Australia’s immigration minister stands by his controversial refugee comments
May 19, 2016 | News | by The Learning Press staff
The immigration minister has refused to back down over controversial comments that refugees are illiterate, innumerate and a drain on Australian resources.
Peter Dutton provoked a storm of criticism with his remarks on Sky News on Tuesday when asked by conservative presenter Paul Murray about Labor and Green party proposals to increase Australia’s refugee intake.
He said: “For many people they won't be numerate or literate in their own language let alone English ... these people would be taking Australian jobs and there is no question about that.
"For many of them that would be unemployed, they would languish in unemployment queues and on Medicare and the rest of it so there would be huge cost and there's no sense in sugar-coating that, that's the scenario.”
His remarks sparked a heated backlash and calls for his resignation, with PM Malcolm Turnbull and foreign minister Julie Bishop forced to defend Mr Dutton against claims of racism and bigotry.
Speaking publicly for the first time today since the interview, the minister was unrepentant, saying: "I'm not going to stand back from what I said, I believe in what I said."
The Greens leader Richard Di Natale and Labor leader Bill Shorten had earlier seized on Mr Dutton’s refugee comments as evidence of the Coalition’s lack of understanding about refugee contributions to Australia.
Mr Shorten described them as "pathetic", "offensive" and "deeply divisive".
"Mr Dutton didn't just insult refugees when he made those comments,” he said.
“He insulted the millions of migrants who've contributed to making this a truly great country - refugees like Victor Chang, like Richard Pratt, like Frank Lowy," he said.
Calling for the minister’s resignation, Senator Di Natale described the claims as “shameful and appalling”.
“They are not just an attack on refugees, they're an attack on families right around the country - families like mine.”
The comments also struck the wrong chord with TV breakfast host Karl Stefanovic, whose grandparents arrived in Australia as refugees.
Speaking about his grandfather, Stefanovic said: “He got a job working the coal for BHP, stayed there for 30 years. They built a house with their own hands in Bellambi and built a life for their grandchildren to enjoy."
The Today host quoted from a 2011 immigration department report which states: “The larger picture of humanitarian entrants is one of considerable achievement and contribution.
“Humanitarian entrants help meet labour shortages.
“They display strong entrepreneurial qualities compared with other migrant groups, with a higher than average proportion engaging in small and medium business enterprise.”
He said: "It's a cliche, but what Peter Dutton said yesterday was un-Australian.
“Given his time again, he may have chosen a different way to articulate it, but what's done is done, and I think he needs to apologise.
"Not only for those arriving now, but those who have come and now gone, giving their blood, sweat and tears, and handed down their values to the next generations, who are many of our leaders today."
The Prime minister yesterday described Mr Dutton as an “outstanding immigration minister” but moved to water down his colleague’s comments about refugees.
"Large percentages of them have no English skills at all, many of them are illiterate in their own language, many of them have not completed high school," the PM said.
"That's no fault of theirs. That's why we're reaching out to help them with compassion. That is not a basis for criticising them.
“What it is, as Peter has identified, is a basis for us taking our responsibility seriously and ensuring that we take into Australia the number of refugees that we can effectively settle."
However, Refugee Council of Australia chief executive Paul Power said Mr Dutton's comments were confused and offensive.
"Mr Dutton’s comments are not only incoherent, they contravene the evidence substantiated by the contributions of hundreds of thousands refugees who have contributed to our country," he said.
"In accusing refugees of being unemployable while simultaneously taking Australian jobs, Mr Dutton makes a bizarre non-sequitur.
"The fact that this political attack is coming from the minister responsible for Australia’s refugee program makes it even more offensive.
"Refugees settling in Australia need a strong and constructive advocate in the Australian government, not cynical political operatives that misrepresent their circumstances for short-term political advantage."
The Coalition has ramped up its focus on border protection over the past week, with its hard line on unauthorised boat arrivals viewed by voters as an area of policy strength.