Transcript by The Hon Christian Porter MP

ABC RN Breakfast with Fran Kelly


FRAN KELLY: The first family of Syrian refugees granted visas, a part of Australia’s additional 12,000 person intake, is due to arrive in Perth today. The family of five, a couple and three children, will be met by representatives of Western Australia’s Metropolitan Migrants Resource Centre, who will help the new family get started on their new life in Perth. The Government says that all the usual stringent checks and processes of resettlement have been applied. Christian Porter is the Minister for Social Services. He lives in Perth. Minister, thanks very much for joining us.

MINISTER PORTER: Fran, it’s a pleasure.

FRAN KELLY: Tell us about this family. Who are they? Where have they come from?

MINISTER PORTER: Yeah, so we gave some information yesterday at a very sort of small and low-key press conference, but we do have some information. We’re not being particularly expansive in the information, just to give the family a little bit of space and time upon arrival, but, the first to arrive are a family of five; a father, a mother and three children. They are originally from Homs in Syria. As you noted, Perth’s intended to be their permanent home upon arrival in Australia. They’re met, as you pointed out, at the airport by the Humanitarian Resettlement Services, the Commonwealth Government, and local organisations, the WA Metro Migrant Resource Centre. It is a fairly routine process, one that we go through 13, 750 odd times a year, and of course, this will be an additional 12,000 to that number. But, they are given a very basic briefings and information, basic packs, food, household items, cleaning items, they go to their accommodation, they’re assigned a case worker, and the case worker starts the process with them of finding options for them that become more permanent. And of course puts them in touch with a whole range of service delivery organisations that state and fed governments, state governments, language services, banks, schools and the like, and particularly health services.

FRAN KELLY: I’ll come back to that, the language services, the sort of the settling processes to help someone settle in to be a citizen of this country. But just, in where they’ve been, you say they came from Homs in Syria, we all remember a couple of years ago, the bombing, almost the obliteration of Homs as the Assad forces fought against the Free Syrian Army forces, Homs was very much the centre of that. Have these people, has this family been displaced for a long time? Have they been in refugee camps?

MINISTER PORTER: They were a fairly early family to be displaced, and they have spent time in and out of refugee camps, so, without having the ability to give great detail, my briefing is to the effect that they have been one of the early families displaced and they’ve gone through quite a lot, and it’s been a fairly long journey, including of course, as you pointed out, more recently, they’ve been subjected to, quite properly, the very orderly, almost ponderous processes that we go through in Australia in terms of assessing anyone who comes here on a refugee visa.

FRAN KELLY: How do we choose this family when we’ve got 12,000 to choose? How do we choose them? Do they get recommended to us? Do they apply?

MINISTER PORTER: In cooperation with the United Nations authorities, of course people register and have that registration affected when they move into refugee camps. So individuals that have spent time in or are actually in refugee camps have essentially been in the pool because they have been registered. And a great deal of people, as you pointed out, will be on the list. So, I guess unlike the situation where you’ve got porous land borders in Europe, this is a slow and orderly process, and this family happens to be the first to arrive. I informed that there is a slight, but not particularly major, but slight medical condition that accelerated them through the list.

FRAN KELLY: There’s a baby on the way isn’t there?

MINISTER PORTER: Look, I can’t confirm that.

FRAN KELLY: But that’s meant that they’ve been slightly fast tracked to be here?

MINISTER PORTER: Yes that’s correct.

FRAN KELLY: Assuming then, this all happens in the wake of Paris, and as Senior Member of the New South Wales Coalition, Nationals Deputy Speaker, Andrew Fraser, said because of those attacks, Australia’s borders should be closed to Middle Eastern refugees. Pauline Hanson has said something similar. Half a dozen US State Governors have made similar remarks calling on their Government to not bring in the 10,000 Syrian refugees that they had pledged to take. Have the events in Paris influenced this resettlement process in any way? Or slowed down our bringing in of the 12,000 Syrian refugees in any way?

MINISTER PORTER: Well, Fran, to be honest, I’m not sure that it can be any slower or any more stringent. It involves of course our security and intelligence organisations. The health, security, background and character checks are absolutely rigorous, and because this is a slow and orderly process conducted offshore, we have all the time that we need and I can say that the process has not in any sense been rushed in any way.

FRAN KELLY: It’s hard, and I don’t want to fuel this at all those saying we should shut our borders to these people who are obviously in need. But in the process of determining whether a refugee is a safe an appropriate person or an extremist, does it go beyond asking them questions? How do we check? We don’t have a friendly relationship with the Syrian government. How do we know?

MINISTER PORTER: Well, we interrogate a whole range of information that is available to us, and look, I think it’s sufficient, and should be sufficient, to give confidence, and it certainly gives me confidence, that this is a process that heavily involves our intelligence agencies, and they are very good at what they do, and their job is to interrogate information from a variety of sources to cross and double check, and ensure veracity of any statements and claims that are made that have someone placed on the list of refugees were considered for resettlement in Australia, I mean the statements that you’ve raised, obviously I’ve noted as well, but since World War II, Australia has resettled 825,000 odd refugees on persons on humanitarian grounds. USA, Australia and Canada are the top three resettlement destinations for refugees and those resettling on humanitarian grounds, and those three countries account for 80 per cent of this type of resettlement. We do this 13,500 odd times a year, there is this additional 12,000 intake, but this is a well-trodden path, it is orderly, it is stringent, and it’s not overly helpful, and I think somewhat wrongheaded to be linking this process in a substantive way to what has just occurred in Europe.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, this family will arrive today. As you say they will be greeted, they will be given a welcome pack so to speak, and some accommodation. But longer term, do we give these people houses? Are the eligible for work? Are they assisted in getting work? As you mentioned, they are from Homs, they’ve been a long time displaced, is there psychological counselling for them if they need it? What kind of supports are put around arrivals like this?

MINISTER PORTER: A great many. Perhaps the starting point is to note that generally speaking, when people come to Australia, there is a long, about 103 week waiting list before you’re able to become eligible for writing of welfare payments and services. The one exception to that is refugees and humanitarian arrivals. So, part of the case working with them is to help with their interface with government. Of course, some people that will arrive of this 12,000, and of the general 13,500 odd that come over of working age, a very high priority is placed on achieving employment for those people. Some people are not of working age, some people are dependents of those of working age, but there is a very high priority on health services, a very high priority on employment services, because the ultimate goal is to ensure that people that arrive are happy productive citizens into the workforce and that of course happens. I think generally the data says about half the humanitarian refugee arrivals are of working age, and that there is early stages a drawdown on welfare benefits, but that there is a good solid attrition of those, as people in the workforce, and become productive and happy members of Australian society.

FRAN KELLY: We do hope so. Minister, thank you very much for being here with us.

MINISTER PORTER: Pleasure, Fran.