SUBJECT | Immigration | 18 October 2022
KIERAN GILBERT: Dan Tehan joins me live in the studio now; thanks for your time. Was this concern prompted by the case of Andrew Thorburn?
DAN TEHAN: Look, it was one of the situations which made me think that it is incredibly important that we protect freedom of religion as a key value as what underpins us as a society. Freedom of speech as well. I mean, one of the things that concerned me recently was Michael Rowland, on the ABC Breakfast Show, putting out a tweet defending having Opposition MPs on his show. So, the intolerance we're seeing when it comes to debating some of these issues, I think, is something that we do need to worry about because it is those freedoms that we hold so dear that act as the beacon as to why migrants want to come here. And what we have to understand is the global population, as it continues to grow, so do those who have an affiliation to a religion. So if we are to continue to attract migrants to this nation, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, all those freedoms are going to be absolutely vital going forward.
GILBERT: You pointed out that 70% of recent migrants have a religious affiliation in your speech, citing census data, whereas the broader population is about 55%, So that is quite telling in itself.
TEHAN: It is, and that's the reason why we have to protect those freedoms, and they're the values which underpin what makes us so great as a nation — and you start to lose those, and you start to lose the very foundation as to why migrants want to come here. And we are competing for global talent as we've never competed before. And it is those values that people come here. Migrants come here because they know they can be safe, and then they can be safe to practice the things that are dear to them because individual dignity, individual respect, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion all are core to who we are as a people and as a nation.
GILBERT: You're a big football fan, an AFL fan, and obviously, you would have been watching that episode closely. What was the major concern that you had there, and where did it-where was the main flaw in the system as far as you see it?
TEHAN: Well, it's hard to see -to point to an exact flaw in the system, but what I think it does show is that we do have to protect against religious discrimination because, ultimately, in the end, it was the court of really public opinion that just hounded the Essendon football club that, I think, in the end, led them not to have to make a decision, but just to terminate the employment. And that, I think, should be a concern, and it should be a concern when all our religious leaders, whether they be Catholic, Anglican, Jewish or Islamic, are out saying that we need a religious discrimination act because they are looking at these things and watching them and I think there is a growing concern about the protections in place, and that's why I think we need to act.
GILBERT: Should there be bipartisanship on this as well? I think it's important for an act of this sort to have longevity; you would think that it's important there's a consensus around it.
TEHAN: It would be great if we could have bipartisanship, and I know that all of us on the Opposition benches would like to work with the government to get bipartisanship because I think both sides of politics understand how important this is to us as a nation going forward.
GILBERT: On the West Jerusalem question: the government's announced a shift back to the previous Australian policy. What's your response to that as a former minister and as a former diplomat yourself?
TEHAN: Well, can I say, to start with, it's been an extraordinarily messy process, and I hope this isn't going to be what we're going to see from the government going forward. It was leaked out on the DFAT website, and the government then denied that this was the position, it sounds like then they had a Cabinet meeting, and then they confirmed it was the position. So, a very messy way to go about changing a policy which I don't think stands us in very good stead internationally. Obviously, I support the position that we had, that the previous government had, and I could see no reason why the new government wanted to change it. And the way they've gone about it was extraordinarily messy.
GILBERT: Penny Wong says it was politically motivated by Scott Morrison at the time to try and win Wentworth.
TEHAN: Yeah, that's not true. It was a decision that was made by the government at the time because we thought it was the right decision to make. And you will have heard from the former ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, who was our candidate in Wentworth; it was a position that he back from his time as ambassador in Israel. And I can see no reason, and there have been no arguments from the new government, as to why they've come out today and changed it, and especially changed in such a messy way.
GILBERT: Their argument is that it should be a final status issue. It shouldn't be countries like Australia dictating what the capital is, it should be a final status issue between those parties.
TEHAN: Well, let's put it this way. When any prime minister from Australia visits Israel, they'll always go to Jerusalem. That's the home of where the government is, and so it is a strange position for them to be taking, and taking now, and being done in this way. And I think Penny Wong needs to explain how it was that it was on the DFAT website. Did DFAT dictate this policy? Was it the actual leaking of it on the website that then made the government change in the way that it has, or what has led to this? It just looks very, very messy.
GILBERT: The Minister for Home Affairs was on 4 Corners last night. She says she was staggered by what she saw when the Labor Party took office: a system clogged up, understaffed, and completely focused on bureaucracy and filling out forms. This is the visa system. She says it's a priority for her department to change that visa processing arrangement. In hindsight, is that regret from you? That the former government had seen that system clogged up as badly as it was, given how important skilled workers are right now for us?
TEHAN: Well, especially young skilled workers are incredibly important, and that should be at the heart of our migration program going forward. And that's why what I outlined in my speech today. In terms of the system, obviously, the pandemic put huge pressure on the system. There were two years when we had to change the very nature of the Home Affairs Department and its focus. We obviously needed them to bring resources back to processing visas. We were doing that. And I think it's incredibly important that the new government does set out new KPIs for visa processing, enabling greater transparency in how those visas are processed. What's the timeframes around that visa processing? These are all the things that we were working on before the pandemic hit. And I think this is something that the government does need to focus on now and get right. But they've also got to be very clear with the Australian people: who are the migrants that they're bringing into this nation now? Are they young, skilled migrants? Are they addressing the workforce shortages that we have? We're not seeing the type of transparency that we need in what they're doing. I think these are key questions that need to be asked.
GILBERT: When you talk about that transparency, though, the government is lifting their permanent migration intake - 35,000 more permanent migrants a year. You’re asking for more clarity, but isn't it basically that the government increases the scope or makes the envelope larger, and then it's up to the private sector, the states and others to then choose who they want to kind of work for them?
TEHAN: Well, they have to make sure that they are choosing young migrants. That they're choosing skilled migrants because that's what's going to help us return an economic dividend over time; that's going to help us build our nation. If they don't do that, it puts pressure on infrastructure, it puts pressure on the health system, on the aged care system and puts pressure on the environment. And so all it does…
GILBERT: There should be an age focus in terms of who they accept?
TEHAN: Absolutely. They have to be going after young skilled migrants. Otherwise, all you do is make a bad situation worse. How do you deal with the housing crisis that we've got at the moment? Housing shortages not only in regional and rural Australia but in Sydney and Melbourne. When we went into the pandemic, there were huge pressures on Melbourne and Sydney when it came to migration. That's why we set up DAMAs; we wanted to make sure there was a focus on regional migration. Are they going to continue that focus or not? All these things, you've got to get the balance right, and we're not saying anything which shows that they've got a coherent policy to how they're going to bring these 35,000 extra migrants in, and how they're going to make sure that the skill shortages that we have are addressed.
GILBERT: Shadow Immigration Minister Dan Tehan appreciate your time.