SUBJECT/S: Citizenship; social inclusion; marriage equality




CALLUM DENNESS: Joining me now is the Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multiculturalism Michelle Rowland, good morning.


DENNESS: The PM has announced measures to strip dual nationals of their citizenship if they’ve been engaging in terrorism, is that something that the Labor Party will support?

ROWLAND: We are open to looking at any sensible measures that will keep our citizens safe and that includes any potential changes to the Citizenship Act. We have asked for a briefing on this matter, I do believe the Opposition is yet to receive that briefing. But what is concerning is that we still haven’t seen any proposed legislation in this area. There is a lot of media commentary around this but we’re yet to see the detail of this, and more concerning I think is the fact that we have a Cabinet that is divided on this issue but it also leaking on this issue, so it is a cause of great concern.

DENNESS: We saw yesterday during Estimates hearings that officials couldn’t really explain how these measures will work, nor explain what these new appointees announced the day before. Do you think that there’s a bit of window dressing going on here?

ROWLAND: I really wouldn’t know whether this is window dressing or whether these are proposals that are in fact quite complex. I would say it is a problematic area. You have everything from issues of statelessness, you have issues of the dual citizenship questions that you mentioned, and also the fact that Australia has had a long arrangement where if our citizens go off and fight for another country against Australia that they are stripped of their citizenship. We also have, in the case of Daesh, people unfortunately leaving Australia and going over to these areas and probably the first thing they do is burn their passports. So in essence, seeking to revoke their own citizenship. So they’re problematic issues but just as an example Julie Bishop’s initial comments on Monday, she was alive to this and it’s clear that from the reports we’ve had out of the Cabinet that she’s questioned this issue of dual citizenship. If we were to strip someone who was eligible to be a citizen of another country, what’s to say that this other country would or wouldn’t accept them so they could in fact be rendered stateless? All these questions we are yet to see the detail of the proposal in order to properly analyse it.

DENNESS: Fair to say that you’re fairly sceptical of the proposal and the need for these extra measures then?

ROWLAND: I would support any measures that are actually going to end up keeping our country safe but in the absence of any detail on these points it is really difficult to draw a conclusion. I am therefore not surprised that the Minister, but also the Department, haven’t been able to clarify it yet.

DENNESS: Do we need to have a discussion about the wording of the Citizenship Pledge?

ROWLAND: I’m open to proposals that help to promote inclusion in our country, and I’m open to the public being able to have a say on that. I would be interested in knowing the process on this. The Prime Minister announced yesterday arrangements where the public were going to be consulted and as someone who attends many citizenship ceremonies and who assists people to gain citizenship of this country, I know how prized it is, I know how valued it is by people and I know how much even people of school age value it as well. So I’m open to anything that would promote social inclusion and we’ll see how this progresses.

DENNESS: Is that what you think this issue is about, promoting social inclusion?

ROWLAND: I would hope that would end up being one of the results as well as the motivations for it.

DENNESS: Philip Ruddock has been appointed as the special envoy for citizenship and community engagement as has Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells. Do you think they’re the right people for the job and are you confident that they will be able to find a measure of social inclusion?

ROWLAND: I hope they do and both of them already either hold roles or perform roles in these areas. I would say related to these matters is the fact that there are a number of issues that are bubbling away on the government’s side so I think a clear position needs to be stated. For a start, that the government absolutely guarantee that they won’t water down the protections against racist hate speech in the Racial Discrimination Act; that we actually have a Prime Minister who doesn’t, as he did in February, basically criticise leaders in our community, accusing them of not meaning it when they say they are opposed to measures which would possibly promote terrorism or have people attracted to radicalisation. I think these notions are ones that need to be addressed as the starting point. Also when we talk about social inclusion, in a very practical sense it means giving people who are at risk, young people, not only young males – the focus has been on young males but I think we need to look at young females, giving them pathways to meaningful education and employment opportunities and under this government all we have seen are cuts to very successful employment funds that were working even in my local area.

DENNESS: What do you make of reports, and we saw this in a press conference as well, that the government doesn’t want to use the word ‘multiculturalism’ and it’s reviving that debate again.

ROWLAND: I would be very disappointed if that were the government’s attitude to this. Even the late Malcolm Fraser made the comment that anyone who would deny that Australia is a multicultural country has already lost the argument. I’m pleased to use the term because I think it has meaning in our society and the number of members of parliament from all sides whom I see at so many events and speaking in Parliament who use the word and mean it I think says something about the acceptance of  the term and what it means.

DENNESS: Let’s move on to another issue, Bill Shorten has announced that he will introduce a Private Members Bill next week on marriage equality. Where do you stand on the issue, how would you vote when that Bill comes before parliament?

ROWLAND: I voted against the proposition when it came before the Parliament last time, some years have passed since then. I did make a commitment at the time of that vote and since I would consult the constituents of Greenway before the vote came up again and I’m committed to carrying that through. In terms of the time frame for this, what would probably end up happening – just knowing the way things work here – that Private Members Bill would be introduced, Bill would speak on it, but then it’s up to the Selection Panel to decide when it comes on for debate. So the reality is, it could actually get parked for quite a while so we don’t actually know when it would come up. And that I think would put the focus on the Prime Minister to consider the issue of a conscience vote within his own party.

DENNESS: Do you consult with your members on every Bill that you vote on?

ROWLAND: No, I don’t. Because this is an issue of a conscience vote and it’s the only one that I have had, last time I took the view that I would need to be informed by my constituents but as I said, we look at events that have been happening around the world. Things change quickly over a very short amount of time. I would never presume that the views my electorate held and expressed a couple of years ago would be the views that they hold today. Even look at Ireland, 20 years ago homosexuality was illegal and look at the progress that has been made since then. I think it’s important for Members to reflect the views of their electorate and it’s important for Members of Parliament who say they’re going to do that to actually do it so I look forward to that.

DENNESS: So if you’ve got the view that your electorate is opposed you’ll vote no again?

ROWLAND: I firstly want to get the views of the electorate and I think that it’s important in a conscience vote situation for a Member to actually take views from a wide variety of people. I have a very diverse electorate but Callum I would never presume to be able to know what they are given at any point in time.

DENNESS: But last time you sought their views you got the impression they were opposed.

ROWLAND: That’s right.

DENNESS: I’m just asking if the same process will happen, if you got the impression that they were opposed to this you would vote no?

ROWLAND: I think that it would depend on how wide the gap was. But I certainly am of the view that people either have very strong views on this or often the views that are expressed are one of ambivalence, to be quite honest. I’ve even had priests come up to me and say ‘Michelle, if you choose to consult your electorate and I’m one of the people you consult you’re not going to get any opposition from me’, so I think that some people might be quite surprised if you have stereotypes of how people are going to have views in your electorate. I ended up being quite surprised in some cases.

DENNESS:  The world is acting quite decisively on this. Australia could be in the position of being the only English speaking country where gay marriage isn’t legislated. Does that weigh on your decision at all or is it purely the views of your electorate?

ROWLAND: No, it certainly does inform my views and as I said, that vote was taken a couple of years ago in the Parliament and for a party that talks about equality of opportunity I think we do need to ensure that where equality is an issue for people we take that into account in our decision making and I’ll certainly be doing that as a local representative.

DENNESS: Okay. Michelle Rowland, thanks for your time.

ROWLAND: My pleasure.