SUBJECT/S: Citizenship; Tony Abbott’s Royal Commission; Public school co-payment


MONDAY, 22 JUNE 2015


KIERAN GILBERT: This is AM Agenda, thanks for your company. With me now, Labor frontbencher Michelle Rowland and the Assistant Education Minister Simon Birmingham. Good morning to you both. Michelle Rowland, as the Shadow Citizenship Minister I’d be interested to see what you think about where these law changes are going from what you’ve read this morning.


MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Kieran, I think it was four weeks ago on this program where I said it would be supported by Labor to have an updating of our citizenship laws, along the lines of the principle that the current provisions of Section 35 talk about fighting in foreign armies and essentially for a country. That does not cover the situation we have with Daesh. So we have been all for the principle of updating these provisions and they go to, as you’re well aware, the automatic cancellation of citizenship, so we will await the legislation. I note the government is talking about amending this provision rather than possibly a new law or inserting different amendments to enable the Minister to be the decision-maker in this area. We think that that would be an appropriate course in principle, obviously we haven’t seen the legislation yet but I would note also Kieran, by going through this process with an existing piece of legislation, that of itself does not negate these laws to be struck down. So obviously we are keen to ensure above all else that the law is robust, that it will withstand challenge and that appropriate advice has been taken on this point.


GILBERT: That all sounds quite reasonable doesn’t it?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Kieran, that’s encouraging. Obviously it’s a long way from what Mark Dreyfus was saying last week about bringing people home. Hopefully Michelle is reflecting the Labor position as against what Mark Dreyfus’ position was. We are confident that the legislation we are going to bring to the Parliament is robust. You can never stop somebody challenging a piece of legislation through the courts, but of course in drafting it, in settling on the policy the government has been taking the best of legal advice and that’s the only approach that we’ll take to make sure we have a law in place that does everything we possibly can to ensure that people who are fighting against Australia do not return to Australia.

GILBERT: This is actually what I was thinking when I spoke to Mark Dreyfus about this expanding of Section 35, given it was something that had been discussed prior to last week and to today, and hence the question: what do you do with those fighting in Syria, he says ‘well you get them home’. Now under this change to Section 35 you don’t get them home. As soon as they take up arms they’re revoking their citizenship.

ROWLAND: Well there would be no need under this, if I may call it a minimalist model, because as it currently stands it is an automatic revocation of citizenship. But I would say this also Kieran, I wouldn’t be so cocky about trying to point out alleged differences in Labor here. This is coming from a government who has been leaking like a sieve on this matter, who have had people like Malcolm Turnbull very concerned about ensuring the rule of law is maintained. And whose actual lines on this point have been leaked and show clearly that this was a government set out on this point to divide Labor and try and wedge us on this issue.


GILBERT: You can follow that point up again a bit later because I’m going to ask Simon Birmingham about that issue but on Mark Dreyfus’s comments, did he then in your view, overstep in terms of saying you get them back given that this has always been a possibility that the current law is broadened?

ROWLAND:  My understanding was he was talking about hypothetical situations here. We still haven’t seen the detail, we still haven’t seen the Bill yet. We were talking about this very issue four weeks ago. In fact I think we were talking about it four months ago even. So if we are going to have this provision changed, let’s have a look at the legislation, let’s assume it has been done based on robust advice. Let’s put it through the proper parliamentary processes and let’s get it put in place.

GILBERT: Will it placate those within the government that have had concerns about the rule of law and whether or not it will stack up in light of the constitution?


BIRMINGHAM: Kieran, I think the important distinction is that in the government there may have been a debate about the technicalities of how this is done, but the principle of ensuring that people fight against Australia if they hold dual citizenship do not return to Australia has been clear cut all along. Whereas in Labor there has been this doubt about what Mark Dreyfus was meaning or talking about when he said we bring them back home. We don’t want to bring them back home, we want to ensure that if their citizenship can be cancelled then it is cancelled and we want to be confident the process we’ve been through where everybody has agreed around the principle will also get us to a good outcome in terms of detail in legislation.

GILBERT: So you’re confident this will placate those that have had concerns?


BIRMINGHAM: I am confident that this will stand the test, that it’s a good outcome, and it delivers on a principle.


GILBERT: Well Labor’s backing it as well. Last week it was just about politics, trying to wedge Labor and now they’re backing it anyway.

BIRMINGHAM: We didn’t put the words in Mark Dreyfus’s mouth. He was the one who said ‘bring them home’. He was the one who put this shadow of a doubt over Labor’s position. Now if Labor is clarifying its position now then that’s welcome.

GILBERT: We’ve had a bit more detail, I guess.


ROWLAND: I’ve had the same position for four weeks and we’ll have even more idea obviously once we see the legislation but I would doubt that Simon would disagree with me on this. We’re talking about making sure that these people, if they have renounced everything to do with Australian values and citizenship, we already have provisions in section 35 of the Citizenship Act. But I would say first and foremost, we don’t want them to go. We don’t want them to go in the first place so we need to do everything we can as a parliament to ensure we don’t even get into that position where those 100 or so people who are currently fighting don’t multiply.

BIRMINGHAM: And that’s why we’re investing more than a billion dollars in a range of measures to try and combat radicalisation and make sure that doesn’t occur.


GILBERT: I want to ask you about the Bill Shorten comments on the upcoming royal commission appearance. First to you, Senator Birmingham on this, because today we’re seeing confirmation that the CFMEU is paying Grocon $3.5 million or thereabouts in a settlement because of strong arm tactics and so on. Isn’t this just another reminder of the fact that AWU and Shorten was a middle ground union leader? Working with business, Tony Shepherd said. Is this just a storm in a teacup?


BIRMINGHAM: Kieran, I think what the CFMEU deal is an indication of is some fundamental flaws it seems in the way that the Australian union movement is behaving and it’s every reason why at the policy level the Labor party should be supporting the establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission.


GILBERT: But on comparison, the CFMEU verses Shorten, moderate leader, moderate union doing deals that got this project the East Link done ahead of schedule as Tony Shepherd pointed out. Now is he copping flack here for doing something and being a union leader that business could work with?


BIRMINGHAM: Kieran, Bill Shorten will have to as he said he will answer the allegations that have been made and answer any suggestions that he had not done the best by workers. Of course we want to see a world in which business can strike sensible deals with unions but nor do we want business to be forced to make large cash payments or where they’re having to sign people up to the union for the union, not necessarily with their knowledge. So we want to make sure that we actually have a clean world in which unions can represent workers honestly and truthfully without doing any sort of backroom deals in that regard. That’s why the registered organisations commission the government wants to put in place is important and Labor should support that to give the union movement integrity.


GILBERT: Michelle Rowland, thoughts on the question I put to Simon Birmingham.


ROWLAND: Time and again we hear members of the government talk about the need for flexible workplace arrangements. Here is a former union leader who, in his time as union leader, did almost to the letter what was envisaged in The Accord, what was envisaged by Bob Hawke and Paul Keating when they modernised Australian workplace enterprising. And now this government seeks to criticise Bill Shorten for doing precisely that. It was a win-win.


GILBERT: What about these extra payments that Simon Birmingham alluded to there? Is that appropriate?


ROWLAND: He can get questioned on the Royal Commission. I don’t know where they went to and Bill Shorten said you can ask him questions on that. But I’ll make this point: Bill Kelty and Martin Ferguson, whom some in the government have been oft to quote of late, have both said this is exactly the kind of modern enterprise bargaining that we need in this country. So he does that and then this government seeks to criticise him. And let’s not forget, $61 million being spent on this Royal Commission. They couldn’t find $100,000 to keep Blacktown Community Aid open after 41 years, but $61 million of taxpayer money going into this question.


GILBERT: Let’s finish just quickly as Assistant Education Minister this Green Paper that’s been put forward possibly seeing federal funding being removed from all schools, public schools included. What’s the government’s official position on that?

BIRMINGHAM: Kieran, there’s a bit of a hysterical overreaction to what is a discussion paper that puts out four different options. We went to the last election saying we would have a view of the federations. This paper is being developed in consultation with the states and you have to remember it is not just a review of school funding, it’s a review of the federation that includes all of the funding streams.

GILBERT: You’re open to pulling federal funding out of the state system?

BIRMINGHAM: We don’t want to pre-empt the outcome. Tony Abbott is bringing together state and territory leaders to a retreat in July to talk about federation reform but we want to make sure whatever the outcome is it won’t be disadvantaging students, it won’t be disadvantaging families or parents or our school system. It will be trying to make sure we don’t have duplication and waste in our structure.

GILBERT: We’re out of time, just 10 seconds.

ROWLAND: This is a public school co-payment. This is a government that went to the last election saying they were on a Gonski unity ticket. If that was a lie, good on you. Because the Prime Minister said down the barrel the night before the election there would be no cuts to education.

BIRMINGHAM: You’re running a scare campaign, Michelle.

ROWLAND: Your Prime Minister has gone, “nothing to see here, nothing to see here.”

GILBERT: We’re out of time. Simon Birmingham, Michelle Rowland, thank you.