28 January 2020





SUBJECT: Citizenship.

BEN FORDHAM,HOST: Well Tanya Plibersek, hasn't she been copping it? The former Deputy Labor Leader has suggested that school students should be taught the Australian Citizenship Pledge. She is the Shadow Education Minister and she gave a speech at the Opera House yesterday, for the Australia Day citizenship ceremony, and in her speech, Tanya Plibersek said that she'd always loved the Citizenship Pledge that new Australians recite on days like this, this being Australia Day, yesterday. For those who don't know, the pledge reads:

"From this time forward,
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."

Ms Plibersek went on to say that every Australian school student should learn this and think carefully about what it means. Now that seems harmless, but the backlash has been overwhelming. Some of Tanya Plibersek's traditional supporters have blasted her, describing the idea as 'disappointing', 'retrograde' and 'inexplicable'. Ms Plibersek has responded to the backlash saying 'You can be a progressive and love your country. I certainly do.' She's on the line. Tanya Plibersek, good afternoon.


FORDHAM: I'm doing well. Did you shut your Twitter off yesterday or...?

PLIBERSEK: I'm not a huge reader of Twitter at the best of times, but look, people are entitled to their views and my view is that I think the Citizenship Pledge is a beautiful expression of what it takes to be a citizen.We pledge our loyalty to our country and to each other. It's not to the Crown, it's not to a political party - it's to one another. And I think that that's really in line with the best traditions of Australia.

FORDHAM: It was only a line in a long speech, I'll give you a chance to have a bit of a cough because I can tell that's what you want to do, but it was only a line in a really, really long speech. But boy, why has it fired everyone up so much? Not everyone, why has it fired some people up so much?

PLIBERSEK: I don't know. It's a mystery to me because I've said it before, I said it in 2011 in a speech to the Sydney Institute, in 2017 too, and it didn't attract the same sort of response then. I guess it's a quiet period after Christmas and people have been storing up a bit of outrage and I've given them an outlet. Look, obviously the most important thing for school kids to learn is reading, writing, maths, science - all of the basics. But surely, surely we have room in our national discussion for all of us, not just kids, to be thinking about what it means, the privileges of Australian Citizenship.You know, I was born here, my parents came in the 1950s, and I feel grateful every single day that they chose to make that difficult journey and leave behind everything that was familiar to them and make a new life here for me and for my brothers. We've benefited so much from the fact that we were born in Australia and had all of the privileges that that brings with it. Now that doesn't mean, I don't think there's things that we can do to make our country better, but we do it in a spirit of love for our country, and love for one another. I think that's the point.

FORDHAM: Would you like to see Australian school students standing up every morning and putting their hand on their heart and reciting this pledge?

PLIBERSEK: No I think that's overkill. I think the point is that they should know what it means to be an Australian citizen, and that it comes with rights, certainly, but it also comes with responsibilities. And those responsibilities are to one another.

FORDHAM: I just am reading some of the Tweets that you sent afterwards. You said: "Patriotism, like mate-ship, is about solidarity. Its about what we owe each other as citizens. It's the knowledge that were not alone in this life; that our neighbours are there to share our struggles; that we have 25 million people in our corner when we need it.To love your country is not to assume its better than others. Patriots don't need to feel superior to feel proud.To love your country is not to assume that its perfect. Patriotism is not above self-reflection and self-improvement.You can be proud of your citizenship and dedicated to progress. You can cherish this nation and want to make it better.You can be a progressive and love your country: I certainly do." I can't imagine how anyone could get their knickers in a knot about that?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, it's a mystery to me too but there you go. I guess, look, people are always entitled to their views and I take the sort of comment on it in the spirit in which it's intended, I suppose. But I don't think we should ever be ashamed to say that we're Australian. This country has so much to show the world and I think the recent bushfire season has really been such a demonstration of that. People have, some people have given millions of dollars because they've had millions of dollars, other people have given a tiny amount from their stretched family budget, other people have offered rooms to people who haven't had a place to sleep because their house has burned down. We've had organisations from around Australia mobilising to cook meals on the front line. That shows us what it means to have a commitment to one another, to love your fellow Australian. I think it's been such a great demonstration of Australia at its best and what mystifies me about the sort of Twitter stuff is this sense of shame that people talk about, about being Australian. I never feel that. There are things that we could do better, we have to reflect on the things in our history that we're not proud of as well as what we're proud of. It's not- we don't need to dumb this down to simplify it.

FORDHAM: No, well there are so many things to be proud of. We're not perfect, but there are so many points of pride that so many people from other parts of the world want to call Australia home. I'm actually interviewing an inspirational woman this afternoon who fled civil war in Africa to get a second chance in this country, and she's got a great story to tell. Now look I know that you've been around politics for a long time but I'm just going to give you a tip, you're going to have to learn the pledge word by word yourself, because there will be a radio host or a reporter who will say 'Okay, if you think kids should be taught this recite the pledge Ms Plibersek'.

PLIBERSEK: And do you know what? I do know it word for word and I do, when we hear it at citizenship ceremonies, Ben, it always makes me feel a little bit emotional because, particularly I think for kids of migrants like me, you really do have that sliding doors feeling. You think how different would my life have been if my parents hadn't come here and hadn't made that commitment themselves to become Australian citizens. I think it's a wonderful pledge and just listening to it makes me feel emotional when I hear people who have come from overseas say those words. They've made that choice. It makes me feel proud.

FORDHAM: I really appreciate you joining us this afternoon and enjoy the rest of your Monday.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks so much Ben.

FORDHAM: Tanya Plibersek, the Shadow Education Minister. 'From this time forward 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'.