I represent one of the most multicultural parts of Australia.
More than half of the people who live in my electorate were born overseas.
That’s more than almost any other electorate in this place.
It means I go to a lot of citizenship ceremonies, and like all Members of Parliament I love going to them. It’s one of the best parts of our job.
When I speak at these events I tell new citizens that they’re part of a long history of migration.
Except for the first Australians, we are all migrants or the descendants of migrants.
And it’s not just a story of British migration until the last few decades.
The First Fleet had people from other parts of the world.
There were former African slaves from the United States, who fled with the British after the Revolutionary War that were on the First Fleet.
Arthur Phillip, the first Governor of NSW was half German.
The first Chinese migrant – Mak Sai Ying – arrived here in 1818. A good decade before my first convict forebears. He married a girl named Sarah Thompson, they had a bunch of kids and he ended up running a pub called the Lion, in Parramatta not far from my electorate.
That’s the sort of story has repeated itself time after time over the last two centuries. People who have come here from all around the world – some with barely two bob to rub together – and they have made a success of it.
The miners who rose up under the Eureka Flag in 1854 – there were people there from more than a dozen different countries, including Finland, Jamaica, Italy and Sweden.
Among the soldiers at Gallipoli was a bloke called Billy Sing. His mum was English and his dad was Chinese. He was a sniper. He was the best the ANZACs had. His actions saved countless Australians on that rugged peninsula.
If you go down the road from here and visit the War Memorial you will see a place littered with names. And it includes the names of people who weren’t born here but they died for us.
They’re the sort of stories that I like to tell at these citizenship ceremonies.
TRINH & HUNG
I also tell the story of an 18 year old Vietnamese refugee.
Who fled Vietnam after the fall of Saigon. Being shot at as he left.
And I tell the story of a 17 year old Vietnamese girl who fled with her sister and one change of clothes. She made it to Malaysia where she was put in a UN refugee camp. She spent the next 10 months the until one day someone said: “You’re going to Australia.”
Those two teenagers didn’t know each other then but they soon would.
Soon after arriving in Australia they went on a blind date – at Bondi Beach.
A few years later they were married, and they had kids.
Those two Vietnamese refugees, they are my mother and father in law.
If this legislation that we are debating here today was in place all those years ago, then they would never have been able to become citizens of this great country.
Because what the Government wants to do here is change the law so you can’t become an Australian citizen unless you have got university level English skills.
That counts them out.
That counts my mother and father in law out.
They can speak English.
Their English is pretty good.
But is it university level? No. And it never will be.
But I tell you what – they are good Australians.
Like thousands and thousands of other people who have come here over the decades, they have learned a new language, they have got a job, they have raised a family, and they have made a go of it.
They have even set up their own business.
These are the sorts of people that we should be congratulating.
This legislation says they shouldn’t even be citizens.
How on earth could I vote for that?
How on earth could I vote for something that says they shouldn’t even get a vote?
How could I?
How could I look my little boy in the eye when he grows up and tell him that I voted for a something that meant that his grandparents shouldn’t even be citizens of Australia.
THE IMPORTANCE OF ENGLISH
I understand how important English is.
English is critical if you want to succeed in Australia
I see how important it is in my own electorate.
In Blaxland, in South West Sydney the unemployment rate is double the national average.
And it won’t surprise anyone in this place that it varies depending on how good your English language skills are.
The unemployment rate amongst people who have got English as their first language is about 5 percent – in other words it’s about the national average.
If you don’t speak English very well or at all – then the rate of unemployment is about 25 percent.
It tells you how important English is.
The better your English, the better your chances of getting a job.
The better your chance of getting ahead.
The better your chance of integrating properly into our society.
But that doesn’t mean we should be denying people citizenship because they don’t have university English skills.
It means we should be doing more to boost these skills.
It means providing more English language training and making sure people finish the skills courses that they start.
This legislation doesn’t do any of that.
It’s important to make the point here that the test to become an Australian Citizen is in English.
To become a citizen you already need to be able to speak English – and read and write it.
You just don’t need university level English.
Now apparently unless you can write an essay, unless you can write a university thesis, you are a threat to national security.
Because that’s the argument the Government is making here.
That’s what Peter Dutton, the Minister for Immigration and the future Minister for Home Affairs has said.
That this is all about National Security.
What a joke.
In the last Government I was the Minister for Home Affairs. I held that job for two years.
And throughout all that time, no one told me that we need to make Australian citizens have university level English skills in order to make this country safer.
And the people that are advising this Government are the same people who advised me.
None of them ever made that argument to me.
If this is about national security where’s the evidence from ASIO? Where is the recommendations from the AFP? Where’s the advice from the Department of Immigration that this is necessary for national security?
It doesn’t exist. Because it’s not about national security. That is just a made up argument to make the Government look tough. It’s about politics.
If anything this sort of legislation has the potential to make us less safe.
Because what this does is it divides us into two groups – a group of Australians who are citizens or could become citizens and those who know they never will be.
That second group who know that they could never, ever become an Australian citizen – well that’s going to make them feel like they are not one of us. Like they don’t belong.
And when that sort of thing happens, that’s very dangerous.
That’s when bad things happen, and we’ve seen plenty of evidence of that recently overseas.
The fact is it is not about national security. It’s just wrapped up to look like national security. The reality is it is about politics.
The Government is behind in the polls and they think this makes them look tough. They think this is going to win them votes.
My response to that is if you think that’s going to win you votes then think again.
Because there are a lot of people in this country like my mother and father in law.
People in their 60s, in their 70s, in their 80s.
People who came here in the 1960s and the 1970s, the 1980s.
People from places like Greece, like Italy, like China, Like Vietnam. Serbia and Croatia. From parts of South America.
People who’ve come from all around the world over the last few decades.
28 per cent of Australians were born overseas.
And a lot of those people don’t speak perfect English.
I’ll tell you what though, they worked damn hard. They paid their taxes.
They voted a lot of times over the years – sometimes even for the Liberal Party.
Some of them live in marginal Liberal seats like Banks and Reid and Chisholm.
And this legislation is a slap in the face to them.
Because what the Government is saying to all of those people with this legislation is that they think they shouldn’t be citizens.
They think they shouldn’t even be allowed to vote.
That should go down well. That should go down real well in all of those marginal seats.
Good luck convincing all of those people from all around the world who have lived here for decades, voted here for decades, that you don’t think they should be citizens. That you don’t think they should even get a vote on Election Day.
I think when they find that out they’re going to have a lot of trouble convincing them to for this Government again.
And don’t worry, Mr Deputy Speaker because we will be reminding them of exactly what this legislation is all about.
We’ll be saying to voters do you have university level English skills?
Well Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberal Party think you shouldn’t be a citizen. Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberal Party don’t even think you should get a vote on election day.
Then let’s see what happens.
This is a big mistake by this Government.
A hundred years ago when we wanted to stop people coming here we used a dictation test to do it.
This isn’t that – but it’s certainly using similar techniques.
That might have been popular 100 years but times have changed.
I’ve got to tell you it’s not going to work now.
Because we’re a different country to that, and this is bad law.
It’s bad for national security and it is bad politics.
And if you don’t get it now, well you’ll work it out soon enough.
Because this is not good for national security. No one is going to be safer because of this.
Particularly not marginal Liberal Members of Parliament.
And if you were smart you would back down from this at 100 miles an hour.
If this Government was smart they would back down from this. Before they do more damage to our community – and before they do more damage to themselves.
But I know they won’t do this, because I don’t think they even realise what they’re doing to our community or what they’re doing to themselves yet.
But they will. They’ll work it out eventually. Except it’ll take an election for them to work out what a mess they have made of this.
I am proud to represent my community. A multicultural community, one of the most multicultural communities in this place. And I’ll be very proud later this day to vote against this terrible legislation.