Subjects: Strengthening citizenship requirements, Mandatory Sentencing, Immigrant Accommodation.
As you know, most Thursdays we speak to the Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton. He's on line from our Canberra studio. Minister, good morning.
Good morning Ray.
With a sitting week of course you're busy down there, but I suspect the first thing we need to talk about is the opposition from the crossbenches and the Labor Party to your proposed changes to the citizenship test and the rather remarkable comments on Sky News this morning by Tony Burke.
Well, it's pretty amazing, and I think really most Australians would be shaking their heads at the Labor Party and the Greens today.
The reality is that the Government put forward some sensible changes around tightening up the citizenship requirements. We wanted people to have four years as a permanent resident instead of one before they became an Australian citizen. The reason for that is that we wanted to have a look at their background and to make sure that people had abided by Australian laws, that they had become involved in Australian society and we've spoken about it before Ray.
I mean, there was one case where there was a person that was convicted of eight sexual offences with a minor, including sexual assault and indecency. It took place over a period of 14 years; it involved four boys aged between nine and 14. He was sentenced to six years. The AAT set aside the decision that this person would be now considered as a good character and these are the sort of cases that can go on to citizenship.
There are 1100 permanent residents that we've cancelled the visas of over the course of the last couple of years in clamping down on people involved in sexual offences, people involved in drug-running, et cetera. Those people were on their pathway to become Australian citizens.
Now, the Australian Labor Party has decided that they want to side with the Greens on this issue and play games. Now, we'll still negotiate with the independent senators, et cetera, but the reality is that I think Bill Shorten has a lot to answer for today.
What do you need to do? Let's talk about the Xenophon Team. What do you need to do? They say they can't support the move because the proposed exam unfairly penalises people. Is there a way around this to get the bulk of what you say is good legislation – and I agree with you – through the Parliament?
Well, Ray, unless we can get – I mean, we're only dealing with independents because the Labor Party won't support the Bill.
Now, Bill Shorten said at one stage that he thought it was a good idea when we first made this announcement, but the reality is that the Left within his party are the same people that stare Labor leaders down on border protection issues. It seems to me that they've got their own way on this occasion as well.
This is led by Mark Dreyfus and Tony Burke and others, but the reality is that this impacts on peoples' lives. I want good people to become Australian citizens; 99 per cent of people who become Australian citizens are good people. But we've said, in addition to that change of moving from one year to four, the time of permanent residency, because we also want to have a look, if people are of working age, they have a capacity to work, I want them working and not on welfare and they need to demonstrate that as well.
We've said that we want to ask people to undertake an English language test. On a scale of one to nine, we set it at six, which was competent; four is basic. And we've said, okay, well, as a compromise we'll bring it back to five, so we've put that to the independent senators.
We've made some changes otherwise around the start dates, so we've pushed that out to 1 July of next year. So we have been conciliatory, we have offered up compromise, and I'm hoping that Nick Xenophon and his team will support the Government, because I think in principle they do, but they can answer as to why they haven't been able to accept these amendments.
But, as I say, in the end, if Bill Shorten was man enough to stand up to those within his party and he wasn't playing silly games, we'd actually be able to deal with some of the realities and some of the threats that we're facing in this country at the moment. And unfortunately, this is no different to Bill Shorten refusing to accept or support the legislation that we've put forward around mandatory detention for child sex offenders. Why on earth he'd oppose that, I don't know.
Well, I've got Michael Keenan coming on about that in the second hour; right, so I knew you'd want to have a say about it. But I can tell you that on 8 February this year – I've checked my diary – I spoke to Bill Shorten privately and publicly about this and his support of the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse.
Now, I know it's in their DNA – and some people from your side of politics, in their DNA as well – to avoid mandatory minimums, but we're talking about the worst of the worst when it comes to child sex offenders. And we're not talking about first time losers or someone who made – quote – a mistake; we're talking about people who've done it again and again.
Now, the Labor Justice Spokesman, Clare O'Neil – listen to this, this is where the DNA kicks in – says mandatory minimum sentences – quote – let guilty people off the hook because juries are less likely to convict when they know there's no discretion about the sentence. She tried to use an example of an 18-year-old in a consensual relationship with a 15-year-old. I'm glad it's not her 15-year-old daughter or vice-versa.
But Ray, all of this is a red herring mate, because if you have a look at what Labor's done in relation to people-smugglers – so this is the Labor Attorney-General in 2010, this is a direct quote in relation to people-smugglers: ‘The use of mandatory minimum penalties reflects the seriousness of the activity being prosecuted.’
So the fact is that they supported these mandatory provisions in relation to people-smuggling, they've supported it in relation to terrorism and they're saying that sex offenders don't deserve these minimum sentences and there is huge hypocrisy.
So nobody should fall for this line that Labor doesn't believe in minimum mandatory. They do. They've supported it in relation to people-smugglers and if it's good enough for Labor to support it in relation to people-smugglers, why not support it in relation to paedophiles – people who are the worst human beings, who are violating young children. And for some reason Mark Dreyfus, as I say, people should study this guy because he is bad news on the national security front when he was Attorney-General…
…Is he a full brother to Andrew Leigh in terms of how you describe Andrew Leigh?
Well, he's right there with Andrew Leigh.
It's a dead heat – developed prints required – between the two of them when it comes to degrees of stupidity, I'd imagine.
Well, he hasn't adopted the beard that Andrew Leigh's sporting around, some sort of identity crisis he's going through.
He might be hiding from someone.
Well, he may well be, and maybe it's the people of Australia, because Mark Dreyfus, honestly, is so far left he'd be at home in the Greens and he's calling the shots over Bill Shorten.
Shorten should explain to people how on earth they could not support these minimum mandatory sentences for child sex offenders, for paedophiles, when they support them for people-smugglers or for people convicted of terrorist offences.
Okay. Let me go back to the White Australia policy and someone whom I thought wasn't quite as mad as he's made out to be this morning, Tony Burke, and this comes from websites. The term White Australia policy comprises various historical policies that effectively barred people of non-European descent from immigration to this country.
There was never any specific policy titled as such, but the term was invented to describe a collection of policies to stop people from Asia mainly, particularly China; competition in the goldfields between British and Chinese miners historically; labour union opposition to the importation of also Pacific Islanders into sugar plantations, and so it goes on.
From the 1850s, there were restrictions on family members joining Chinese miners already in the country. The colonial authorities levied a special tax on Chinese immigrants that other immigrants were exempted from, so that's where it comes from, and Australian furniture had to be labelled: made with Chinese labour. So soon after we became a nation – 1901 – it passed the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901. The passage of the Bill is considered the commencement of the White Australia policy.
Now, subsequently we had the policy strengthened during the war. These policies effectively allowed British immigrants to be preferred over all other people for the first four decades of the 20th Century.
During the Second World War, the Prime Minister – a Labor Prime Minister, John Curtin – reinforced the policy, saying: ‘This country shall remain forever the home of the descendants of those people who came in peace and order to establish the South Seas as an outpost of the British race.’ The policy was dismantled in stages by successive governments after the conclusion of the Second World War with the encouragement of first non-British, non-white immigration – we're talking about people from Europe who made a great contribution here – allowing for a large multi-ethnic post-war programme of immigration.
The Menzies and Holt governments effectively dismantled the policies between '49 and '66 and then the Whitlam Government passed laws to ensure that it would be disregarded.
So if he thinks what you're trying to do as a government takes us back to those days, he's got the IQ of a cumquat, Tony Burke.
Well, you know him well then because, Ray, the reality is that it was only a couple of years ago that Tony Burke was saying that we needed an English language test for people to qualify to become Australian citizens.
Now, again, this is just rank populism. They're being cute about it because they're trying to win seats in inner cities in Sydney and Melbourne from the Greens and that's the modern day Labor. They're not worried about people living out in the suburbs, not worried about the views of parents living outside of capital cities. The modern Labor Party has lost the plot in relation to these issues Ray and this is another demonstration of it.
Now, we have a non-discriminatory policy. We haven't said that – I mean, any of the elements that you've just read out or that Burke's tried to play games with this morning. Honestly, he's deluded, and we're saying that we want people to abide by Australian laws, we want people to adopt Australia values, we want them to work if they're of working age. We don't want people coming here just to come on the welfare system. People have full access to Medicare, they have full access to the welfare system and the rest of it once you become an Australian citizen and that's why it is important for us to get right the question of Australian citizenship, because as we've seen with the 3000 visas that we've cancelled and the 1100 that I just mentioned who are permanent residents, these are people who've committed serious criminal offences and they were going on to become Australian citizens.
There is no argument possible that the Labor Party could possibly put to say that these people adhere to Australian values when they're committing serious crimes against Australian citizens.
So if the Labor Party wants to stand up for these criminals and stand on the side of the paedophiles then let them do it, but it'll be to the downfall of Bill Shorten. And frankly, it's why people question Bill Shorten's judgement and know that there's something murky about Shorten, because I think he's demonstrated it here today and I think all Australians frankly should be angry about it.
A basic requirement around English is not discriminatory, it's saying to people we want you to honour your cultures, we want you to be very proud of where you've come from, but when you take citizenship or when you want to become a citizen in this country, you make a decision that you adhere to Australian laws, that you speak our language, that you work if you have a capacity to work. We've said for people under the age of 16 or over the age of 60, we won't require them to take the English language test. It's a non-discriminatory policy that applies equally to people from the four corners of the earth that come to this country.
But we aren't going to allow the ghettoes that we might see in other parts of the world, where people try and adopt a different legal system or try and shun the English language. We are not going to tolerate that in our country.
Okay, one final one. I got an email from a listener who stayed at a block of apartments in Parramatta recently – classified as four star – I know the apartments he refers to. He was surprised to find out a large number of apartments are occupied by families from overseas – husbands, wives, children. He said mainly from Bangladesh, India according to the people that work there.
The real surprise was learning that our government is fully subsidising the total accommodation cost for each apartment, in excess of 1000 bucks a week. He asked the question: who are these people? Are they political refugees, economic refugees? How many more of these arrangements across the country are there for the people to be kept in this so-called four star accommodation at great expense to the community? Are you aware of these sort of arrangements?
Well Ray, I've got some advice, but just before I come to that don't forget – and, again, we've discussed it on the programme before – of the 50,000 people that came on the 800 boats, 30,000 people are still onshore. We discussed it last week about the last 7500 who were refusing to provide any information about their refugee claims. We've reduced that number now down to 71, where we've forced them to provide that documentation.
But the reality is that this cost is still costing us $1.9 billion a year to clean this mess up, including accommodation and there's housing that we pay for around the country and particularly in cases where you can't forcibly return people back to their country of origin even if they've been found not to be refugees in some cases…
…yes, but just to give you some indication. I understand all that. He spoke to one family – a Bangladeshi family, quite nice people he said, husband wife, four children, all under 10 – they're living at these apartments and he enquired politely and they answered polity: are you employed? Oh no, no we're on benefits.
Well, just in relation to this particular apartment block, the advice that I've got from my department is that it isn't used by the department, but that it's on an approved list.
So I'll go back and have a look at some of the detail of it, but that's – honestly, if I could clean this Labor mess up tomorrow I would. We're working as hard as we can to do it, but there's a lot of expense related to it.
Thanks for your time, we'll talk next week.
Thanks Ray. See you later.