Australia is doing and that we all should be very proud of – the success that we've had through the intake of people through the Refugee and Humanitarian Programmes for a long period of time.

I'm happy to take any questions.


Labor says it won't vote for your citizenship changes as they are. What's your response to that?


Well look, forget all the red herrings, this demonstrates to all Australians that Labor is completely divided on the Citizenship Bill – as they were on the border protection bill. Labor pretended to support Operation Sovereign Borders; they never did. And Bill Shorten when the Prime Minister and I made these changes about tightening up on citizenship initially came out of the blocks saying yes, he would support it and then he was mugged by the Left of his Party.

So the problem with the modern Labor Party is that the Left are ruling internally and these red herrings about English language, one year to four years, it's a nonsense. There is a much deeper current running here and it is clear to me that Bill Shorten has not been able to contain the Left of his Party again on one of these very important issues to the future of this country, to our fabric of our society, to national security and many other aspects that are part of the Government's push here to tighten up the legislation.

So don't fall for this rhetoric around one to four years and English language; that is not what is happening here. Bill Shorten has tried to pacify the Left of his Party and it's clear that over the month since we've made this announcement, Albanese and no doubt Plibersek and others within the Party have tapped Mr Shorten on the shoulder to tell him that he is not going to support these Bills and that's what we've seen come out of the Caucus today.


Are you confident you can get it through with the crossbenchers? 


I'm confident we can get this Bill through the Senate because I think ultimately Labor will change their position and I think frankly we'll have the support of the Independents in the Senate as well. I think it is important for us to get Labor's support because we do want to have bipartisan support on what is a very important Bill before the House and a law that will serve our country well for many decades to come.


Well Labor says this is not about national security and in fact it is just a leadership campaign, your leadership campaign. What's your response to that?


Well explain to me why Bill Shorten came out of the blocks to in principle support what we'd announced and then he's had his Left Caucus members out there tweeting away and backgrounding journalists to say that they weren't going to support it. Now they've got this thin veil around English language or around you know the one to four year permanent residency change. It's nonsense. Bill Shorten has been mugged by the Left of his Party. Anthony Albanese is biting at the bit to look for an opportunity to attack Bill Shorten and it seems that he's found it. Mr Shorten should have greater leadership capacity to stand up to the Left of his Party – he either stands with the Left of his Party or he stands with the vast majority of the Australian public who support what we're doing here.

This is a sensible change. There is a national security element to it. There is no question about that, but it runs much deeper than that. The one to four years brings us short of where Germany is at eight years for example, in Canada it's something like four or five years, the United Kingdom four years as well.

So this is a modernisation of the citizenship laws and Mr Shorten frankly should go with his first instinct, not with the reality that has been delivered him by Caucus today.


Would you be prepared to divide the measures to get some through with Labor support?


We are not going to compromise to the Left of the Labor Party. The Left of the Labor Party is out of step with the broad Australian public. The Australian public wants to see an increase in the English language requirement, they want to see people meet Australian laws and Australian values and if Mr Shorten doesn't want to stand up for the majority of Australians, instead side with the minority in his Party because he is worried about inner-city seats being won by the Greens, then Bill Shorten can explain that to the Australian public because it is clear at the moment that Bill Shorten is barely in control of his own Caucus.


Minister how do you respond to accusations from Labor that making the English language test harder is an act of snobbery?


Well it's a nonsense. As you've seen by many reports and by the lived experience, if people have a greater capacity to speak the English language in our country, they have the greater ability to achieve whether it's at school, whether it's in the workplace and certainly within society and the idea is that people will be able to increase their English language skills over a period of time before they take the citizenship test – as is the case in any other developed country.

So we're not proposing here some radical plan. We are saying that it is better for communities, it is better for individuals and it is better for our country if people who have an ability to speak English are able to learn that skill, to improve that skill and to be greater participants in society.

Now to go to this point about this nonsense that Labor is putting forward about it being a university standard; well again that was the red herring that I think Linda Burney came up with in the last week or so as some sort of cover to get them to today's position of Caucus. It seems that they have abandoned that position because it was again just a red herring.

So all I'd say to you is look at the fact that Labor has shifted its position over a month because it is clear to all Australians that Bill Shorten is happier to stand with the Left and to stand with the Greens than he is to stand with the vast majority of the Australian public – and for that, I believe he should be condemned.

Thank you very much.