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'Citizenship delays are a scandal and a crisis': Chris Bowen

Shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen speaking to SBS Punjabi on Monday, 4 March 2019 Source: SBS Punjabi

The Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen says it is "a scandal", "a crisis" and "unconscionable" to make people wait for so long for their citizenship application to be processed, and promises that an incoming federal Labor government "would fix that."

In an exclusive interview with SBS Punjabi, Labor frontbencher Chris Bowen has hinted that the date of the federal elections could be May 18 this year and that Labor was well poised to form a government.

"But we don’t take anything for granted," added Mr Bowen.

"After the war, Labor has won government only three times from opposition, and this might be the fourth. It’s a big mountain to climb, and we can climb it, but we can’t take anything for granted.”

Sporting a red mark (tilak) on his forehead, which was applied at Melbourne's Durga mandir where Mr Bowen visited earlier, he raised the prospect of a Member of Parliament of Indian origin being elected at the upcoming federal elections.

Chris Bowen and Bill Shorten during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Tuesday, February 19, 2019.
Chris Bowen and Bill Shorten during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Tuesday, February 19, 2019.

'Shireen Morris is the Labor candidate for Deakin, which is a marginal seat, but she can win it and make it a safe Labor seat at the next elections. I don't say this just because she's an Australian of Indian heritage, I say it because she's a great candidate."

Quizzed whether the Labor Party leadership could be up for change before the federal elections, considering that Bill Shorten trails Scott Morrison heavily as 'preferred Prime minister' in the polls, Mr Bowen said, "There is absolutely no question that Bill Shorten will lead the Labor party at the next elections."

"Bill has been leader of the Opposition for five years now. He is facing his third PM, I’m facing my third Treasurer, and we’ve had four Leaders of Liberal Party in the Senate which is like a revolving door. Labor provides unity and stability. We have made mistakes in the past but we’ve learnt from them and grown from them.”

Citizenship delays

Mr Bowen also spoke of issues faced by migrants in Australia.

"The biggest issue that migrants face at this time, is the time it's taking to process their citizenship applications. These are people who have already waited for so long to apply for citizenship, are waiting for two or three years, and can't have their ceremony," he said.

“It's a scandal and a crisis, making people wait for so long for citizenship. It's unconscionable. The government has a ‘go-slow’ on citizenship approvals and if we form government, we’ll change it."

SBS Punjabi questioned Mr Bowen repeatedly about more pressing needs of new skilled migrants, who now have to wait for four years after migrating to Australia, to be eligible for Centrelink payments and other benefits.

“We need to listen to the communities to find out how the system is working. We do a very good job of supporting refugees but skilled migrants are different - if there’s more to do to support them, we will do that.

"Labor negotiated with the Coalition government to bring the waiting period down in many cases. We took a stand, and I believe the correct stand to bring down the waiting period to three or two years for some categories of people.

AAP Image/Mick Tsikas
Prime Minister Scott Morrison hands out Australian flags to members of the Sebastien Family at an Australia Day Citizenship Ceremony in Canberra.
AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

"If it wasn't for the Labor Party, the wait period would have been much longer for some people. It is much better if Labor negotiates with Liberals rather than One Nation party, because left to One Nation, the waiting period could extend to 10 years!”

Speaking about migration and multiculturalism, Mr Bowen said, “Australia would be poorer economically, socially and culturally without strong migration, which includes the Indian community."

"India has been the largest source of migrants to Australia in the last few years.

"But the problem is that we’ve had a stop-start relationship with India over the years. We’ve made starts to improve the relationship, but we forget about it."

"I think we can break that cycle, mainly because of the Indian diaspora living in Australia. Improvement in trading and investing has been the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle for a long time”. 

Labor's position on Adani

When asked if it would be harder for Adani coal mine to go ahead if Labor forms federal government, Mr Bowen said that Adani must be treated like any other coal mine or project.

"It must get environmental approvals, it must be able to stand on its own two feet. Labor won’t subsidise it with public finding."

Mr Bowen also spoke about Labor's stand on negative gearing, as well as it's proposition for business owners. To hear the full interview, click on the audio link above.

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