Bringing white South African farmers to Australia as part of a special humanitarian program would be a return to the White Australia policy, Greens leader Richard Di Natale has said.Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said white South African farmers are being persecuted and need to be brought to safety in Australia.
Senator Di Natale called that racist.
“There’s no debate as far as I’m concerned, the bloke is an out-and-out racist,” Senator Di Natale said.
“According to Peter Dutton, if you’re a white South African farmer you are going to make a great contribution, you’re not going to bludge on welfare.
“But if you’re not white, you won’t do any of those things.”
Senator Di Natale called it remarkable Mr Dutton would seek to give preferential treatment to people on the basis of their skin colour.
“That’s the difference between white South African farmers and other people that are being persecuted,” he said.
“This is not a dog whistle, it’s a fog horn.”
A spokeswoman for Mr Dutton declined to respond to the Greens leader, saying: “The Minister has nothing further to add at this point in time.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull did not directly respond when asked if the Government stands by Mr Dutton’s comments.
“We have a non-discriminatory humanitarian program,” he said.
“We have migrants to Australia from every part of the world, including of course the countries of ASEAN,” Mr Turnbull said at the start of the ASEAN summit in Sydney.
High Commissioner called in for diplomatic ticking off
Mr Dutton was questioned about white South African farmers in the wake of reports they are facing attacks.
But Mr Turnbull emphasised that Australia’s refugee program is non-discriminatory and noted that South Africans from a range of racial backgrounds had moved to Australia.
“We have a very large community of Australians of South African ancestry from every background and they too make a phenomenal contribution to our very successful multicultural society,” he said.
Aside from the domestic political tension, the issue has caused a rare diplomatic stoush with South Africa.
South Africa has demanded Mr Dutton retract his comments that the country’s white farmers are being “persecuted” and deserve protection with special visas from a “civilised country”.
Pretoria hauled in Canberra’s High Commissioner for a diplomatic ticking off over Mr Dutton’s remarks, which also included a description of white farmers facing “horrific circumstances” — a characterisation South Africa has rejected.
“The South African Government is offended by the statements which have been attributed to the Australian Home Affairs Minister and a full retraction is expected,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Commenting this week on a documentary about violent rural crime in South Africa, Mr Dutton said the farmers deserved “special attention” from Australia.
“I do think, on the information that I’ve seen, people do need help and they need help from a civilised country like ours,” Mr Dutton said.
He also pointed to plans by new President Cyril Ramaphosa to allow expropriation of land as a solution to the massive land-ownership inequalities that remain more than two decades after the end of apartheid.
Speaking to Parliament this week, Mr Ramaphosa said South Africa was not heading down the road towards the type of violent and chaotic seizure of white-owned farms that triggered economic collapse in Zimbabwe nearly 20 years ago.
“We cannot have a situation where we allow land grabs, because that is anarchy,” Mr Ramaphosa said.
“We cannot have a situation of anarchy when we have proper constitutional means through which we can work to give land to our people.”
South Africa’s response ‘over the top’
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Australia’s High Commission was in regular contact with the South African Government.
“The message that we urge upon the South African Government is that they seek to ensure the security of all their citizens,” she said.
“We certainly urge the South African Government to ensure that any changes to land ownership are not disruptive to the economy or lead to violence.”
Ms Bishop said Australia already had a humanitarian visa intake for South Africans and any application would be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
“I am working with the Home Affairs Minister to ascertain if any changes are needed to our existing offshore humanitarian visa program,” she said.
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Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said he did not think the disagreement would affect the nation’s diplomatic relations with South Africa.
Mr McCormack also said it was “over the top” for the South African’s to expect Mr Dutton to retract his comments.
“Peter Dutton has made those comments in good faith and you know, I appreciate it’s a delicate situation there but I think it’s a little bit rich to always go asking ministers to retract comments,” Mr McCormack said.
“Relations between the two nations are very strong.
“I support Peter Dutton in what he’s doing and, as I say, I think it’s a bit over the top to continue to ask people who are doing a good job, to make apologies for everything they’re saying or doing.”
Labor says immigration should not be based on race
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said he was unsure what prompted Mr Dutton to make the comments, but argued immigration support should not be based on race.
“Let’s go to the heart of the matter here, we have a non-discriminatory immigration system,” Mr Shorten said.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, if you’re facing persecution you have the right to apply for protection.
“I don’t know what’s motivated Dutton to make those comments, you’d have to ask him.
“I don’t agree with a lot of what Peter Dutton says.”
Although violent crime is a serious issue across South Africa, killings on farms — the vast majority of which are white-owned — has become a particularly racially charged issue.
Afriforum, a rights group that mainly represents the views of the white Afrikaner minority, has described being a white farmer as one of the most dangerous jobs in the country.
A white farmer is twice as likely to be murdered as a policeman, and four times as likely as a private citizen, Afriforum said.
But Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies crime expert Gareth Newham said the evidence was inconclusive, with murder rates for young black men in townships likely to be far higher that for white farmers.
The South African Government denied whites were deliberately targeted, and said farm murders were part of the country’s wider violent crime problem.