UPDATES TO ADD BACKGROUND, STATEMENT FROM DUTTON’S OFFICE
By Jill Fraser
MELBOURNE, Australia (AA) - Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has defended his immigration minister’s warning that “illiterate” and “innumerate” refugees would “be taking Australian jobs".
Speaking to reporters in northern Queensland state Wednesday, Turnbull supported statements Peter Dutton made about refugees on television Tuesday night and praised him as “an outstanding immigration minister”.
Dutton’s comments came in response to The Greens’ proposal that Australia increase its intake of refugees from 14,000 a year to 50,000 a year, as the country prepares for a July 2 election.
He told Sky News that a higher intake of refugees would result in new arrivals "taking Australian jobs" and more people "languishing on the dole".
"They won't be numerate or literate in their own language, let alone English," Dutton said.
He went on to argue that refugees would burden the Australian taxpayer with “huge cost”, citing medical expenses and social welfare.
“There's no sense in sugar-coating that, that's the scenario,” he said.
Turnbull said Dutton is right to say that many of the refugees who could head to Australia are “illiterate in their own languages”.
Conversely, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten labeled Dutton’s comments as "deeply-divisive and offensive”.
He referred to a right-wing politician whose strident opposition to multiculturalism has formed the bedrock of her party in saying, “Pauline Hanson would have been proud to make [Dutton’s remarks]".
Hanson, the leader of One Nation who is standing for the Senate in the upcoming polls, told Anadolu Agency she “totally agrees” with the comments.
“Bill Shorten is out of touch with Australians,” Hanson claimed. “It’s clearly the case that refugees are welfare recipients, they have trouble blending into the community, they’re lost and have no future and 85-90 percent are still on unemployment five years down the track.”
Her statistic has, however, been challenged by Refugee Council CEO Paul Power, who told Anadolu Agency that Hanson needs to provide evidence of that claim.
Meanwhile, Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen of opposition Labor has demanded Dutton apologize.
“There are hundreds of thousands of refugees in Australia whom have worked hard, who have educated themselves and their children, and they will be shaking their heads at their minister today in disgust, frankly,” the former immigration minister said on ABC radio.
“If Peter Dutton owes anybody an apology it’s… hundreds of thousands of refugees who have made Australia a better place.”
Issues related to the country’s immigration policy, which has drawn criticism from rights groups, are expected to remain high on the campaign agenda in coming weeks.
A statement released by Dutton’s office Wednesday underlined that Australia accepts 13,750 people annually from war-torn countries and “situations where people face persecution” under its Refugee and Humanitarian Program.
Referring to last year’s announcement of an emergency intake of 12,000 additional refugees from Syria, the statement insisted that the process would take a number of program years “simply because we cannot cut corners in regards to the various checks, but particularly security checks.”
Under its immigration policy, Australia also detains asylum seekers who arrive by boat, in processing centers on the Pacific islands of Manus and Nauru, where conditions have been described as appalling by rights advocates.