JOHN MCGLUE With me is Australia’s Foreign Minister, the most senior Liberal in Western Australia, Julie Bishop. Welcome to the program.
JULIE BISHOP Good morning John.
JOHN MCGLUE Now the PM says the response will be generous. When exactly do you think the Government will be in a position to tell us how generous that will be?
JULIE BISHOP Our Immigration Minister Peter Dutton is in Paris, meeting with the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees Guterres. He has more meetings today with the UNHCR officials and the International Organisation for Migration because we partner with these organisations to determine who we can resettle and in what circumstances.
There are two different groups of refugees. We are talking about people who are seeking temporary protection, a temporary safe haven because they do not want to leave their homeland and they will want to go back when the conflict subsides, when there is peace and security in Syria. There are others who are persecuted and it wouldn’t matter if the conflict between the Sunni and the Shia were resolved, they would still be seeking resettlement.
A number of both groups are in camps along the Syrian border in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey and so we are focussing on working with those authorities, with the UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration, to take women and children and families from some of these persecuted ethnic and religious minorities. Those who want to return to Syria when the conflict is over are more likely to stay in Europe and the Middle East so that they can return when it is safe to do so.
JOHN MCGLUE What about Australia’s process of deciding who it is going to give refuge to? To what extend will our focus here be on giving shelter to the biggest oppressed minority in Syria which is, of course, Christians?
JULIE BISHOP This conflict has been underway in earnest since 2011-12 and Australia has been playing our part since then. Under the previous Labor Government, they took in 100 Syrian refugees in 2012. When we came into Government in 2013 we took 1000, in 2014 we took 2200 from Syria and 2200 from Iraq and surrounding countries.
This is under our humanitarian and refugee program and we are able to resettle people permanently under that program – we have the funding, the support, the accommodation, the healthcare to ensure that these people can come to Australia and resettle permanently.
There is also an option for temporary safe havens such as we did with the Kosovo crisis where we took Kosovars for a number of years but when peace came to their country, they wanted to return home. So there are a number of options available to us and we are having these discussions – in fact, I have just come from a Party Room discussion.
Cabinet will be receiving a briefing from Peter Dutton and we will make a considered, measured response in keeping with the international response that is required. No one country can do this alone. It requires an international response of countries in Europe but also the Middle East, the Persian Gulf and then countries like the United States, Canada and Australia that have historically taken refugees under humanitarian visas.
JOHN MCGLUE Julie Bishop, as I said, there’s been this outpouring of compassion in Australia over the past 24 hours. Politicians and interest groups climbing over the top of each other raising the number of refugees they say that Australia should take in. 30,000 is the number three major charity groups have identified, 50,000 according to your Liberal colleague Ewen Jones. I wonder realistically what vicinity is that number likely to be?
JULIE BISHOP There are millions and millions of displaced people in the Middle East. This conflict in Syria has been going on since 2011. When we were on the Security Council in 2014 we authored, and led debate on three resolutions on the humanitarian crisis in Syria – in February 2014, again in July 2014 and in December 2014.
Australia has been playing our part, leading debate on it, calling for more humanitarian assistance and Australia has provided $156 million in humanitarian funding to support countries who are bearing the burden of those fleeing from Syria but who want to remain and go home when it is safe. Whether or not we can increase resources to those refugee camps, increase the humanitarian intake of other countries – not only western nations but in the Middle East more generally – and I am making calls to a number of my counterpart Foreign Ministers in the region, that is the Middle East, to see what more they can do.
In the case of Australia, we have capacity but we need to do it in a way that ensures these people come to Australia and can be permanently resettled. I welcome the statement by Premier Barnett and Premier Baird in New South Wales that those states are prepared to carry the burden of resettling people. When I say burden, I mean, to ensure we’ve got accommodation for them, that we have places in schools for their children, we’ve got healthcare for them. It is a detailed process and that’s why Australia has been so successful in our resettlement program under the humanitarian visa because we plan, we do it in a considered, measured way.
JOHN MCGLUE Final question Julie Bishop, you mentioned Colin Barnett’s support for refugees coming here. The Member for O’Connor, your Liberal colleague Rick Wilson, said he was going to raise the argument in the Party Room that WA country towns like Katanning, like Albany, might be the ones to take in Syrian refugees. What do you think of that idea?
JULIE BISHOP The majority of refugees who have come under our humanitarian program are in metropolitan cities. The majority, over 80 per cent or more, are actually in our major cities and there are challenges - many of them are still unemployed and are still on social security benefits.
We have to ensure that the people we bring in are not only safe from persecution and from the conflict, but that they are able to make a positive contribution to Australian society. That’s why we are being measured and cautious about this but of course it is not just a question of our heads, it is a question of our heart and that’s the balance the Australian Government is trying to achieve.
There are persecuted minorities in both Syria and Iraq and we will focus our attention on them because there is no home for them to return to. But in the case of the Sunni majority out of Syria that is being ruled by a Shia minority, many of them want to return home. In the case of Iraq where it is a Shia majority ruling over its Sunni minority, again if we can maintain peace and stability in the Middle East then these people will want to remain in their homes.
There is also a need for a security solution – not just political, not just humanitarian – but a military and security solution and Australia is also playing its part in trying to ensure that the terrorist organisations that have taken territory in Syria and Iraq are defeated so that they stop these barbaric attacks against civilians in those countries.
JOHN MCGLUE Appreciate your time today, thank you.
JULIE BISHOP Thanks John.
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