Debating the Government’s harmful changes to citizenship legislation – TONY BURKE
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Debating the Government’s harmful changes to citizenship legislation – TONY BURKE

an amendment strengthening the
requirements for Australian citizenship citizenship and other measures
2017 resumption of debate on the second reading I call the manager of
opposition business thanks very much mr. speaker
I thank you for being in the chair in this debate and I’m not sure if I’ll get him
in for the whole of the speech but I think the Minister for being
the table at this point as well. The concept of Australian citizenship is
effectively how we define what it is to be Australian. There’s lots of
legislation that will go back and forth in this Parliament where people will
have strong and passionate views and a lot of those issues will be relevant to
what sort of country we are but it’s rare that we have a debate that is about
quite directly defining what it is to be Australian. The changes that the
government is proposing do very much change the definition of what it is to
be Australian and change the definition of what sort of country we will be. I was shadow in this portfolio when the
Howard government was in place and they made changes to citizenship. When they
did we were able to support the changes that they made. The changes that are in
front of us now are altogether of a different order. The changes that are in
front of us now represent a fundamental change in the sort of community
Australia will be. People tried to make these points to the government when the
government first released its discussion paper and people made submissions to the
government but the government decided to keep those submissions secret. The
government decided that what the Australian people had said in response
to its ideas should not be allowed to be and so the government then introduced
legislation. Now labor during this whole process played a responsible role we
said the concept of more people speaking English if that’s something that the
government’s got a way of doing, may well be a good thing let’s have a
look at the legislation when it comes and we reserved our judgment. During that
time of reserving our judgment the minister kept taunting thinking our
maybe there’s going to be some sort of division within the Labor Party on this
issue. Once we saw the legislation. Once this government put these changes in
writing Labor was able, within a few days at its next caucus meeting, to
resolve unanimously that we will oppose these changes. Now there’s a whole series
of changes in the bill some of them may well turn out to be more routine, some of
them may well turn out to be reasonable. And the whole thing will be referred to
a Senate inquiry. But there are two changes here that in the way they are
being implemented, are fundamentally unfair and change the character of the
country. Now I’ve got to say they’re not the issue that the government ran on
when they first made the announcement. When they first made the announcement
the argument from the government was to say the big shift they are making is they
were going to start introducing all these values questions and then they put
questions out there and provide them to the papers. Well of course all of those
questions were already available under the current legislation. And the
government of the day can change those questions whenever it wants without
coming back to the Parliament. So that’s not going to be the issue. That’s before
the Parliament. But the Parliament will have to decide whether or not a large
number of citizens, a large number of potential citizens will be here for more
than a decade before they are ever asked to pledge allegiance to Australia. Will
be here for more than a decade before Australia ever says to them you are
welcome here. That’s the first two the changes I want
to talk about; the delay. Because Labor is opposing this bill because of two key
elements: the delay and the English language test. The delay the government
puts forward as saying ‘look we’re just changing it from one year to four
years’ and most people when they hear that think, well waiting four years
doesn’t sound completely unreasonable. What the government doesn’t say is there
is already a four year wait. There’s already a requirement of waiting four
years before you apply for citizenship. And that’s because it takes into account
the real-life experience that happens for a very large number of people who
end up becoming citizens of this country where they arrive on their first visa, as
a temporary visa is a very large number of people who who want to apply for
permanent residency but are only eligible at first for a temporary visa,
and gradually find a pathway to permanence. Now the argument from the
government as to why wait for four years is because they say well that’s a
reasonable length of time for the country to get to know the person and
the person to get to know the country. But that is already delivered. That’s
already there but because so many people arrive on a temporary visa first what
this change means is if you end up as many people do on one or two temporary
work visas or one or two temporary student visas or a mixture of both you
will have been here for easily eight years before you get your first year of
permanent residence but instead of being able to apply for citizenship at that
point the response from the government is you have to wait until you’ve been
here for more than a decade in the real life experience now what does that mean
from the perspective of the country. It means there is a conscious decision from
this government to delay people pledging allegiance to Australia when it’s
already been decided they will permanently be here. There’s a deliberate
decision by this government to tell somebody who we’ve said will be permanently
here, that they are not yet fully welcomed for a longer period of time.
Now I don’t for the life of me see how that’s in the interests of the
individual or in the interests of the country to increase the number of people
living here who don’t pledge allegiance to Australia I can’t see how that’s
clever I can’t see how that’s good for the national security arguments that the
government tries to appropriate in this debate how does it make sense to have a
situation where somebody will have to wait for that length of time living here
in Australia the whole way through us knowing there must having decided
they’re here permanently but then adding a further delay and of
course we have all heard the cases of people who were ready to apply and have
now been told nope you might have thought you were eligible but the
government has decided to implement this more before it has passed the Parliament
and delay your citizenship anyway now I understand that we do that with tax law
all the time because with tax law if you’re going to change at people and you
don’t make the change immediately the danger is that people will reorganize
that their tax affairs to be able to avoid the taxation but what was the risk
here when the government decided that this would be retrospective the risk was
that people who were eligible for Australian citizenship might apply the
people who were eligible and legally able to become Australian citizens might
apply and that was the risk that is caused this government to implement
without any legislative authority the law that is now before us the bill that
is now before us but the delay only gets us part of the way because the
extraordinary because that is a temporary change in terms of the impact
that it has on people’s lives it’s something that is not in Australia’s
interest not in their interest their interest but eventually they get to
become citizens the change to the English language test is fundamental the
change to the English language test when I’ve spoken at community forums I’ve had
people interject saying it sounds like a dictation
test and we all know what they’re referring to when they make that
reference because the change to the English language test is huge. Now the
minister he speaks is and in his interviewers has said well we’re
requiring confident level of English I think most people if they hear they
think well that sounds reasonable yeah your English should be competent and
most people would believe their own levels of English are competent but of
course under this bill competent English has a very specific and precise legal
meaning it refers to level six of the IELTS test the level of English required
for an overseas student to get into university some universities have even
lower levels that’s the level of English that’s being required it is an
extraordinary act of snobbery for this government to claim Australia only wants
you if you’re at university level that doesn’t just send a message to potential
immigrants that doesn’t just send a message to potential citizens it sends a
message to a whole lot of people who were born here who have lived in
Australia their whole lives who will never reach the university level English
that this government reckons their second-class university level English
where what a normal Australian come up with that well they wouldn’t but an
elitist snobbish government has brought that to the Parliament you already
effectively have an English language test because the test that the Howard
government put in place which the government of the day can update the
questions on whenever they want is HS in English so if you can’t complete a test
in English you don’t get to become a citizen but the level of English
required at the moment is conversational English and most people myself included
views that as reasonable they have to have conversational level English is
good for the country and good for the citizen it means that individual will be
able to much more easily engage when they’re shopping engaged when they’re
dealing with government services engage when they need to report something
conversational level English is a completely reasonable requirement but
you don’t need to change the law for that because that’s been there since the
days of the Howard government the IELTS test the IELTS test is not a
conversational level English test it’s a test that looks at speaking listening
comprehension writing you need to be able to write an essay how many times
does the Prime Minister try to associate himself with the snowy mountains scheme
without ever once acknowledging that at the same time he’s got a law in this
Parliament that would mean a large number of the people who built that
scheme would never have been accepted as Australian citizens how many members of
this Parliament have parents who would not reach university level English and
yet are currently contemplating voting for legislation that would mean their
own parents would not have been able to become Australian citizens once you set
the English level language test at a level that some people will never meet
you guarantee something that we haven’t previously seen in Australia for
generations because at the moment everybody who’s a permanent resident is
in some way on a pathway to citizenship but once you set it at a level that some
people with the best efforts and the best of intentions will never be able to
reach you establish a new underclass of people in this country who will go
through their entire working life in Australia without ever being told they
belong without ever being able to pledge allegiance to this country their entire
working life when the country has said you should be here as a permanent
resident but we’re going to let you go through your entire working life without
you ever saying you pledge to this country and without us ever saying you
belong lots of countries in the world do permanent underclass of non-citizens we
don’t and we should not and the only thing that it’s standing between that
change and how Australia works now is this bill now some people say well
university level English is it that hard let me read to you now I’ve read this
about five times I’m better at it now than I was at first I’d bumbled this on
TV a few times let me read to you an example of the IELTS test it’s based in
Cambridge University you can all go online and find different sample tests
they are all to this level of complexity Calisthenics enters the historical record at around 480 B.C., with Herodotus’ account of the Battle of Thermopylae. Herodotus reported that, prior to the battle, the god-king Xerxes sent a scout party to spy on his Spartan enemies. The scouts informed Xerxes that the Spartans, under the leadership of King Leonidas, were practicing some kind of bizarre, synchronised movements akin to a tribal dance … It turns out their tribal dance was not a superstitious ritual but a form of calisthenics by which they were building awe-inspiring physical strength and endurance.” What on earth does that
have to do with being a good Australian?? What on earth does that have to do with
whether or not you should be able to pledge allegiance to this country? Who
can honestly argue that a test like that should be a requirement for whether or
not you pledge allegiance to Australia that is an act of snobbery nothing more
nothing less and when I first raised university-level English the Minister
came back and said ‘ah no no no no Tony Burke is wrong’ he said because there’s a
university stream of the IELTS and there’s a general stream of the IELTS
and we’d use the general stream But the one I just read from was from the general stream. That’s the easier one. That’s the easier passage. But the difference between the
university stream and the and the general stream isn’t the complexity of
the testing when you get to the final mark it’s the language that’s used so
the university stream would be more likely to use language that you’d find
at university and the general stream uses language like what I’ve just read
to the house that’s the difference between the two but the level of
proficiency represented by IELTS six is exactly the same the level of
proficiency is still the university level of proficiency if that was a
standard alone it would be pretty bad but there’s something else that’s been
snuck in which you can find in the explanatory memorandum which I’ve got to
tell you is straight out effective because not every night every potential
citizen is going to have to pass that test not everybody is going to have to
reach university level English if you’re applying for citizenship and you’re a
pass whole a passport folder of certain countries the minister has flagged
you’ll be ok there are many countries in the world something like 50 that have
English is one of their official languages but guess what the five
countries are that they’ve flagged in the explanatory memorandum that if you
have a passport holder of one of those countries you won’t have to pass the
English test New Zealand United States Canada Ireland
and the UK it just so happens of all the countries in the world that have English
is one of their official languages Singapore doesn’t make the cut
India doesn’t make the cut but the five countries deemed as a majority
population that is white are the five countries listed in the
explanatory memorandum where you won’t have to pass the English language test
I don’t know how members of parliament on that side representing seats where
they are here representing multicultural communities where there here is the
representatives of people in their local area how on earth could they vote for
that how on earth could the Minister well I have arguments with the minister
at different times but I’ve got to say I didn’t think he was capable of this one
what possesses someone to say you need university level English unless you come
from one of the five white countries where English is an official language that is what is in front of us that is
what is in front of the Parliament I had a couple at one of the community
meetings in Perth where someone said to me he said I was a highly sought-after
skilled migrant he’s not a citizen yet and he said to me Canada wanted me and
Australia wanted me and I chose here and I love it here but what I now realized
that I didn’t realize when I was coming here that because of the English
language test I’ll get to be a citizen and my wife won’t and said if I’d know
and there was going to be different treatment of us as a couple
he said it breaks my heart to say it but oh what a chose in Canada what the
government is doing here will divide which family members get to becomes
Australians and which don’t it will divide people based not on their
proficiency of English in the first instance but it will divide people based
on what country they came from I’m not going to pretend
for a minute and I don’t believe for a minute that every member opposite
believes in this sort of stuff but I do suspect they’re currently intending to
vote for it this is much more offensive the what we were dealing with with a
tenancy and racial hate speech and that was pretty effective that was arguing
whether or not whether or not people in the street in the public square would be
allowed to say something racist this is about whether we entrench those views in
the law of Australia this is of another order all together now I should
acknowledge the arguments that the government has put they put two
arguments they’ve said this is about national security and this is about
integration I want to deal with each of those two in turn in the first instance
national security legislation when it comes to this Parliament is dealt with
very seriously it’s referred to the Intelligence Committee and we do
everything we can to provide bipartisan support so when I had my briefing from
the department and normally I wouldn’t refer to briefings from the department
because I view that confidentiality very seriously but the minister then went and
started talking about my briefing from the department so I I really think it’s
my obligation to open that up I asked what is the recommendation from AG oh no
was this a recommendation from the Australian Federal Police no what is a
recommendation from any of our defense or security agencies no I said well
where did it come from it’s a recommendation of a report by two
members of the Liberal Party senator Connie farival he wells and Phillip
Roddick national security advice doesn’t come from them but moreover how can a
clear national security issue if everybody applying for citizenship is
already here and already a permanent resident if they’re a security problem
what are they doing here this is not about national security and national
security issues which are important which are serious and
there are real threats should not be thrown around with a debate that is
irrelevant to it and then the government has argued it’s about integration let’s
look at this in two ways first of all integration is important I think
assimilation is a dreadful word integration is a good one
assimilation is about people losing their identity integration is about
people keeping their identity who they are and it’s weaving together the fabric
of a community and a nation together that’s integration integration is a good
thing this is the opposite of integration integration is not when you
establish a permanent underclass of non citizens integration is when you bring
people together not divide them and there is a provision not often spoken
about where the government wants to claim with integration but all but
setting a high standard that gets people to work harder to become citizens to
keep trying to get to that threshold well if that was the case why is it that
buried in this legislation if you fail the test three times you’re not even
allowed to apply for another two years how is that about integration what’s in
front of the Parliament in this bill is a huge and fundamental change it is not
lost on members of the community how significant it is on many issues from
time to time we launched online petitions to see if there’s if there’s
much take-up to see what sort of interest there is from the community so
I started the online petition once labour had formed a position on this so
yeah it’s it hasn’t been that long to provide a bit over a month but in that
time we’ve had 27,000 people sign the petitions to make clear that they don’t
want the change there’s more folders but you won’t see me I’ve disappeared buried
beneath the folders very beneath the folders
there is a huge community outcry including from people who when they
first heard government talk about this thought it might probably be okay but
what people have started to realize is the government’s changing expectations
in ways that mean they wouldn’t have got to be Australians but mean their
neighbors who are good citizens would it be Australians but mean their parents
wouldn’t have been welcomed here that is a huge change and also they realize now
that it can’t possibly be good for integration or good for national
security to have a permanent group of people for their whole working lives
being told actively by the government that they don’t belong one of the things
you get to do when your Minister for citizenship is put forward a message
that is read at every citizenship ceremony the character of those messages
always reflects the Minister of the day I’ve never seen a dreadful wonder one of
the current Minister has had some good good moments in it there was a line that
I had in my very brief time as Minister for citizenship that was taken away
immediately at the change of government and I think it’s significant to point to
it now because if that line had been kept in I don’t know how anyone could
have contemplated the legislation that’s before us now it was shorter than most
citizenship messages just said in a few moments time Australia becomes a better
nation your decision to make the citizenship pledge so you take on the
privileges and responsibilities of Australian citizenship from that moment
your journey and heritage will become part of our shared Australian story
Australia welcomed you as a full member of one of the most diverse nations on
earth where our citizenship is our bond which unites us all Australia welcomes
you and the talents diversity and vitality that you bring to Australia
today your new nation says to you welcome home those words welcome home
disappeared the moment there was a change of government
and we have legislation before us now that says to a whole lot of people
you’re not welcome and it’s not home now if you do that on the basis of a
security assessment we are there with you but you do it on the basis of a
snobbish attitude to university levels of English we will fight you you do it
on the basis of having exemptions for people from particular nations that
you’ve decided are okay we will fight you you do it in a way where people were
excited looking forward to putting their citizenship application in good people
already decided to be here permanently and then discover in the blink of an eye
that they’ve been told no no no you’re not welcome for another three years we
will fight you you bring in legislation that has nothing to do with national
security and claims that it is we will fight you every step of the way you
bring in legislation claiming that something is about integration when it
delivers the exact opposite of integration by establishing a permanent
underclass of non-citizens we will fight the government every step of the way on
this we have seen moments of bravery from members of the backbench opposite
we’ve seen moments of bravery on an issue that the house is discussing and
has been in the media this week we saw moments of bravery last year with
respect to 18c and racial hate speech I hope we can get some bravery from those
opposite who are willing to say they are proud of modern multicultural Australia
and they will not let this Minister wreck it I want to see some bravery from
those opposite who will say that conversational level English matters but
university level English is ridiculous who will say that we should be a nation
that if someone has been decided that they will be a good Australian and we’ve
decided make by making the permanent residents that they will be a good
Australian that we will say to them welcome home it’s not often that the
Parliament actually defines what it is to be in Australia but where
about to do that and for many members of parliament it might not be the most
high-profile vote they have but it will be one of the most significant I urge
members of parliament to oppose the bill


  • Michaelson Sarmiento

    It's good to know our taxes are going to your salary Tony. The DIBP should rename itself to the Deaprtment of Vassalisation and Border Protection given that these cunts in charge seem to prefer vassals over immigrants coming here.

  • tikie cue

    Tony Burke, you are missing one vote (from me) because we are not allowed to be Australians yet. Not that I'm biased because I'm an immigrant but I have acquaintances whom I know will not pass the requirements, and they are born and raised here! The bill is unfair and a bit elitist; why alienate some of your own people just to stop those who want to pledge their allegiance to this country who are tax payers, your kids' teachers, your care workers, etc?

  • Scott Capell

    Tony Turd Burke is looking and acting like he has just been kicked in the nuts….he is acting like bagless vacuum cleaner…

  • Nikki Choudhary

    Citizenship Changes are the sound of racist.
    It is very sad for those who already spent many years and working in australia society in English environments and they are waiting for citizenship. Time is very precious for every one and money too. Then why do wait and putting money in English test?
    Not happy because the government has broken the dreams and bright's future of Australian migration.
    Yes! dividing of the people here is not good for this beautiful country.

  • Santosh GURUNG

    Tony is the man. Future PM of Australia. I'm gonna get all my people to vote for you. I'm gonna make sure I get all the banners out and convince as many people as possible to vote for you. I will not rest until you become PM of Australia. Good on ya matey.

  • anee1979

    Thank you Tony , for standing up for are the man.
    And letting us beleive we are one of you and not unwanted unwelcome outsiders.
    I have been un Australia since 2008 and a permanent resident. And now i have to wait another 4 years .oh wows


    Labor ONLY panders to VOTES – Pure and Simple – don't pontificate to me or ANY Migrant WHO ARRIVED HERE LEGALLY and Contribute to this NATION…

  • Morshed Alam Khan

    Please all refugees and asylum seekers for permanent resident and without english test citizenship

    "Give Australia Think Australia Love Australia "

    Morshed Khan

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