Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has escalated a diplomatic row with South Africa by suggesting its Foreign Minister may have deliberately misrepresented Australia’s stance on white farmers in the nation.
Last month, Mr Dutton stirred anger in Pretoria when he said white farmers were being targeted in South Africa, and indicated the Federal Government might offer refugee visas to those facing the threat of violence and persecution.
Yesterday, the South African Government issued a statement declaring Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had written to her counterpart Lindiwe Sisulu to withdraw Mr Dutton’s comments.
But Ms Bishop said the letter simply reiterated Australia’s humanitarian visa program was non-discriminatory, and Mr Dutton insisted Ms Bishop had not contradicted any of his statements.
“It restates our position … I’m not sure how it can be interpreted the way that the South African Minister has interpreted it,” Mr Dutton told Sky News.
He also suggested Lindiwe Sisulu might have made the statement to placate a domestic political audience.
“I’m not sure what domestic issues are at play in terms of the politics in South Africa that would bring this comment out, but it’s not based on any factual statement by anyone in the Australian Government,” Mr Dutton said.
Dutton ‘not speaking on behalf of Government’
South Africa Department of International Relations and Cooperation spokesman Ndivhuwo Mabaya maintained Australia had sent clear signals Mr Dutton was not speaking on behalf of the Australian Government.
“The Minister of Foreign Affairs has written to us to say [Australia’s] immigration policy is based on [Australia’s] immigration policy — not on what a member of Cabinet has said,” Mr Mabaya told ABC News.
“The letter says our relationship is very strong, and that South Africa knows our immigration policy, and that anything else that is not our immigration policy must not be taken into consideration.
“And we are very happy with that.”
Mr Mabaya said Australia’s High Commissioner to South Africa, Adam McCarthy, had also indicated Mr Dutton’s comments did not represent Australia’s position on immigration, and “therefore we should not take them [seriously]”.
The debate over violence against farmers in South Africa is racially charged and hugely sensitive. White farmers own the bulk of privately held-farms, and the South African Government has declared that it plans to seize land and redistribute it.
Dutton ‘wants to help people in need’
Mr Dutton said his department was now examining some “pretty explicit” cases of farmers who had borne the brunt of violent crime.
“You look at the detail of some of the cases that have already been sent in, it’s unquestionably the case that there are some very difficult circumstances,” he said.
“People have been murdered, people have been assaulted on their own properties. That’s been well documented.
“I want to make sure we can help those people who are in need.
“I believe we can look at some of those cases, and determine whether or not those cases meet our criteria, and if so, we’d offer places to people in that circumstance.”
Mr Mabaya conceded some white farmers had faced violent crime. But he denied they were targeted by criminals because of their race, or that they were facing political persecution.