CHRIS UHLMANN: I am joined, Bridget, by Senator Connie Fierravanti-Wells, who is the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, but rewind 18 months and she was actually conducting an enquiry, when she had her hat on as Assistant Minister for Multiculturalism, on Australian citizenship. Senator Fierravanti-Wells, welcome.
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Hello, Chris, how are you?
CHRIS UHLMANN: Very well, thanks. Now, can you take us back to that enquiry that you conducted, what was the purpose of it and what did you find?
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, back in May 2015, I had just become Parliamentary Secretary to the Attorney General, and then-Prime Minister Abbott tasked myself and Philip Ruddock to conduct a national consultation on citizenship. Basically, to understand whether the rights and responsibilities of citizenship were understood, and also what further could be done to promote citizenship especially amongst young Australians. So Philip and I embarked on this national conversation; we wrote to people inviting them to put forward their views, we put a discussion paper online, basically as a conversation starter, Chris, with a whole series of different questions. We went around Australia and we sought the views of over 3,000 people who contributed to this process, and then we produced a report.
CHRIS UHLMANN: And so what did you find? Did you find that what we had at the moment was inadequate, because clearly what the government has done today is to try and bolster the view of Australian values – the way that Australian citizenship can be acquired. So does what we are seeing today reflect what you found for your report?
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Yes, Chris, it does, and there are a number of key findings. One of course was the importance of English as the national language. Secondly, people said to us it was overwhelming finding that citizenship is a vital national institution, but it was not well understood and was not as valued as it could have been, and consequently, thirdly, there was a lot of support for a reviewing of the framework of citizenship. What we are seeing today is the embodiment of those findings and we are seeing that citizenship is being bolstered and the framework is being enhanced.
CHRIS UHLMANN: A big part of what the Prime Minister is talking about today is Australian values. Now, you step into this space and it is actually a contested space by a great many people. I mean, how would you define what Australian values are? Of course, you have had that experience by the multicultural experience of Australia. I think when you started in school you did not speak English, so you come from that kind of background. How do you define Australian values?
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, when we put out our consultation paper, we actually set out a set of core values – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, parliamentary democracy, equality before the law, equality of the individual, that sense of fair go, that sense of egalitarianism. And so, these were the sort of issues that we put in our paper, and asked people ‘what do you see as Australian values, how important are Australian values to citizenship, and what more can we do to promote Australian citizenship?’ And so, as I said, we found overwhelming support for the importance of citizenship, for the sort of changes that are being announced today, they are the sort of things. Minister Dutton will bring down legislation that will reflect these changes, but this goes to the very essence of the findings that we had. English, most especially, Chris, it was really one of the key points that was raised in all of the conversations.
CHRIS UHLMANN: And was this coming from immigrant communities that you were talking to, that said that these are the sorts of things they would expect in gaining Australian citizenship?
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, we spoke to over 3,000 people and organisations across Australia, and it was basically a mix of mainstream Australia. People who were particular experts in this area, but also ordinary Australians online, through letters, chose to express their views on these important issues. There are two points that I would like to make about the context of our consultations. It was not just about citizenship, it was also about citizenship in an era of home-grown terrorism. And some of the views and the feedback that we provided to the Government in our report found their way into some of the changes that have been already enacted in relation to dual-citizenship. This is, I suppose, the second tranche of changes that actually go to bolstering the Australian citizen test.
CHRIS UHLMANN: And what do you say to those people who might argue that some of what they are seeing at the moment, and some of what they have seen from this government in the past, actually has an anti-Islam element to it?
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, this is about citizenship and all Australians. One of the things that was very clear to Philip and I in our consultation was that when we talk about civics and we talk about understanding citizenship and its importance in the community, we are actually talking about a set of values that apply to all Australians – irrespective of whether they are born in Australia or acquire citizenship. So that is really a point that we had stressed to us – that it is important that all Australians understand their rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
CHRIS UHLMANN: But you aren’t just singling out a single group of people?
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: No, we are talking about all Australians and the understanding that all Australians have of their rights and responsibilities in relation to citizenship. The citizenship test is a very important tool. It is the tool that is available to the Australian Government to see if a person who wants to become an Australian citizen meets the qualifications to acquire that citizenship. We also have in Australia – despite various changes and amendments to the citizenship legislation over the years – we have, according to a recent OECD finding, one of the highest uptakes of citizenship in Australia. Over 80 per cent of eligible residents in Australia – people who are eligible to take up citizenship, take up that citizenship. I do not believe that these changes are in any way going to affect the rate at which people seek to acquire Australian citizenship.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Senator Fierravanti-Wells, thank you.
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Thanks very much, Chris.
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