Subject: (Changes to Citizenship Laws; Bill Shorten’s Royal Commission Appearance; Education Green Paper)


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’m very interested to see what you think about where these law changes are going, from what you’ve read this morning.

MICHELLE ROWLAND: 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 in section 35 talk about fighting in foreign armies and, essentially, for a country. That does not cover this 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 that 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 not also, Kieran, by going through this process with an existing piece of legislation, that of itself does not negate the potential for these laws to be stuck 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.

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

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Kieran look, 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 that we’re 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 approach to this policy, the government has been taking the best of legal advice and that’s the approach that we’ll take to make sure that 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 if that is possible.

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 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.

MICHELLE ROWLAND: Well there would be no need under this, if I may call it, 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. I mean this is coming from a government whose own cabinet has been leaking like a sieve on this matter, who have had people like Malcom Turnbull who have been 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.

KIERAN GILBERT: …on Mark Dreyfus’ comments, did he then, in your view, overstep in saying you get them back? Given this has always been a possibility that the current law is broadened.

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

KIERAN GILBERT: Will it implicate those within the government that have had concerns about the rule of law and about whether or not they’ll stack in light of the constitution?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well 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 fighting against Australia, if they hold dual citizenship, do not return to Australia has been clear cut all along. Whereas in Labor, there is this doubt about exactly what Mark Dreyfus was meaning or talking about when he said “we bring them back home” Well we don’t want to bring them back home, we want to ensure that if their citizenship can be cancelled, it is cancelled and we’re 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…

KIERAN GILBERT: …So you’re confident this will plicate those that have had concerns?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I’m confident that this will stand the test, that it’s a good outcome and it’s an outcome that delivers on a principle…

KIERAN GILBERT: …well Labor is backing it as well, so was last week just about politics? Trying to wedge Labor and now they’re backing it anyway.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well we didn’t put the words in to Mark Dreyfus’ mouth. He was the one who said “bring them home” He was the one who seemed to put this shadow of a doubt over Labor’s position. Now, if Labor is clarifying its position now, that’s welcome.

MICHELLE ROWLAND: I’ve had the same position for four weeks and will have even more idea once we see the legislation, but I would doubt Simon would disagree with me on this. I mean, 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 do we, so we need to do everything we can as a parliament to make sure we don’t even get in to that position where those 100 or so people who are currently fighting don’t multiply. 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: and that’s why we’re investing more than $1 billion in a range of measures that include measures to try to combat radicalisation and make sure that doesn’t occur.

KIERAN 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, you know, conformation that the CFMEU is paying Grocon $3.5 million, or there abouts, 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 businesses? Is this just all a storm in a tea cup?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well Kieran, I think what the CFMEU deal is an indication of is that there are 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 reestablishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission…

KIERAN GILBERT: …but on the comparison of CFMEU versus Shorten, moderate leader, moderate union doing deals that got his project, the east link, done ahead of schedule, is he coping flack here for actually doing something and being a union leader that business could work with?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Kieran, Bill Shorten will have to, as he said he will, answer the allegations that have been made and answer any suggestion that he may have 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 to see a world in which business is forced to do those deals where they have 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 clean world in which unions can represent workers honestly, 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.

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

MICHELLE ROWLAND: Time and again we hear members of the government talk about the need for flexible work place 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 work place enterprising and now this government seeks to criticise Bill Shorten for doing precisely that. Here was a win-win…

KIERAN GILBERT: … what about these extra payments that Simon Birmingham alluded to there? 

MICHELLE ROWLAND: He can get questioned on them in the Royal Commission. I don’t know where they went to and Bill Shorten says “well you can ask me questions on that” but I’ll make this point, Bill Kelty and Martin Ferguson, whom some in the government have been off to quote of late, have both said that this is exactly the kind of modern enterprise bargaining that we need in this country so he does that and so this government seeks to criticise them 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, $61 million of taxpayer money going in to this question.

KIERAN GILBERT: Let’s finish, just quickly, as Assistant Education Minister, this green paper that’s been put forward, possibly seeing federal funding removed from all schools, public schools included, what’s the government’s official position on this?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well 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 that we would have a review of the federation. This paper has been 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…

KIERAN GILBERT: …you’re open to pulling federal funding out of the state system?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Kieran, we don’t want to pre-empt the outcome. We’re bringing together, Tony Abbott is bringing together state and territory leaders to a retreat in July, I believe it is, to talk about the next steps in federation reform and we want to make sure that 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.

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

MICHELLE 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…

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: …here come the lies…

MICHELLE ROWLAND: If that was a lie, good on you! Because the Prime Minister starred down the barrel the night before the election…

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: …four options in a discussion paper, Michelle! You’re running a scare campaign!

MICHELLE ROWLAND: …your Prime Minister has just gone “nothing to see here, nothing to see here” 

KIERAN GILBERT: Ok, we are out of time. Michelle Rowland, Simon Birmingham, thank you.