Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, under fire for criticising Malcolm Fraser’s refugee policy, has sought to defend himself by saying that of the last 33 people charged with terrorism-related offences, 22 were from second- and third-generation Lebanese Muslim backgrounds.
Dutton last week said Fraser made “mistakes in bringing some people in, in the 1970s – we’re seeing that today and we need to be honest in having that discussion”.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten targeted Dutton in Monday’s Question Time over his provocative remarks, asking which people he was referring to. Shorten also called on Dutton to apologise “to Australia’s hard-working migrant communities” including the Vietnamese, who arrived in large numbers under Fraser.
A fired-up Dutton accused Shorten of trying to bully and demonise him.
“When I see extremism I will call it out. When I see people breaking the Australian law I will call it out,” Dutton said.
“I am not going to allow people who are hard working, who have done the right thing by this country … to be defined by those people who are doing the wrong thing and have been charged with terrorist offences or have been involved in crime otherwise,” he said.
“I am not interested in the politically correct nonsense that the leader of the opposition might carry on with.”
Dutton’s office referred to cabinet papers, released in January 2007, which showed the Fraser government in 1976 was warned by immigration authorities that it was accepting too many Lebanese refugees who didn’t have “the required qualities” to be successfully integrated.
Australia took 4,000 people from Lebanon that year, as Lebanese Muslims fled civil war. Usual entry standards were relaxed.
Commenting to The Australian newspaper when the archives were released, Fraser said his government had eased entry qualifications as a humanitarian response in line with Australian international responsibilities.
Fraser said it would be wrong to say then-current tensions in the Muslim community came about because his government had let “bad people” in. “From my point of view, I think the education system and the community have got to take a pretty fair part of the blame” for later problems, he said.
In a statement after question time, Shorten said Dutton’s comments were “disgraceful” and it was time for Malcolm Turnbull to pull him into line and tell him to apologise.
“There is no place in this country for hurtful, divisive comments like Mr Dutton’s. Our hardworking migrant communities deserve better than a prime minister who wants to water down protections against hate speech and fails to stand up to this kind of bigotry from his senior ministers.”