A group of Liberal backbenchers insist the Federal Government will find a way of helping “persecuted” white South African farmers, even though it has ruled out a special visa category.
Seven Liberal MPs raised concerns about the farmers’ “unique” and “difficult” circumstances in today’s meeting of the Liberal and National party meeting and noted the high levels of violence they reportedly face.
The MPs also took aim at critics who have labelled their push racist, accusing those on the “green left” of closing their eyes to persecution because of the colour of the farmers’ skin.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told colleagues there was no need for a new visa category and no need to change the existing rules.
They pointed out the Government has responded in the past to referrals under the humanitarian program from families, churches and non-Government organisations.
And they noted people applying for protection did not need to meet the technical definition of a refugee.
Liberal MP Andrew Laming, who is one of the backbenchers leading the campaign, said immigration authorities needed more information about what is happening on the ground in South Africa and needed to pay closer attention to individual cases.
“We need to get this system working for a very small group of people that appear to be subject to very high levels of violence and threat,” he said.
South Africa is ‘unstable’, Laming says
Farm violence is a highly political and racially charged issue in South Africa but it is difficult to independently quantify the extent of the problem.
Mr Laming acknowledged this but said the country was “unstable” and some politicians were openly encouraging violence against white farmers.
“We need to look more closely about whether that activates our obligations,” he said.
His colleagues Andrew Hastie, Jim Molan, Craig Kelly, Luke Howarth and Steve Irons also spoke out during today’s meeting and made it clear they backed Mr Dutton, who has said white South African farmers deserved “special attention”.
It is understood the MPs have not put forward a specific proposal but want the Government to ensure there are no “road blocks” in the system for the farmers seeking to move to Australia.
Mr Bishop told the meeting that Australia’s High Commissioner to South Africa had made a “number” of representations to the Government about its plans to seize land from white farmers without compensation.
She also said her position on the issue had been consistent with Mr Dutton’s, despite apparent differences in their public comments.