Liberal frontbencher Michael Sukkar has labelled Greens senator Sarah-Hanson-Young’s comments “disgusting”, after she condemned Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s calls for persecuted South African farmers to have claims for humanitarian visas in Australia fast-tracked.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott earlier said Mr Dutton was “absolutely right” to say that there should be a place for persecuted white South African farmers under our humanitarian immigration program, in an apparent rebuke of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s refusal to back Mr Dutton yesterday.
Mr Dutton last week argued for the fast-tracking of humanitarian visas for white South African farmers, sparking a furious response from the South African government, which demanded he retract his comments.
While Ms Bishop yesterday acknowledged there had been a “dramatic increase” in violent crime in recent years with more than 19,000 murders in South Africa, she said persecuted South Africans were eligible for humanitarian visas but all applications would be “considered on merit”.
Mr Sukkar said he “applauded” Mr Dutton’s calls, as well as the work of WA Liberal MP Andrew Hastie, who initially raised the issue.
“From time to time, once you’ve got your borders under control, and you have a generous humanitarian intake as we do, you can from time to time make decisions to assist certain groups, as we did with persecuted minorities out of Syria and Iraq, and I applaud Peter Dutton,” Mr Sukkar told Sky News.
“I absolutely applaud him and the work of Andrew Hastie in raising this issue in Australia, because this is a very, very bad period in South Africa, for a persecuted group of particularly white farmers.
“I mean I see the reports that you see, from pretty reputable sources. It looks like it’s pretty grave for that group, and I think from a humanitarian perspective anything we can do to help is something that I thought everyone would applaud.
“I’m to be honest quite shocked that anyone says, or basically intimates, that if you’re persecuted and you’re white, you don’t count.
“I think that’s quite a disgusting sort of thing to say, which is really what Sarah Hanson-Young was saying today. So I really applaud Minister Dutton, and I would encourage him to do everything he possibly can to ensure that Australia, who’s got a great record in helping persecuted minorities, reaches a hand out and helps them in any way we can.”
Dutton ‘appalling’: Hanson-Young
Senator Hanson-Young said Mr Dutton had “played a very dangerous game” with his comments.
“I mean frankly it begs the question: if there was a boatload of white South African farmers who arrive in Australian waters seeking asylum and protection, would Peter Dutton be sending them off to Nauru and Manus Island?” she told Sky News.
“Because currently under the law in Australia, that’s what would happen.
“I mean the fact that Peter Dutton is suggesting there could be some kind of special fast-track for these people, and not others, is pretty galling.
“Obviously everybody who has an asylum claim must have it assessed promptly, fairly and be resettled in a timely matter.
“The problem with people like Peter Dutton is he thinks he can pick favourites, favourites it seems like from where they come from and what they look like. I think it’s appalling.”
Dutton ‘right on South Africans’
Mr Abbott said people needed to acknowledge the “very serious situation” developing in South Africa.
“Something like 400 white farmers have been murdered, brutally murdered over the last 12 months,” the former prime minister told 2GB.
“Now just imagine the reaction here in Australia if a comparable number of farmers had been brutally murdered by squatters intent on driving them off their land.
“We would say this is a crisis, a national crisis, so a very serious situation is developing in South Africa.
“My understanding is that the new president has encouraged the parliament to pass a law allowing the expropriation without compensation of white farmers.
“If the boot was on the other foot we would call it racism of the worst sort, and I think we should acknowledge this as a very, very serious issue of justice and fairness and freedom for people who are trying to do the right thing, feed their country, and I think Peter Dutton was absolutely right to say that under our humanitarian immigration program there ought to be a place for people who are being persecuted this way.”
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann appeared to back Ms Bishop, saying Australia’s immigration program was non-discriminatory, and that it was for Mr Dutton to explain what he intended to do regarding white South Africans.
“Our humanitarian program is non-discriminatory, and that means that it’s open to white South African farmers who feel persecuted on the same basis as it is available to others,” Senator Cormann said.
“We do have a very generous humanitarian program. Last year we welcomed about 20,000 refugees to Australia, including the special intake of Syrian refugees that we’ve welcomed to Australia.
“The South African community in Western Australia is one of the many migrant communities that is making a great contribution. They are known in our community in Western Australia to be hard workers and to have very well integrated.
“The beauty about Australia is that we have migrants coming to Australia from all corners of the world.”
Senator Cormann said it was not a matter of putting South Africans “at the top of the queue”.
“It’s a matter of obviously being open in a non-discriminatory fashion to provide assistance to people facing persecution, and as I understand it Peter Dutton’s asked his department for some options on what might appropriately be able to be done, and he’s best to continue to explain what he’s intending to do and on what basis.”