TRANSCRIPT: ABC RN WITH FRAN KELLY: Citizenship legislation; foreign donations











Subjects: Citizenship legislation; foreign donations

FRAN KELLY (HOST): Legislation will be introduced into the parliament today to usher in new citizenship laws which the Prime Minister says will be central to our national security. Under the revamp the Immigration Minister will be empowered to set aside decisions made by the independent Administrative Appeals Tribunal while migrants will be forced to wait longer before becoming Australian citizens. New arrivals hoping to call Australia home will have to pass a tough new English language test. We haven’t seen it yet but some say this test will be set at what’s deemed ‘university standard’. Tony Burke is the Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multiculturalism and I spoke with him earlier.

TONY BURKE: We’ll get the bill today, we’ll make our final decision on how we vote at Caucus next week when we meet on Tuesday. But certainly there are some principles that we bring to any debate on citizenship that I’m happy to be able to talk about I just might not be able to give you the fine details on where that lands in terms of the Bill because as I say, we haven’t seen it.

KELLY: Okay well I’ll come to some of those principles but the guiding principle from the Government seems to be framing these changes in terms of patriotism and national security. The PM said “We should make no apology for asking those who seek to join our Australian family to join us as Australian patriots committed to the values that define us.” Is that what these citizenship changes are designed to do, make people more patriotic? Are we framing this citizenship test more in this frame of national security than we have in the past?

BURKE: Well the national security angle of this I do find hard to fathom. As I understand it this has not come on the advice of the national security agencies in any way and everybody we are talking about who applies for citizenship has already become a permanent resident. So if they are a security risk, they should not be here as permanent residents. So the claim that somehow there is a national security angle here I think the Government is really, really stretching. What you’re dealing with, with citizenship is largely how we define ourselves as a nation and at what point we say to people ‘yes you belong and you’re completely part of the country where you are living’. Now the concept of somebody making that strong commitment of allegiance is a good thing for the country and I am concerned and will look carefully when this comes into the parliament today at whether the actual impact of what the Government is introducing is in fact simply preventing people from making that commitment of allegiance.

KELLY: What are you talking about there? Are you talking about the tougher English language test?

BURKE: Well it’s both. There’s both the delay… I don’t see how it can be, instinctively, I don’t see how it can be good for the country to have people in Australia wanting to be citizens, wanting to take a commitment of allegiance to Australia and suddenly saying to them all..

KELLY: Wait four years.

BURKE: ‘You thought you were eligible but yeah the answer is no.’ I’m not sure how that is better for the country. I want people who are living here permanently to be committing to Australia. The second thing with the English language test is there’s two issues here. One is the level at which you set it and obviously at the moment they have got this bizarre concept, I don’t know if it will end up in the legislation today but of having the same level of English language that is required for university admission.

KELLY: Well tell us a bit more about this English language test we understand it’s going to be set at something called ‘band 6 which is quite a high level of competence, including essay writing apparently, is that right as you understand it?

BURKE: If you take a 6, university’s start admitting people some of them demand a 5.5 so this is harder than it is to get into some universities. So with a series of these issues, where setting standards that a very good number of Australians who were born here do not meet and will never meet. There’s two things there there’s one on the reasonableness of it. The second concept you then get to is well if you’re talking about individuals who are permanent residents, is the impact of this legislation, we’ll know more when we get it today, but is the impact of the legislation going to be that we end up with a permanent group of residents in Australia who will live here their entire lives, who will work here their entire lives and will always be told you don’t quite belong. And I’m not sure how that is good for us a society and I can’t for the life of me see how that is meant to advance our national security.

KELLY: I guess the question is who makes up that group? A lot of people listening will say it’s better for everyone for people to speak better English it’s good for the individual, it’s good for the cohesion of society…

BURKE: Yep, I’ll put my hand up for that principle as well.

KELLY: But then others are saying that they are making some sort of comparison to the English test used under the white Australia policy, back in, well from 1900’s to 1958, that it could be used by Governments to try and stop a certain group of migrants become Australian citizens, people from Muslim countries, do you subscribe to that theory?

BURKE: I don’t think it’s as specific as that for a minute but I do just wonder how you change who we are as a country if… we’ve always been a country where unless there has been a particular reason for an individual where there is a security problem in which case their visa gets cancelled and citizenship never becomes an issue. But unless you’ve got that sort of situation for everybody once they have made Australia their home we have tended to make sure there is a pathway for them to feel they completely belong and to completely be part of Australian society. Now by all means we should be helping people learn English. There is a level of isolation and extra challenges that come for people in their own lives if their English skills are limited. But that’s about training people. When you’re testing people, what does that then mean for the people, and there are some people including people who were born here if it was ever put to them, who will never be able to pass a test of that nature.

That's a different question to saying is it good for people to be able to speak in English and be trained in English. Of course that's good. But what does it mean when you say to a group of people that this will be your home, you'll be here the rest of your life but you will never be told you fully belong.

KELLY: You're listening to RN breakfast our guest is Tony Burke he's the shadow multicultural and citizenship minister. On another issue on foreign political donations, more revelations this week of links and donations to the Labor party before the last election from companies linked to a tax scam and also companies linked to the Chinese Government. This one was $140, 000 worth of donations to your branch the NSW branch of the ALP. Does this reveal a lack of care by Labor about where donations come from?

BURKE: Well certainly we need to have a situation where foreign donations are banned. We need to have that and both sides of politics say they agree with it. We’ve got a Private Member's Bill before the parliament to do that.

KELLY: With respect you have got that before the parliament but in the meantime your party is taking donations. So it’s all very well to say ‘we need to ban them’ but on the ground Labor is accepting them, that’s a problem isn't it?

BURKE: Well in terms of the two specific people who were relevant to the ASIO briefings, Bill Shorten announced the other week that they have stopped from that moment.

KELLY: Yes from that moment, but the briefing was in 2015.

BURKE: Yes and I hear what you’re saying there but we have made that decision and I think the ASIO advice has been updated over a period of time as well which is my understanding, I haven't been in those briefings, that’s my understanding as to how that’s transpired. At the same time though not withstanding where the ASIO advice is up to now, we haven't had the same decision from the Government.

KELLY: As a Labor politician from NSW have you received donations from Chinese backers and have you ever been lobbied by Chinese business people or citizens here about foreign policy issues in particular?

BURKE: The answer to the first question is yes and the answer to the second question is never.

KELLY: So you have received donations from Chinese people?

BURKE: That’s right. And you’ve got two sorts when you’re talking about when you’re saying Chinese. I just need to clarify because there's a whole lot of people who are Australian who are of Chinese background and I don't want there to be any sort of perspective that this debate is about them. You have the specifics of the ASIO briefing, there are donations prior to the updated advice that a series of members of Parliament had received, myself included. They all get declared in the usual way. And what we need to be able to do is to have the ban on foreign donations.

KELLY: Tony Burke thank you very much for joining us.

BURKE: Good to be able to talk to you Fran.

KELLY: Tony Burke is the Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multiculturalism and that legislation for the new citizenship laws will be introduced into the federal parliament today.





Tony Burke