Thursday, 07 September 2017

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell—Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection) (15:44): It's stirring stuff, I must say. It stirs the blood. It is a bit of patriotism from the shadow minister for immigration and for citizenship, who comes into this House to stir us all up on the government's latest proposals on citizenship. I want to note that today is the national accounts day. It's the day when we see the most data come out on the state of the nation's economy. In question time we didn't have one question on the state of the national accounts or the economy, because they are in good shape under this government. We didn't have one economic question.

On the day when the national accounts showed good economic news, the opposition decided that it would be a good day to seek refuge from the economy—because they have no good news on the economy—in immigration and border protection. Well, we welcome a debate in the immigration portfolio. The same people who are today railing against this government's citizenship proposals railed against our border protection policies for 10 years, as well. They railed against us at every turn. First, it was temporary protection visas. They were the greatest evil on the planet. Then the offshore processing centres that the Howard government ran were cruel and unusual. It is this opposition that, on immigration and border protection, cannot be trusted.

We will not take a lecture on how to administer the immigration portfolio from a former minister who was in office for 79 days. He was one of the conga line of immigration ministers under the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years that saw 50,000 people arrive on 800 boats and over 1,000 people drown at sea. The reality of these proposals is that the government is firmly committed to these citizenship arrangements. In listening to the shadow immigration and citizenship spokesperson, you would think there was something wrong with our proposals. He put this whole contention to this House, and he has put this whole contention in public: 'Oh, that sounds reasonable, but it's not very reasonable at all.'

I want to go through this just so that every single member of the House has their eyes completely wide open about the reality of these proposals. Four years is entirely comparable and reasonable for a person to be here before they get citizenship. The reality is you can do it in one year now—it's not four years. Keeping in mind that we only have a one-year requirement, let's look at comparable countries: the United Kingdom, five years of permanent residence; Canada, four out of six years of permanent residence; France, five years of continuous permanent residence; Germany, eight years of habitual legal residence. So the contention put by the shadow minister that we're doing something out of step with comparable countries is absolutely unacceptable. He mentions members on the government benches. They're happy to take this proposal to their electorates. If you look at these comparable countries, you will see that some of them are paradigms of the Labor Party's virtue signalling—the Netherlands has five years continuous permanent residence, if you didn't already know. In the United States it's five years permanent residence. Denmark—another country those opposite may feel proud of—has nine years continuous residence. New Zealand has five years permanent residence. And, of course, Australia has only one year as a permanent resident and three years of continuous residence.

So this is an entirely reasonable proposal in line with the expectations of the Australian community—that we take more time to get to know someone before we accept them as a citizen. Given that we are a migrant nation, it is entirely reasonable that we do take time to get to know people properly. We assess the values that make someone an Australian. Do they contribute? Do they work for our society? Are they willing to integrate into our community? These are important questions in 2017. They go to the heart of security matters. The shadow minister is wrong to say that this has nothing to do with national security. All of these countries—comparable countries, reasonable countries—around the world have a higher standard on this citizenship requirement precisely because they want to be thorough in understanding who people are before they become citizens of their country. It's reasonable for this government to propose it. I believe it's in step with the community's expectations about the standards that the government should set on citizenship.

Let all of you go to your electorates and say you oppose these measures. I welcome it. You go and tell them that you support Australia being at the bottom of the pack in terms of citizenship and the length of time required for people to become citizens. Let's see how that goes. Then let's get to the next furphy that the Labor Party has been promoting up hill and down dale. The government remains absolutely 100 per cent committed to the measures in this bill.

I will put forward some of the things that that shadow minister has been saying. I'll start by referring to a bit of past history. You would think that a person who had said the following things would be strongly in favour of increased English language requirements. Why has the government put forward stronger English language requirements? It has done so because the Productivity Commission says that the better your level of English the better your chances and prospects—your economic chances and your societal prospects. That's why the government funds 500 hours for the humanitarian program of English lessons—to ensure that people get English language skills so they can do better in their community. Let's just have a little look at who said this: 'We need stricter English language requirements.'

Mr Wallace: Who said that?


Mr HAWKE (Mitchell—Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection) (15:50): Who would have said, before this bill was put forward by the government, that we need stricter English language requirements? Well, of course, that's the shadow minister sitting opposite. He said, 'We need stronger English language requirements.'

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr HAWKE: Oh, you didn't mention it? Who said, 'I think it is reasonable to look for English language proficiency and I think it is reasonable to have some period of time before you become an Australian citizen'? I'm not reaching into the distant past. I'm not reaching back to 10 years ago, five years ago or one year ago; I'm reaching back to 20 April this year. I'll read it again. This quote is directly from a member of this House: 'I think it is reasonable to look for English language proficiency and I think it is reasonable to have some period of time before you become an Australian citizen.' So don't listen to me, don't listen to Minister Dutton and don't listen to the Prime Minister: that was the Leader of the Opposition in April this year.

Mr HAWKE: So when did you decide to make English competency and a period of four years of permanent residency a political issue? Why is this a political issue? It's in line with community expectations. There's no issue with greater English language proficiencies. There's no issue that you raised in your presentation today. Yet you've been running around in forums across Australia telling people that they have to get university standard English—a proposition you absolutely know not to be true. You absolutely know that that's not true. The way we can establish that that is not true—and I can easily establish it to members here in the House today—is that 72 per cent of people pass to the current standard of level 6 in IELTS sitting the current English test. That's a fact that the shadow minister failed to mention. So it is not as if people are not required to meet level 6 on the IELTS general test standard. I can confirm to this House that 72 per cent of people pass that test.

The shadow minister read out a passage and was trying to make some contention about ancient history. The reality of that passage was that it was a comprehension test. You're obviously not comprehending, Shadow Minister—English language comprehension; not comprehension about Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr HAWKE: You laugh and you cackle, but it is an English proficiency test, not a history test. We know exactly why Labor is being so political about this. It is because they think that by politicising this issue they will get some sort of reward. The reality is that these measures are supported by Australians. We know that competent English proficiency is important. It matters to the economic and social success of migrants. It is a very important standard that will benefit our new citizens.

We also know that we are setting a standard that is in line with the rest of the world in relation to taking the time to get to know someone. It is to the Labor Party's shame that they are politicising this issue. The government stands by its measures. The government stands by making these citizenship requirements stronger, in support of Australian values and making sure that people will come here and integrate and have a high standard of and high proficiency in English.