David Coleman: The regional migration concept is not new

PAWAN LUTHRA in conversation with David Coleman, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs

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The newly appointed Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs David Coleman was emphatic in his support for a multicultural Australia when he dropped in at the Indian Link offices earlier this month.

Minister Coleman was elected to the seat of Banks in 2013, which itself is a very diverse seat with over 30% of its electorate from a Chinese background, a large Vietnamese population and now a growing Nepalese community. David won the seat for the Liberal Party for the first time since the seat of Banks was created in 1949. Prior to entering politics, Coleman was worked in corporate roles with McKinsey & CoLookSmartdStore, PBL Media and the Nine Network and Yellow Brick Road Holdings Limited.

He discussed a number of wide ranging issues about his portfolio.

On the success of the Australia’s immigration program

The results speak for themselves. We are one of the most successful multicultural societies in the world. Our history and heritage is steeped in the successful integration of people coming to Australia. In the post war period, we had successful migration from various parts of Europe – Greece, Italy etc. and now we have a number of migrants coming in from China, India, Vietnam and all of them contribute to our country. I want to emphasise on the positive impact of immigration in our society and our economy: there are over 1.4 million people employed in small businesses started by migrants. We need to be celebrating our successful migration program.

Even in my own electorate of Banks, I have some wonderful contributions made by Indian migrants. Sudha Natarajan from RAINS is such an inspiration, who wanted a place for the Indian elderly to meet and so she got the community together and was able to from the funds accumulated, buy a house on Forest Road which is now a great community centre. I am also aware of the work which Terry Sidhu and his team at the Revesby Gurudwara do, to make sure there is lots of interaction with the local community. And these are only two stories – there are many, many more.

On the issue of big Australia vs sustainable Australia, and the proposal for migrants to live outside big cities

It is not a matter of numbers but rather that the program should match our needs. For example, South Australia is desperate to get 15,000 more migrants, as are places like Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, Cairns in Queensland, the Northern Territory and other places. In recent years, the gap in skilled migrants required in regional parts of Australia as compared to those settling in Sydney and Melbourne has widened.

We believe that by better planning, we can match the needs of the regional communities with the needs of the migrants. For those who feel that we may lose some migrants to Canada or US where there is no restriction of where people might live, we feel that there is enough of a demand of people wanting to come to Australia. The regional concept is not a new concept, we just need to finetune it.

On infrastructure ‘bursting at its seams’ with new migrants

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has appointed a minister for Population and Urban Infrastructure Alan Tudge because he understands the importance of this issue. Minister Tudge is looking at ways in which the federal government can improve infrastructure and though the states have the responsibility, we can help as well.

On sending detainees at Nauru to New Zealand, where they have been offered refugee status

We cannot forget what happened under the previous Labor government, when we saw over 1,200 people drown at sea, and when 8,000 children were placed in detention. There were significant human tragedies, so we cannot allow people smugglers to go back to the market and say come to Australia. We have a special arrangement with the New Zealand government according to which their citizens can live and work in Australia. Even today we have some 700,000 New Zealanders living here. By sending detainees from Nauru to New Zealand, allows a back door entry into Australia and so the people smugglers can get back to their evil work.

On the issues of overhauling citizenship laws by increasing the general residence requirements from one year to four years, and on introducing a standalone English proficiency test

We need to make sure that there is a full understanding and appreciation of what Australian citizenship means. Prospective citizens need to understand that Australian values mean that we maintain the rule of law, the value of our democracy, the acceptance of equality between men and women, and to accept people of who they are. We also believe that some level of English is appropriate so migrants can participate in normal daily life activities in Australia. Having that degree of English is necessary to be involved in Australian life.

On the blow up of the backlog for processing citizenship applications from 23,000 in 2014 to 210,000 in 2018 (the average processing time is now sixteen months)   

Firstly, the number of applicants for citizenship has increased by 177% from 2010, so that means our resources are stretched. Also, there are still some boat arrivals who we are processing – they have limited documentation with them which means more time is being spent on their applications. And for overall security issues, we need to make sure we do the right diligence before we welcome anyone as an Australian citizen.

On the destabilising issues within the Liberal Party and why people should vote for it at the next election

The Liberal government has delivered great outcomes. In 2017, more jobs were created in Australia than ever before. Free trade agreements were signed with Japan, China and Korea, which is very beneficial to our farmers. Our party has invested in education and health and we have been very successful in managing our economy very well. We have kept Australia safe and along with our economic management, on national security, we have a very strong record.