Subjects: Citizenship; CFMEU, ALP.
MITCHELL: On the line senior Labor frontbencher, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Anthony Albanese, good morning.
ALBANESE: G’day Neil.
MITCHELL: Thanks for your time. What’s the problem with the English test? We do want, but I’m thinking nearly half your electorate is born overseas, which is a good reason to be talking about it with you. What do you want from it, what’s the problem with the English test?
ALBANESE: There’s no problem with requiring people to be able to speak and converse in English. That I think enables people to participate fully in society and that’s what we want. The problem here is that there’s a test that I reckon Barnaby Joyce wouldn’t pass. The test of level six is quite absurd, it’s university level English and that’s not what people want. That’s about trying to marginalise people and the Government hasn’t been able to say how many existing applicants wouldn’t be able to pass the test, let alone how many of our own citizens.
They’d be people who were born here who would struggle to pass the test that the Government’s proposing and that’s why we think they need to think again about this issue.
MITCHELL: I must say, I read part of the test that they’re talking about and one of them is grammatically incorrect anyway and very hard to understand. So okay, how do you get…
ALBANESE: I was going to say Peter Dutton; there was quite a funny thing on Twitter yesterday where Peter Dutton, they corrected six English grammatical errors in one of his tweets in 140 characters so I reckon even the Minister himself might struggle a bit.
MITCHELL: I think we all would because English (inaudible). So how do you get the right system? How do you get a system whereby you say, look we want you to be proficient or sufficiently proficient to be a citizen. How do you sort it out?
ALBANESE: There is a test now and I reckon you could pick half a dozen of your listeners who have a bit of common sense about them and sit them in a room and they would come up with something that met everyone’s expectations. What this proposition though, along with the other provision which is making people wait even longer to become full citizens, even retrospectively applying that so people who’ve been here and are participating in jobs. I’ve got a lot of letters from people in my electorate saying, hang on; they’ve moved the goal posts there. We want to pledge allegiance to Australia. And as a Federal Member of Parliament, I don’t think there’s a better occasion than a citizenship ceremony and places like Australia Day; it is such a fantastic coming together of the nation.
MITCHELL: You’ll be amazed to know our Lord Mayor Robert Doyle is a former English teacher, apart from being a former conservative politician as you well know, supports you. He thinks this test is nonsense.
ALBANESE: He’s a common sense bloke. You know I get on pretty well with him from the time I was Local Government Minister, but I just think this is, let’s be sensible about this. Let’s not put barriers to participation up that can’t possibly be met.
MITCHELL: So in a broader sense, what should we expect from our citizens? What do we want? We want some proficiency in English, we don’t want them to be crooks, what else?
ALBANESE: We want loyalty to our values as well. The Australian values that include tolerance and respect for each other, regardless of our origins. I think that’s what we expect as a nation and by and large we should celebrate the fact that we are an incredible, successful multicultural nation. I’m half Italian, half Irish.
With the exception of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, we’re all sons, or grandsons, or granddaughters or daughters of migrants. And by and large we have been incredibly successful. We can be a bit of a microcosm for the world. In my electorate you have people of different faiths who live together in harmony. It’s a pity that that’s not the case in other parts of the world, but it’s something we should be proud of.
MITCHELL: One of the things I think concerns me about citizenship is that it’s so hard, and I understand why, but it’s so hard to lose. We do have people who abuse it once they get it and if they haven’t lied to get it there’s nothing you can do about it.
ALBANESE: That is a problem but of course if people break the law they should be charged and go through the appropriate authorities.
MITCHELL: Yes, but they’re not going to lose their citizenship, are they?
ALBANESE: No, that’s right. There are provisions of course that passed the Parliament for people who are dual citizens to have their Australian citizenship removed, but there’s also of course; the problem is if they don’t have dual citizenship then that can’t happen. But some of the problems we’ve had with people who don’t have the same values as other Australians are of course some people who are born here, regardless of their origins and ethnic makeup. The truth is that some people aren’t as good as the general Australian character.
MITCHELL: Look it’s good to talk to you. I wanted to ask you, you are a good union man, why don’t you just phone up John Setka and say hey Mate, you stuffed it up. Apologise and fix it.
ALBANESE: I haven’t got his number.
MITCHELL: I’ll give it to you.
ALBANESE: Yes but quite clearly I think that would be entirely appropriate. I think that the thing that struck me more than anything else is the reference to kids. That loses me, let me tell you. Anyone who invokes family of people, let alone the general tenor of the language is entirely inappropriate, to raise that is just not on.
MITCHELL: Well he gives you $1 million a year, well his union does. Do you think you should knock it back?
ALBANESE: Well look the fact is that we do represent the interests of construction workers along with other sections of the CFMEU and let me tell you that the average construction worker, including members of the Victorian branch, go to work every day, they work hard for themselves and their family to put food on the table, they work hard for the community.
MITCHELL: I agree with you.
ALBANESE: They care about their fellow workers in terms of occupational health and safety.
MITCHELL: I agree.
ALBANESE: After the London fires there’s a big issue out there about construction materials. It will be the workers of course are people who have drawn that to the attention of authorities and perhaps haven’t been listened to enough in the past about building materials.
MITCHELL: I agree with all that, but if they don’t repudiate these comments, which are offensive I think to most sensible, most decent people, if they don’t repudiate them, should you accept money from them?
ALBANESE: Well the fact is that the relationship between Labor and the unions is a structural one. It has been there since 1891. That doesn’t mean that you should agree with each other all of the time. I’ve made my comments very clear about Mr Setka’s comments.
MITCHELL: I know, but it doesn’t come down to a financial decision? It’s not bad enough to say, no, take you money and stick it?
ALBANESE: Well look, in terms of the engagement with the union movement, one of the things that is very positive when I go to a Labor Party conference is the representation of workers who are connected up with their local communities and let me tell you that in the NSW branch, for example, I have been active on issues like …
MITCHELL: This is riveting. But it’s not to the point. I mean, you’ve had unions disaffiliated in the past. Here we have a union that is a bit of a rogue union, they are giving you $1 million a year. Should you accept it? Not you, the party?
ALBANESE: Well that is a decision for the organisational wing but what the affiliation of unions to the party does is give us a direct connection with people who are working people and (inaudible) over issues including occupational health and safety, over issues including the impact of asbestos and other building materials that have been inappropriate. The connections that the CFMEU do throughout the community – raising money for children’s hospitals and for a range of charities, you know you’ve got to look at the role that they play. I think the trade union movement plays a very important role in our society. We had comments from the Reserve Bank Governor the other day speaking about the need to increase wages. Well, get rid of unions and what you will see is far more exploitation, far more accidents on building sites.
MITCHELL: Thank you so much for your time.
ALBANESE: Good to talk to you Neil.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.