SUBJECT/S: Revoking the citizenship of foreign fighters; Bill Shorten visit to the Middle East; Queensland election; $100,000 degrees 



This is AM Agenda. Joining me now, the Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multiculturalism, Michelle Rowland. I want to ask you about this idea that was floated by the Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton. He says that we should have a discussion about revoking the citizenship of foreign fighters with dual citizenship. What do you think of this idea – those who leave Australia’s shores to go and fight in conflict in the Middle East; should they be revoked of their Australian citizenship?

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM: There are a couple of issues here, Kieran. The first is you become an Australian citizen either by birth or by having citizenship conferred upon oneself. If you’re a citizen of Australia by birth, there are no grounds to actually revoke your citizenship. You are an Australian citizen. If it is conferred, there are limited grounds on which that citizenship can be revoked. But I think it’s important to point out that above all else we should be making sure, and we should be putting in every effort, to prevent people from wanting to go over and fight in these foreign wars. Labor has been very prepared to assist the Government, to be constructive on the relevant security committee on matters in relation to foreign fighters. There are very serious penalties in relation to people who are Australian citizens who seek to do that and return, and I think it’s important to ensure that we uphold those laws. It’s also fundamental to make sure that we do everything possible so that people aren’t actually tempted to go over and fight in the first place.

GILBERT: The Lebanese-Australian GP Jamal Rifi in Belmore, a very well respected individual, he’s saying that Islamic State is winning the propaganda war online and that we need a better focus in the cyber campaign to stop radicalisation of young Australians in the first place. What do you think of his input on this? Is it something that governments need to do or should religious and community leaders be leading the charge on this?


ROWLAND: I think this is an observation which goes to the heart of Daesh’s tactics in this area. It is a propaganda machine. You can see from what they’re doing most recently in respect to the Japanese hostages, one of whom has reportedly been killed. You can see what they’re doing in terms of seeking prisoner exchanges. This is all about propaganda, and a propaganda war in today’s age is one that is based on technology, it is one that is based on new media. If we even go to open social media sites you can see the amount of propaganda that’s on there. Very clearly, people are engaging in this sort of talk and these are on public online sites. It is very clear that we need to address this issue, I think that the comments that are being made really point out something that we’ve probably all known – that this is a group, this is a movement, this is a really – a way of propaganda that we haven’t seen before and one that we need to address. I think it’s going to be ongoing and with all forms of propaganda like this, it’s not one that’s going to be easily won. But above all else we should be making sure that as a government, as a parliament, and ourselves as individual representatives we keep making the call for people to not get sucked in by these promises of Daesh.

GILBERT: Australians are reportedly among a large group of foreign fighters who have been killed in Kobani in the fight for that town. About 90 per cent now controlled by Kurdish fighters. These reports come as the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has paid a visit to Australia’s military personnel deployed to Iraq, Michelle Rowland.

ROWLAND: Indeed. And Kobani of course has been prominent in the news for quite some time now and again I think it goes to two things. Firstly, we need to say to people who are considering going over and fighting in these wars; do not go. Do not go, it is not in your interests and you are merely giving yourselves over to the propaganda of Daesh. Secondly, Bill Shorten’s visit clearly demonstrates the bipartisanship with which Labor approaches this issue. Bill Shorten above all else went over to thank our armed service personnel for the magnificent work that they are doing and also to reaffirm the bipartisanship that exists.

GILBERT: Now, just to a couple of other issues. The Queensland election, of course you’re from Sydney but you as a political observer would be keeping a pretty close eye on things. Is there any hope within the Labor party that you might pull off the unthinkable and win on the weekend, when you think of the margin that’s involved here with that landslide victory three years ago.

ROWLAND: It is an enormous margin, however I think it’s also very clear that in a short space of time the Liberal brand has been absolutely tarnished. Not only by the actions of Campbell Newman, but also by his Federal counterpart. I think it’s a sorry day when we see everyone from Jeff Kennett to John Hewson and even conservative commentators who would be in Tony Abbott’s corner now offering advice on these matters. I think that Campbell Newman must be scratching his head wondering how it all went wrong a couple of years ago, but one thing he doesn’t have to wonder about is the level of unpopularity of his Government that’s been reflected by the standing of his own Prime Minister.

GILBERT: A final issue, some advice from a former Labor education minister John Dawkins; this is the front of The Australian newspaper this morning. He’s calling on Labor to engage on this issue of deregulation of university fees. He says you’ve been involved in reform of the higher education sector for three decades and Labor should not drop the ball now. You should be engaged in this reform process that universities themselves are supporting wholeheartedly.

ROWLAND: Firstly, Labor under the Hawke and Keating Governments opened up universities for people who otherwise would have no prospect of going there. Just look at the level of tertiary education that was raised under the Hawke/Keating Government. People from my part of the world in Western Sydney, these were the first people to go to university in their families. It is that same commitment to ensuring equality of opportunity that Labor brings now when approaching this question. We will not support unfair policies that lock students out of university based on the size of their parent’s wallet. We will not support measures which actually make it more difficult for students to pursue and do whatever they want to do with their lives, just as much as everyone else. They are the values that we will take up to this Government in the fight that will ensue this year.

GILBERT: Isn’t it too simplistic though, Labor’s position? Not willing to budge at all because if you have a deregulation of the numbers of students going in, but you don’t deregulate fees, doesn’t it inevitably mean that the standards drop?

ROWLAND: I don’t consider it simplistic at all, Kieran. When you look at the evidence that we have seen on this matter, we clearly have people who are going to be put off going to university because of the high level of fees. If this Government wanted to make a clear commitment to university it would be putting money into these universities. It would be ensuring that more people had opportunities. Quite clearly, this was a savings measure and they got it so wrong because not only is this now costing them money, it’s actually not resulting in any meaningful policy. This is a Government that has tied itself in knots on the issue of tertiary education.

GILBERT:  Michelle Rowland, thanks for your time this morning. Appreciate it.

ROWLAND:  My pleasure.