Topics: Citizenship Committee report, party room comments
Laura Jayes: Moving to another story now, Coalition Senators are calling for changes to their own Government’s new Citizenship Legislation.
They say the plan to strengthen English language requirements for new citizens is too tough. The laws announced earlier this year would introduce more extensive language and values tests and a 4 year waiting period before immigrants become citizens.
A Senate committee found that a good understanding of the use of the English language is essential to fulfil the obligations of Australian Citizenship.
The Chair of that Committee joins me now, Senator Ian Macdonald.
Senator, thank you for being patient with your time and thank you for joining us here this morning.
Essentially you found that what Peter Dutton was proposing was too tough, is that a fair assessment?
Ian Macdonald: We’ve recommend that the Bill be passed, but we have suggested that the Government should look at a couple of issues before bringing the Bill to Parliament.
One of those was on the English language test, which needs clarifying. I have to say the Bill really doesn’t have a standard, the Department have made several comments, I think Mr Dutton and what might have been a throw away comment mentioned level 6 of a particular standard. It’s not clear in the Bill and I think the Government needs to clarify just what the standard should be. Certainly if they were referring to the level 6 university entrance standard, the Committee thought that was not appropriate. Committee members know a lot of people who would not pass that test, but who have become very, very valuable citizens of Australia.
But the Committee does think citizenship is important and is valued, sometimes it’s not as well valued as it should be. On that basis we think the Bill is heading in the right direction, it’s basically correct, but needs a little bit of refinement.
Laura Jayes: Did the Committee land at an area where how tough the English test should be, was there a different level, not university level 6 or was there a standard. How difficult is that to clarify in the Bill?
Ian Macdonald: Well we did hear evidence from linguists, people who deal with these things, as a profession. There are a lot of different standards and they grade in the one we were talking about, they grade in 2, 3,4,5,6 and 7 and up to 9. Six is what is being spoken about, is little over half way, the current one I think is about 3.
Laura Jayes: But University standard would seem-
Ian Macdonald: Well that is the 6 one and I think that would be. Mind you we do make a comment that some of the English coming out of University graduates is a pretty low bar to jump over, but that’s another issue. But really we think it should probably be more than what it is now, certainly not University.
Laura Jayes: What other recommendations, there are a number, I think 4 key recommendations, 3 key recommendations and the 4th recommendation that the Bill be passed, so talk us through the 2 year ban on applications following 3 failed attempts?
Ian Macdonald: Well under the Bill, 3 failed attempts and you’re out, we think that might be a bit too harsh, there are a lot of people, and evidence shows that a lot of people keep applying, they have no real interest in getting a better language or understanding Australian values. We think there is a need for a limit, but for genuine people, we think beyond 3 would ok, but with perhaps a cost recovery fee that would deter all but the very genuine.
Look we believe that you need English to fully appreciate and take part of, take advantage of Australian citizenship. You do need to have a good understanding of English. What we don’t want, and we did hear a lot of evidence about women in particular being disadvantaged, we don’t want women who can’t understand English, being told by their husbands what they should do, what the newspapers are saying, what Sky News is saying. We want everyone to have a basic understanding, that they know what is happening, so they can cast their own vote in elections and not be told what to do by their husbands.
Laura Jayes: So is it your understanding that would be palatable to the Government, to Peter Dutton and that this would pass?
Ian Macdonald: Well these are recommendations that the Committee makes after very careful consideration on how the Bill would be improved. We’ve also suggested that there were a number of cases brought before as, individual cases where people were just on the cusp of applying and now have to wait 4 years. We thought the Minister should of some sort of discretionary power in deserving cases. Not every case, but there were a couple of very persuasive witnesses that we thought should be looked at.
What we said to the Government is, this is good, needs to be done, this is what the Australian people want, but there are a few elements of the Bill we think need further consideration.
Laura Jayes: So Senator, do you consider that the measures being too tough, as described by some, were sending the wrong message to the community, is that a consideration?
Ian Macdonald: Well, no there are a lot of conspiracy theories about this being aimed at particular groups, which I reject completely. Most Australians want a citizenship that is really valued. Most Australians I believe and Parliamentarians will tell you this that a lot of Australians are concerned, you fill in a form, pay some money and you become a citizen. Well, citizenship is more than that and so I think Mr Dutton is on the right track. Its just that the Bill needs a little bit of clarity and these conspiracy theories that some of the left wing witnesses were raising are just their own conspiracy projects being put into overdrive.
Laura Jayes: I just want to ask you quickly about your contribution in Party Room yesterday, you said that Bill Shorten being Prime Minister would be an awful alternative for the country. There is stronger economic growth as Scott Morrison has pointed out, you said the Government is on the right path on a number of issues but Bill Shorten, Labor is still ahead in the polls and you thought that was ridiculous. What is the Government doing wrong?
Ian Macdonald: Well I don’t talk about what happens in the Party Room but I’ll give you my own views. And look the Government is doing a great job and I have been an observer for a long, long time –
Laura Jayes: You can be a cynic sometimes –
Ian Macdonald: But this Government is doing a great job, but unfortunately people up from where I come from, miles away from this building, the Press Gallery and all the public servants and Canberra’s privileged society, they just don’t understand what is happening. All they hear about is same-sex marriage, citizenship, the things that really have no interest to most Australians.
Laura Jayes: Well what is your recommendation?
Ian Macdonald: Well, as I said, well I wasn’t going to talk about this, but I did say I don’t have a solution. But the Government is doing a great job, but the messaging is not there and the politics is wrong somewhere along the line. I want Malcom Turnbull to be Prime Minister, I want the Government to succeed because the thought of Bill Shorten as Prime Minister is just too horrendous.
But our vote is fracturing because people don’t understand what we are doing. They can’t grasp the hundreds, thousands of good things this Government has done since the last election.
Laura Jayes: Because your agenda is being swamped by citizenship, same-sex marriage to an extent as well. This is going on in the High Court. I want to ask you a hypothetical, if this plebiscite is deemed not to – won’t go forward, this perhaps has a risk of dominating the Government’s agenda for the end of the year and perhaps into next year. So are you now of a mind that the Government needs to do anything to get it off the agenda and perhaps consider a free vote if this doesn’t get up?
Ian Macdonald: No, look I have been firm on that; we went to the election with a promise. One of the things people don’t like about politicians is that they make promises before the election and afterwards change it. Now I have always been firm and I think again most of party is the same. We made a promise that we will have a plebiscite, we are going to do it and if that doesn’t go ahead, that’s hypothetical as you say, hopefully there will be some other way to guage the opinion of the Australian public. That’s what we promised and I hope that’s what we are going to do.
But somewhere along the line we’ve got to try and get the good news stories out and it needs I think, a lot more work by our leaders, our Executive to get the good message out. You know whilst paying due respect to these other issues, for most Australians, can I tell you and this is most Australians living not in the capital cities, not in this wonderful world of Canberra, but out in what I call the real world, they just can’t understand what is happening.
Laura Jayes: What you are saying, Labor is just better at the politics at the moment?
Ian Macdonald: Well unfortunately people like Pauline Hanson are articulating some of the concerns and yet Pauline doesn’t have the answers, I mean she has no chance of forming a Government, nice person though, she has some good thoughts, she just would not be able to manage Government.
The only people that can bring the agenda that the Australian people want is the Liberal National Party, but we are somehow not getting that message through. I am not saying Malcom Turnbull should start talking like Pauline Hanson, but somewhere along the line we’ve got to get a clearer message across of what we stand for, how we reflect Australian values, what Australian people want and unfortunately I don’t think that’s happening.
Laura Jayes: Bring back the 3 word slogan perhaps?
Ian Macdonald: Ahh no. Look it distresses me and I repeat I have been around a long time, but I mix with a lot of people from all walks of life and all age groups. But they just don’t understand what is happening; and yet I can say to them, sit down with me for half an hour, I’ll bore you to death with all the good things this Government is doing, helping you. But they never hear about it, they don’t understand, they don’t get it.
Somehow our messaging, our politics is not quite right. Shorten is beating us at that, Hanson is beating us at that and that’s wrong and that’s bad for Australia. We’ve just got to do better.
Laura Jayes: And certainly as well in Queensland. Thanks so much for your time.