Standing up for Canberra

Transcript: Breakfast with Tim Shaw

SUBJECTS: Tony Abbott’s immigration comments, migration, citizenship legislation, cyber security, coffee catch-ups, Canberra Show

SHAW: To get their perspective on our territory, your local representatives - Gai Brodtmann the Member for Canberra, Shadow Assistant Minister for Cyber Security and Defence, Zed Seselja, Liberal ACT Senator, Assistant Minister for Social Services. Ah no, he's not. He's the Assistant Minister for Science, thank you very much. Good morning to you both.

BRODTMANN: Good morning, Tim. Good morning, Zed.

SESELJA: Good morning, Tim. Good morning, Gai.

SHAW: Last time I checked, Brodtmann, Seselja and Shaw are not names I would attribute to the local Ngunnawal people. The three of us are migrants in some way, shape or form. Has Tony Abbott got a point when he wants to see immigration reduced from the 190,000 at the moment down to 110,000? Gai Brodtmann, you go first.

BRODTMANN: Tony Abbott's comments are a serious case of relevance deprivation. We've got the Prime Minister out of the country and up pops Tony Abbott with this latest thought bubble. What is really amusing is that it was delivered with a wink at the end. This is just another thought bubble while the Prime Minister is out of the country. Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton have slammed his attempt at being relevant again and I think that's where we should leave it.

SHAW: Zed Seselja.

SESELJA: Look, I think immigration has been fundamentally good for Australia. It helps to build the Australia we know today. Millions of people have come to Australia and help build Australia into a great nation so I'm a big supporter of that. I think we've got the settings about right. I think there are always debates about the right number and we do need to have it as responsive to Australia's needs and Australia's growth.

The infrastructure challenges are real and that's why we're investing so much more in states and territories which have an important role to play as well. Where people are stuck in traffic or feeling like they're not getting access to housing or services there will be this tension.

I think fundamentally immigration has been very good. It's primarily a skills program so we're bringing in people who we need to fill jobs so that Australian residents don't have to pay more taxes than they should. Our economy keeps growing and there is prosperity for all of us. I think fundamentally it's been a very positive story and I wouldn't want to see the kind of cuts to immigration that have been suggested.

SHAW: To you both. Andrew Barr told me last week we have the same number of unfilled skilled jobs as we do the number of unemployed. Gai Brodtmann - should a skilled migrant come in and do that job for four years, then turn around and go back to their home and not have access to Australian citizenship? Or should we be saying, you're doing a good job and paying your taxes and, mate, if you qualify you can stay as a permanent resident? What's your view, Gai?

BRODTMANN: It gets to the nub of the issue that we have with the government's proposed changes to the citizenship laws. I held a citizenship forum with members of Canberra's multicultural community last year and the enduring question - it's a question that I have and it's a question that they have - what is broken here? What is the imperative for the changes that the Government is proposing?

We still don't have a clear answer on what the government is trying to achieve with these citizenship changes. We heard Peter Dutton yesterday talking about pledges. What does that actually mean? There are big questions as to why the Government is feeling the need to actually change these citizenship laws and what the imperative is. What is broken that needs to be fixed? That is the question that the multicultural community here in Canberra and across Australia is asking.

SHAW: Zed, what is the imperative?

SESELJA: There is no doubt if I look at my own family's experience. When people come and they don't get decent English over many, many years which have happened in many cases we are all aware of. That's not ideal. So, it's much better if we encourage a stronger level of English language because that enables a migrant family to come and to thrive. Be more able to participate in the workforce, to be able to participate in other parts of the community.

We are all aware of some of our own relatives or others we know who came in the 50's and 60's and didn't get a strong level of English language. The workforce in modern times, the workforce these days is much different and it's much more difficult to find well-paid employment without having really good English proficiency. I think the world has changed a bit, so encouraging that English proficiency is a real positive thing for Australia as a whole and I think it's a positive for people who come and settle here as well.

SHAW: Okay. We've got 21,000 refugees a year coming in. To you both - upwards of 58 percent of some refugee classes over a five year period are still benefitting from social welfare. I get back to the responsibility of the territories. Gai, do you think South Australia or the ACT, for example, should have stronger integration programs and be putting their hand up for resettlement of refugees both territory and state-based as well as seeking those skilled migrants? Because we want that economic impetus that we've talked about with the skilled migration. At the same time we can't afford to have refugees on welfare five years down the track. What's your take?

BRODTMANN: We want skilled migrants. It allows Canberra and the nation to grow and flourish. Just before I go on to answer that question, Tim, I want to make the point that people already need to speak English to pass the current test and under the government's proposed changes they want university level English.

SESELJA interjecting: That's not true.

BRODTMANN: For people coming from India and China. Not from Canada or the UK. In terms of resettlement, we have a number of programs and I've been to them.

Down at the CIT there is a migrant program where people come in and improve their English. They also learn about Australia, about the vernacular, how our democratic system works, how our legal system works. They're helped out with how to get jobs and write CVs, interviewing tactics. So in Canberra, there is a very impressive resettlement program.

SHAW: I'm going to quote Peter Dutton and I'll let Zed Seselja respond. The government has moved to reinforce the importance of evidenced integration and the English language in the steps to acquire citizenship.

Now in opposing this reform said Peter Dutton yesterday "Labor opted for cheap political opportunism against the interest of this nation in insuring that aspiring citizens share Australian values and share the linguistic and other means to integrate".

Zed Seselja, true or false?

SESELJA: Absolutely true. I'll make the point in my previous role where I was responsible for the settlement of refugees. We recognised some of these issues of low employment figures amongst other things. We made significant changes that are only just starting to come in. In the way that settlement services are done.

So a really strong focus on employment, on English language and on education because I think there has been too many who have come and when they come here many won't have the skills for the workforce. So it's us being generous in bringing in 18,000 or so every year.

But what we've done is made some reforms to make it better so there is more support. So there is a more laser-like focus on education, on English language, on employment because we do want to see people having those opportunities. So those reforms have been made and they were made under my watch. I'm looking forward to seeing those numbers improve over the coming years.

SHAW: Gai Brodtmann, a big tick for you, the Member for Canberra, from the Member for Hume, Angus Taylor, Minister for Law Enforcement and Cyber Security. There is a very strong bipartisanship between Labor and the coalition about the increase in our cyber security awareness and the super agency, Home Affairs. So big tick for you. Are you happy with the direction of the new super ministry in the protection of our borders and also issues of cyber security and defence?

BRODTMANN: We do largely take a bipartisan approach to this.

SHAW interjecting: Largely?

BRODTMANN: It's my role and it's my job as the opposition shadow to hold the government to account in areas I think need improving. I will continue to do that. I told Dan Tehan when he was the Minister I was going to do that and I will continue to do it with Angus. Yes, it's a largely bipartisan approach which is why I was a bit disappointed with Angus making those barbs in question time last week. I will be holding the government to account on this issue. But it is like national security issues - it is largely a bipartisan approach.

SHAW: I want you to sort out those barbs when you have a coffee catch-up at Beess and Co. at 10 o'clock at Yarralumla tomorrow. What are the issues that Canberrans have been raising with you at the coffee catch-ups? Because Zed has got a big survey out and I want to check with Zed now what Canberrans are telling him. But what are you hearing from Canberrans at your coffee catch-ups? I bet NBN is at the top of the list.

BRODTMANN: Coffee catch-ups often cover a number of issues and they tend to be local or very specific circumstances. Issues like Comcare, medals for service. This came up at the most recent coffee catch-up at Gowrie. The big issue at the moment is of course the NBN and trying to get it brought forward again as a result of the delay in the rollout. The other big issue is the NDIS. Tim, I'm getting daily complaints from people about their treatment and what's happening.

SHAW interjecting: And what's happening with the funding.

BRODTMANN: That's why I'm holding a forum next week.

SHAW: Zed, you went and saw Mitch Fifield, the Minister for Communications. Gai and I are worried about the NBN. What did the Minister tell you?

SESELJA: I did raise this issue with the Minister and his office. They're working very hard behind the scenes to make sure we get the rollout out as quickly as possible. There is no doubt, and I live in a part of Tuggeranong in MacArthur which certainly has very poor internet.


SESELJA: When it comes to the fixed line and a lot of people are switching to wireless as a result. I made the case that these areas have pretty poor coverage and it's partly because of early decisions made with the NBN and no funding being provided by existing service providers. That's still planned to come out in the next year or so. It's obviously a little bit uncertain on exactly when it will come because of issues with getting the right contractors and services. But there is a great commitment to make sure it's fair.

In the way we're doing it - it would have been coming in around 2026 under the Labor Party's plan - so, it's much, much earlier than it would've been. I understand the frustration because people are keen for it to come in as soon as possible and I'm one of those residents.

SHAW: Zed, you've got a big survey out. Our listeners told us on the poll the number one kitchen table economic issue is the cost of utilities. Gai, Zed, we both know we've got high cost of energy. As well as the general utility issue. Is that coming through in your survey, Zed?

SESELJA: The cost of energy is a big one. Obviously, when you look at some of the measures we've taken like the gas reserves, which is pushing gas prices down and it's starting to flow through into people's prices. Also the national energy guarantee which is about keeping the lights on bring prices down, putting downward pressure on prices. You don't easily turn the ship around but it's a major focus for us.

A lot of feedback on that of course and on a lot of other things - youth unemployment, issues around safety and security in the community. Of course small business. A lot of people are telling us they want to see more support for small business and of course we are doing that with tax cuts for small business and instant asset write-offs in other areas.

SHAW: Gai, you're going to be at the Canberra Show with the mobile office. You know the laughing clowns? I reckon they're great. But you know the dunking machines that used to be at the shows? Should we do that one year? You, me and Zed in the dunking machine?

BRODTMANN: That is not happening, Tim.

SHAW: You've heard it here first, the Member for Canberra has said there is no dunking. Zed, you'd be up for a dunk wouldn't you?

SESELJA: I was going to say, I'll do it if Gai is up for it.

BRODTMANN laughing: Gai ain't up for it!

SHAW: The challenge is on. Both of you thanks for your time. We'll catch you soon for another Gai to Zed catch-up.

SESELJA: Thanks Tim. Thanks Gai.

BRODTMANN: Thanks Tim. Thanks Zed.