Subjects: Strengthening citizenship requirements; energy.
I will just make a couple of comments and then I'm happy to take questions.
The faux outrage from Tony Burke and Bill Shorten today really demonstrates to the Australian public why the Labor Party's not fit to govern this country. It's very clear from Mr Burke's own statements and indeed Mr Shorten's own statements that for over a long period of time they have supported strengthening the Citizenship Act, but they are acting now against the national interest and in their own political interest by pulling this stunt in the Senate with the Greens in an effort to try and delay debate about what is a very, very important Bill.
Now what we have proposed in relation to the Bill – very sensibly – we've been able to negotiate with the independent Senators given that the Labor Party won't enter into – no discussions, no sensible discussion at all. We've been able to offer up some amendments to the Bill which address in large part some of the recommendations provided by the Senate Committee and our discussions, our negotiations with the independent Senators will continue because we are not going to be distracted by what's a political stunt in the Senate between the Labor Party and the Greens.
We believe very strongly that the proposal that we've put forward is moderate, it's sensible and as I pointed out this morning, we've cancelled the visas of 3000 people who have committed serious offences in many cases against Australian citizens including against children and including the distribution of drugs such as ice. Eleven hundred people within that cohort were permanent residents and would have gone on to become Australian citizens and our argument is that these changes are sensible because we are asking people not only to abide by Australian laws, but to adhere to Australian values and we have put forward, as I say, some sensible amendments.
Our discussions will continue with the independents, but Tony Burke's completely over the top reaction today really shows that he and Mr Shorten are acting not in the national interest, but in their own political interest and for that they should be condemned.
What are those amendments?
We have said, for example, that in relation to the English language requirement we had proposed level 6, which is competent and we have proposed to bring that down to level 5 on a scale of 1 - 9, with 4 as basic and that is sensible.
Now I would ask you to do some research on what level 5 means and look at the examples of the English language requirement in level 5. Don't listen to Tony Burke's rants and ravings as he did in relation to level 6.
So we have suggested sensibly that – and as you always do in these negotiations the Government moves and you hope that people you are negotiating with move their position as well, ultimately to a position of agreement. So we have moved that from 6 to 5 and we've said we will have a start date of 1 July next year. So that will address in large part, as I say, the recommendations made by the Senate Committee and our discussions with the independents are continuing.
[Inaudible] crossbench has been so far to that downgrading of the language level?
They are willing to engage. I mean there are some Senators who want the Government to go further in relation to some elements of what we've proposed. There are others that want less, as you would expect, given the broad cross section of Senators that we need to deal with.
So we will negotiate with each, but given that Mr Burke said only a couple of years ago that he believed it was sensible to have an English language test as part of the citizenship test, surely the Labor Party themselves need to answer the question why won't they support what the Government is putting forward?
They won't support it because they are playing political games. They've been caught out dancing again intimately with the Greens and if they are putting their own political interests ahead of the national interest then they should be condemned for that.
You've agreed to push the start date back to some point in the future, or 1 July next year at this point. Does that mean that people who've applied since April 20 and who are applying now will be processed under the old rules?
Yes it does. Yes.
Were you blindsided by what happened in the Senate?
No. We've been negotiating with the independent senators for the last couple of months and it's the case that Labor pulled a stunt with the Greens. That's fine, they can play their games.
I remember the days of Opposition well and to get through the day you pull these sort of stunts to keep you alert and alive and interested in the process. If that is what ticks their box, good luck to them.
But what we've done is put forward sensible compromises and if the Australian public look at this, they will condemn Bill Shorten because they already have huge doubts about Bill Shorten. They have questions about his character. He initially said this was a good idea when we announced it earlier in the year and then he was mugged by Mark Dreyfus and others on the Left of the Labor Party. It's actually time for Mr Shorten to stand up and show some leadership which has been absent to date.
Tony Burke's contribution this morning really is quite farcical.
But it wasn't just Labor and the Greens that pulled that stunt, it was Nick Xenophon who agreed to it as well. If they were open to this compromise, wouldn't have they have done a deal with you yesterday?
Look I know there's a lot of talk about you know negotiating this and that with the independent Senators, there's no need to negotiate with the independent Senators if there is a sensible bipartisan position.
Mr Burke expressed his support for an English language test as part of the citizenship test only a couple of years ago.
Mr Shorten said he agreed with what the Government had proposed when we made this announcement. The Labor Party should be the ones that should be focused upon here and frankly we've put forward I think reasonable concessions that should be supported by the Labor Party. Now if the Labor Party doesn't support the concessions that we have put forward in what form would they support the Bill? Because at the moment they are saying that they oppose it in its entirety.
So what we are saying is that before somebody becomes an Australian citizen we want them to adhere to Australian values. At the moment the Labor Party is opposed to that. They are opposed to our proposition that if somebody has been on welfare benefits, they are of a working age and have a capacity to work, but they have been on welfare benefits for four years, that they should be eligible to become an Australian citizen without any question.
So let the Labor Party explain their position because at the moment they're playing this sort of populous position with the Greens.
There's obviously huge internal wrangle going on within the Labor Party on this issue at the moment and the Labor Party is sacrificing the national interest in lieu of their own political interests. I think people should call them out for that.
Just on the new energy policy, is there any room in that for a de-facto carbon price?
No I think that's been dispensed and dealt with. The Government has been very clear in saying to Australians – and I can tell you people in my electorate in the outer suburbs of Brisbane – are desperately concerned about the prices they are paying for their power. They are worried that the lights will go out, like they've gone out in South Australia. People in Queensland grew up with energy strikes and SEQED strikes and people understand what it's like to live without power in Queensland and they don't want to return to those days.
What the Prime Minister has pulled together in terms of this announcement is an ability to address the very real concerns of families and small businesses who have seen huge increases in their power prices and face the real prospect of the lights going out or brownouts as we've seen in South Australia and might potentially see in Victoria.
But if energy retailers don't meet their emissions obligations, won't they have to go overseas and buy carbon?
What I'm concerned about is that we can do all we can to reduce pressure on power prices because under Labor I'll guarantee you that prices will always be higher for electricity and gas.
There is no question that under a Labor Government electricity prices will always be higher. Under a Labor Government I guarantee you that the reliability will not be there…
…but I'm asking you under this plan if energy retailers will have to go overseas?
…well Steph the point I'm trying to make here is that I'm concerned about Australian families and Australian businesses. I want people to be able to afford, if they're a pensioner, to turn their air conditioning on over winter, I want if they're a pensioner for them to be able to turn their cooling on over summer. I'm worried about price and reliability and frankly the rest of the detail I will leave for others.
I am worried about power prices which have gone up under Labor Governments.
Labor has created a mess in energy like they did in boat policy – we are cleaning up Labor's mess and I guarantee to all Australians that prices for electricity will always be higher under a Labor Government and the electricity will be less reliable.
The policy that we have got on the table at the moment provides the best possible outcome in terms of price and in terms of reliability and Australians can always trust a Liberal-National Government ahead of a Labor Government when it comes to energy security.
Just back on citizenship. Does stepping down to an English level of 5 compromise the Bill in anyway in your view given that there must have been a reason you suggested 6 in the first place?
The Government's willing to compromise and we've demonstrated that on a number of Bills. We've got an enormous number of Bills through the Senate because we've sat down with the individual Senators, we've compromised and we've arrived at an agreement.
Now, there will always be negotiations otherwise there is no point in entering into the negotiations. So we'll continue that and as I say, I hope that the Labor Party sees the light because today the Labor Party is putting their own interests ahead of the national interest and they need to explain why they are doing that.
Can you describe what a level 5 English requirement entails?
It's at a 'moderate' level, it's the level just above 'basic,' it allows for plenty of mistakes to be made both in the written word as well as the spoken word. And again you can look at examples online of some of the examples of people who would be speaking English at that level.
I think you will be quite surprised that it's not at a university level, it's not trying to exclude people, it applies universally – it is about making sure that we can have people becoming Australian citizens who share our values, who abide by our laws. We exempt people over the age of 60, under the age of 16. There are reasonable measures in place for people who might have medical or mental impairments who can't undertake the test.
I mean there are sensible reforms that we've got in place and the Labor Party needs to explain why only a couple of years ago they said that they supported these measures. Tony Burke's exact words was that he supported an English language test as part of the citizenship test.
Bill Shorten said only a couple of months ago said that he supported these sensible changes that we were making. Why would the Labor Party not support it? Because they have got huge internal ructions and Mr Shorten needs to show some leadership to see his way through it.
When will you be re-introducing it into the Senate?
In due course.
Beyond the language requirements, what other elements of the legislation is the Government willing to compromise on?
Well we have said in relation to the start date – we will push the start date out to 1 July of next year which has a significant impact as well and that addresses part of the recommendation of the Senate Committee and some of the concern expressed by the independent Senators otherwise.
So we have come a fair way and I believe that there is the basis now for the independent Senators, but hopefully the Labor Party as well to see their way clear to support what is a sensible reform.
And the four year wait, is there any room for that?
Well again, I mean if you look at comparable countries it could be five or eight years, we've said that we would move from one to four years. We think that's reasonable.
There hasn't really been push back around that I might say in many of the discussions we've had, but the most concentration was around the English language requirement which we've addressed, around the start date which we've addressed and that was reflected not only as I say in the conversations with independent Senators, but also in the recommendations made by the Senate Committee.