Sky News PM Agenda with David Speers
Joining me now is Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells; Senator, thank-you for your time this afternoon.
Good to be here.
Just on these 12,000 Syrian refugees, the Immigration Minister is arguing that there will be very careful security checks on all of them. What sort of assurances can you give Australians that might be worried about this?
Look David, we’ve been settling refugees for a long time. Since WWII we’ve welcomed 7.5 million migrants to Australia including 825,000 under out humanitarian programme. We do this well, we have a series of checks that we go through – and we have been going through. And now, obviously, we’re going to do more checks and Peter Dutton has gone through the increased checking that we’re now doing through biometrics.
Can you explain this debate about whether they should be predominantly Christians that we take in? How will this process work in selecting the religion of people who come in?
Well, it’s not a question of religion. The criteria that was indicated when we made this announcement was, they would be families, women and children, that come out of the Syrian-Iraq conflict – and they are in Jordan, Turkey or Lebanon.
So that’s the broad criteria. Now, we know, and we had a broad gathering of community and Christian leaders – community leaders and religious leaders who came to join us in Canberra and we had that discussion. We know that many of the persecuted minorities are not in the camps. So, therefore part of the work that we have to do is to actually look at how we are going to locate those people.
So, we’ve got people that are in camps, people that are not in camps, and we’ve also got a special humanitarian programme. So under our humanitarian programme we normally take 13,750 – so that’s what we do every year. What we’re now doing is we’re taking another 12,000.
But as part of that normal process some people come in under UNHCR processes and some under the special humanitarian programme. The special humanitarian programme is where you have church leaders, or family, or somebody in Australia sponsors them to come in.
So that’s where you would give priority to Christians – is that the idea?
No, it’s just at the moment our criteria is, as has been indicated as part of the announcement, the criteria was that we would look at women, children and families [interrupted].
So there’s no priority for Christians?
And for those that are most vulnerable, and persecuted minorities.
The reason why the Christians are foremost is because they are amongst the persecuted minorities in that area. So that’s where it is. Now [interrupted].
That’s within the 13,000 humanitarian intake?
That’s within the 12,000. On top of that we’ve also got, this year, another 13,750 which is out general humanitarian programme. So again, there is possibilities through the 13,750 we could also have people from the Middle East – indeed it’s probable there will be people from the Middle East.
So when you start taking how many people will be from that crisis area, chances are you’ve not just got the 12,000 but you’ve also got an addition from that component of the 13,750 which we also know is going up to 18,000 in 2018-19.
The Prime Minister, in Parliament this afternoon was once again stressing the importance in these times to remember the strength of our multicultural community – and how important that is. I know there has been a debate about countering violent extremism programmes under the former government and this government. Is enough being done on this front with the Muslim community?
Look, David, we are in a unique position. We are one of the most culturally diverse yet socially cohesive nations on Earth; 47 per cent of us were born overseas or have at least one parent born overseas.
In Australia it is a very different scenario, that social glue that binds us together from different parts of the world is very, very strong. And you see it in many different ways, you see it in the strength of our multicultural society, you see it in our productive diversity and the contribution that people from different heritages make to our trade and economic prosperity.
But you also see it in frameworks like the religious – the interfaith framework that we have here in Australia. You see it in the multicultural framework in terms of organisations coming together.
All those things together make up the social glue – the social fabric that is contemporary multicultural Australia.
But just on these programmes which the government has committed, I think $13 million in the May budget for a programme that was supposed to be focused on early intervention to stop radicalisation and $21 or $22 million to tackle terrorist propaganda. Is this money being spent, is much of it being spent, are you aware?
Well, that’s a matter for Minister Keenan and the work that he’s doing in this space. So I’ll leave it for Minister Keenan to respond to that.
But, suffice to say that in the broader multicultural space and broader settlement space, my section of the department spends $660 million over the forward estimates – and that’s a lot of money which basically covers good settlement services. So this is the area where the work is done in terms of our Syrians and the work to assist them appropriate settlement in Australia.
Because David, our social cohesion today is the sum of millions of successful settlement journeys; when my parents came to this country to build a better life for themselves and their children – that framework still exists today.
We’re nearly out of time, but I did want to ask you about the Grand Mufti and the controversy around his comments last week. As the Assistant Minister in this multicultural space, what did you make of his comments?
Well I thought that the comments that were initially made certainly didn’t reflect the gravity of the situation and I made comments that I thought his comments and the comments of other people should have been stronger.
I appreciate that there are issues of concern that some Muslim Australians may have but what happened in Paris warranted outright condemnation, and that condemnation did come.
I know we saw some reports about the Grand Mufti not having been well last weekend and the statement was put out under the banner of the Australian National Imams Council and indeed I understand that is the situation with his health.
But the reality is that Paris warranted condemnation and strong condemnation in the strongest possible terms – so I’m pleased to see now that is happening right across out different communities.
Senator we appreciate your time as always. Thanks for joining us this afternoon.