MINISTER MORRISON: This morning I’ll be joining with the Prime Minister, Minister Dutton and Senator Fierravanti-Wells. We will be joining with community leaders from across the various communities who most importantly have family and friends and people they know who have been caught up in this horrible conflict and not just recently over quite a period of time as we all know. We will also be joined today by people in Australia who run the best settlement services in the world; they are our contracting agencies that run settlement services around the country. They will be there particularly led by Paris Aristotle, a good friend and someone who has demonstrated I think more than anyone in this country the ability to help people in these situations. He has been in some of the hottest spots you can imagine over the past ten, twenty years and to have Paris on board and supporting us in this important work – he and I met earlier this week, we do talk often and we are already hard at work on how we will work through the planning of resettling these additional 12,000 people.
But let me make this point, one of the reasons why we will be able to achieve this very ambitious goal is already over the last two years we have settled almost 8,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugee and humanitarian entrants to Australia, just under 8,000. We have been able to do that because of what I said yesterday, we were able to free up the places in the refugee and humanitarian programme because of our success on the borders. There is a direct correlation between us being able to settle almost 8,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees over the last two years and that achievement and I appreciate Paris Aristotle making that observation.
I should also note that our policy as a government has always been with this intake to focus on the persecuted minorities in that part of the world and that is not exclusive because of that almost 8,000 just over 25 per cent have been from Islamic groups as well, predominantly Sunni groups out of Syria. That has been an important part of our intake but I think it is important as we work through this that we are very open and transparent about our processes and our priorities. All of these groups will be represented here today and we will be listening to all of them. One of the things we will be particularly listening to is how we can best take up and utilise and leverage the tremendous community sentiment and spirit and support there is for the initiative. We are getting overwhelmed with offers of support from groups right across the country; Members of Parliament and Senator’s offices are being called about how they can support. How we best manage that is one of our important early tasks, it can sometimes be a challenge that that enthusiasm can sometimes frustrate the important work that needs to be done, the planning and preparations. We want to know how we can best add value to that and advantage that. That is one of the key important issues we will be addressing today.
QUESTION: What are the biggest challenges these people might face?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well the same challenges that all refugees face when they come to Australia. For some of them it is serious issues of trauma and torture and Paris’ organisation in particular has been an expert in trauma and torture counselling, so those services need to be in place. For others with this group, particularly with the Syrians, there is a high proportion that don’t speak English and they need to be able to learn the language. But at the most basic level it is just coming to terms with a different lifestyle here in Australia. Some of the things we take for granted are completely foreign to people, families and young children. There is – the Immigration Department has a quite helpful little booklet which helps people just get over and understand some of those really basic things. It may seem twee to others but as the settlement service providers professionals know all these little things help. It is a matter of case management working with each of the families, placing the children in schools, ensuring that we are addressing any immediate minor health issues, obviously comprehensive health checks are undertaken before people arrive to identify any other risks. But it is a broad scale programme, orientation and integration.
QUESTION: Minister, why were some of the largest Muslim groups, community groups excluded from this event?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well they haven’t been.
QUESTION: Well the Islamic Council of Victoria, the Lebanese Muslim Association…
MINISTER MORRISON: The Grand Mufti has been invited today as have a number of Islamic Groups so I can’t support your question – I don’t agree with your question.
QUESTION: Joe Hockey was citing estimates yesterday that it could take up to two years to get the 12,000 group settled in Australia. Will it happen in the current financial year or could it stretch into a couple?
MINISTER MORRISON: It will take as long as it takes. We won’t rush to failure on this; we will ensure that we will do it properly. We will ensure that we take people in the best way we can and give them the best support we can when they arrive. That is what the Prime Minister has said, people have to be identified, they have to be assessed, they have to be screened, then they have to be prepared, then they have to come to Australia, then we have to find a place for them to be settled. Now the current settlement pattern for these groups and as you know settlement services falls within my portfolio, the vast majority of those, particularly out of Syria – more than half have been actually resettled in NSW in Sydney. What we will be working on with the settlement service providers is to see how we can better distribute and spread the settlement practice and process. That will mean that we will need to be operating in some areas where we are currently not operating, where services for people from these particularly areas may not quite yet be up to the pace it would need to be. But we have done almost 8,000 in two years and so we are very good at this and we are not going to compromise our process because we know if you work the process well then you give the people who come the best chance of a great future in Australia.
QUESTION: Is this going to take more than 12,000?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well we have taken this decision and I believe it is a very generous decision because don’t forget there is also the existing 13,750 which is going up by another 7,500 by 2019/20. So when you add those increases to this 12,000 you are up to almost 20,000. And you also already have the existing intake which the Immigration and Border Protection Minister sets each year. I think there is a lot of scope within our current envelope of intake with this supplement to address what we currently understand to be the pressures.
QUESTION: Minister, in terms of the people that are accepted in are there going to be more highly skilled refugees? Is that what you will be seeking out from these camps?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well I wouldn’t say it is so much a criteria because what you make decisions upon in this area is need and the ability to be able to successfully resettle people in Australia. That is what we focus on; it has nothing to do with someone’s faith it has got to do with someone’s need and that need and our ability to accommodate that need. That is how these decisions are taken and they are very practical decisions, they are very compassionate decisions but we need to be able to do this in a way that ensures the cohesion of the Australian community – which we have been very successful at achieving, as I said almost 8,000 in the last two years and this has worked extremely well, it has had great support. I think we got the balance absolutely right to date on that and we will continue those practices going forward.
QUESTION: What would a Ministerial reshuffle say about the state of your government?
MINISTER MORRISON: Look I am not focused on things inside this building today other than the meeting we have having today on this issue of resettlement. More generally I am focused on things happening outside of this building, in particular creating jobs for families. So that is my focus I am not here to talk about politics today.
QUESTION: Would you be a good Treasurer?
MINISTER MORRISON: We have got a great Treasurer.
QUESTION: Minister, the previous Labor Government funded a community based home stay programme. In the wake of the 12,000 additional refugees would the current government consider funding a similar programme?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well to do date, having resettled almost 8,000 Iraqis and Syrians over the last two years using our established practices I think that has provided a very good model and any adjustments that we need to make to that model to achieve this ambitious goal will obviously be considered. Thank you.