August 09, 2017








These are the words of the citizenship pledge:

"From this time forward, under God, I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey."

They are words I will never tire of hearing, no matter how many citizenship ceremonies I preside over. In particular, it’s the words pledging loyalty to Australia and her people that I think are very touching, because it is not just to the nation of Australia but also very much to Australia and the people of Australia. Our people are what make us who we are.

Over the course of the last couple of months, from the time that the government introduced this legislation, I've been approached by many people, and overwhelmingly they oppose this proposal. Who are these people who are approaching me and asking me to oppose this proposal and saying they hope Labor will oppose it? They're not people who want to open the flood gates to illegal immigration, as those on the other side want us to believe, as the member for Petrie wants us all to believe. They are people who believe, as we all do, that a command of English is necessary for full participation in our country. They are people who want to see Australia thrive, as it has for many decades, as a vibrant multicultural nation. And they are people who are concerned about Australia and where it's headed.

There are a lot of points that I want to speak on about this particular bill, but I am going to start with the English language test. I must take issue with the minister for immigration's suggestion that the English language test, at an IELTS level 6, is not university level. That comment in itself demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding by the minister of exactly what the IELTS exam entails. The IELTS exam, whether it is for academic English or for general English, entails that you test to the same standard. How do I know this? Because in my youth, which wasn't that long ago, I was an accredited IELTS examiner. That means I used to teach English. I used to test people, using the IELTS scale and the ISLPR scale, and grade peoples' English according to the IELTS scale. I do not blame the minister or the member for Petrie—in fact, I do not blame anybody on the other side—for their lack of understanding, knowledge and expertise in English language teaching or English language testing. But I am very happy to offer them my services to test their English language on the IELTS scale. I have observed some of those on the other side speaking English right here in the House. Just listening to some of the speakers, I have noted repetition, hesitation and imperfect use of the past perfect continuous tense—all of which would make them not pass an IELTS test at level 6, which is what this government proposes as the standard for those coming to Australia. When we teach English and when we test English—

Mr Sukkar interjecting

Mr Husic: He'll do the test. He said he'd do it!

Dr Aly: Fantastic! I do offer my services, in absolute sincerity, to test all of you and give you an IELTS score so that you can see exactly—

Mr Sukkar: Are you that arrogant?

Dr Aly: I am not arrogant. I actually have the expertise to do it because I am an accredited IELTS examiner, unlike anybody on the other side.

Mr Husic: She's accredited, mate. She can do it!

Mr Sukkar interjecting

Dr Aly: Ican do it. Can you do it?

Mr Sukkar interjecting

Dr Aly: There you go. It is an offer made in all sincerity. I am very, very happy to test you. When we teach the English language, and when we test the English language, there is something called communicative competency versus accuracy. The thing is that, when we test with IELTS, we are testing for grammatical accuracy. But you do not need grammatical accuracy to be competent in communicating ideas, whether in the work place or right here in this very House—as we have observe from some of those on the other side when they get up to speak. That is my first point.

My second point in relation to English language testing is that the current system we have in place through the Adult Migrant English Program aims to teach to the level of ISLPR 2—that is, level 2 of the International Standard Language Proficiency Standard Rating—which is the equivalent of IELTS level 4 or 5. New migrants coming to Australia who are eligible for English language classes are currently provided 510 hours of tuition. But that is only if you are tested at a level that is below ISLPR 2. If you are below level 4 or level 5 in the IELTS, you are not entitled to English language classes. But this government is proposing that you must pass an English language test at level 6, which is university-entry level.

For somebody who arrives in Australia with zero or limited language proficiency, 510 hours of tuition is not enough to get them to the point required to pass the proposed test. Some research that I have done in the past suggests that it takes up to a year of full immersion in a language to gain one point of competency in English. So somebody with zero or limited English language literacy has either no chance or a very slim chance of passing at an IELTS level 6, even if they are here for the full four years.

Many Australians who have lived here for many years, and many who were born here, would not pass the IELTS test to a level 6. Of course English language is important. It is absolutely essential to full participation and full participatory citizenship—not just formal citizenship, not just the bequeathing of citizenship through a certificate, but participatory citizenship in Australia. That means full participation in economic, social and political life. Research that I have done shows that the vast majority of migrants and refugees want to learn English. They understand the need to learn English and they view it as essential to their participation. I'm quite happy, again, to pass on that research to those on the other side. So why are we putting barriers in their way? Why make it impossible for them to ever be able to pledge allegiance to our country and to our people, as they desperately want to do?

The other point I want to make about this bill is the residence requirements, because the residence requirements don't just impact on those from the countries 'what don't speak English good'. They don't just impact on those 'brown people what come from those countries where English is not spoken language of what they say every day' and they need a 'centre for people who don't read and write English good'. They impact everybody.

Mr. Husic: Like in Zoolander.

Dr Aly: Like in Zoolander. I love a good Zoolander quote. They impact everybody. I've had approaches from people from countries all around the world who have come here to settle in Australia, who have been here for four years and who are now unable to attain citizenship or who are confused by these amendments to citizenship and who are already experiencing long delays in their citizenship applications. To think that they will now have to wait maybe up to 20 years before they can pledge allegiance to a country that they are already contributing to! I know that my colleagues have made the point that this creates a second class of people here who can never attain citizenship. Don't we want to integrate those people? Don't we want those people to be able to take that pledge for Australia? Don't we want them to be able to say that they pledge allegiance to Australia and its people, share in our democratic beliefs and respect our rights and liberties? Don't we want them to do that? I think we do. I think we all do. I think everybody in this chamber does. I don't think there is anybody in this room here today or any other day—there are not many here today—who would disagree with that. The residency requirements don't just impact a small number of people; they impact a whole range of people coming from a whole range of countries, including those who are coming here from English-speaking countries.

The third point that I want to make is in relation to the Australian values statement. Of course, all Australians should sign up to our laws and our values. Labor is committed to that. But here's the thing: the law already allows the government to put forward any questions in the citizenship test that they like. So what exactly is this amendment for? Why is it included in this bill? To me, it seems that all it is is an attempt to hoodwink Australians into thinking that the government are doing something effective.

I want to stress two words here, I want to stress the words 'reasonable' and 'effective', because they're not just words; they really should describe any measures that we take in relation to whole a range of things. All measures that we take here in this House should be measures that are reasonable and effective, because you can't have one without the other.

This brings me to the point of national security and the fact that conflating this legislation with national security is neither reasonable nor effective, because this bill does not come on the advice of the national security agencies. Time and time again, we see this government trying to pass legislation that appeases their far right and win votes by playing the politics of race, by inserting measures that are neither reasonable nor effective. They don't just impact on the minority that One Nation and the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection want to target; they affect everyone in Australia.

Let me demonstrate why this is neither reasonable nor effective in relation to national security. There is not one shred of empirical evidence that suggests that proficiency in English language is some kind of resilience factor to violent extremism and terrorism. I challenge the minister for immigration and those on the other side to produce for me the empirical evidence that says that, if you know English well, you are less likely to become a terrorist. I challenge them to produce the empirical evidence that says that those with better English are less likely to become radicalised. I will tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker, they won't find that evidence, because it does not exist. It does not exist; there is not a shred of evidence. In fact, most of those who have gone overseas to fight for Daesh speak, read and write English very well. It's the very reason why ISIS produces propaganda in English—very well-written English, I might add, level 6 English and above, as a matter of fact.

So we don't support this bill. We don't support this bill, and it is not because we're soft on border security, it is not because we want to open the floodgates and it is not because we don't want people to learn English. It is not because of any of those reasons that those on the other side keep telling us and the Australian people. Of course we support strong national security; we have always been bipartisan on that. Of course we want people who come to this country to be able to fully participate as citizens. Of course we understand that citizenship is not a right, it's a privilege. And of course we want to make sure that those who come here and who take up citizenship do pledge their allegiance to our values and believe in our democratic system. We want to ensure that they are able to do that, we want to ensure that they are able to get jobs and we want to ensure that they are able to fully function as Australian citizens—not just get a certificate that says they're an Australian citizen. We want to help them do that.

But this legislation does not do that. This legislation does not make that better. This legislation is neither reasonable nor effective. If we want to govern here in this House for all Australians we must continue to ensure that everything we introduce is reasonable and effective. So we don't support this bill. We don't support this bill, because we see through it. We stand for being smart. We stand for being smart about immigration and effective on national security. And it is because we listen. We listen to the people of Australia when they tell us that they do not want this legislation. (Time expired)