MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE - Asylum Seekers


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (16:36): It is good to enter this debate after a very thoughtful contribution by Senator Leyonhjelm which I could not find a lot of argument with until he got onto the bit of abolishing foreign aid. Senator Leyonhjelm, if you had been to Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Vanuatu as I have recently and seen how Australia's foreign aid is used, you would not be making quite the same comments. Since Ms Julie Bishop has been the foreign minister the whole way of delivering foreign aid has changed. Whilst some of your comments may have been valid in times past, I think nowadays the Australian government is ensuring that the aid that it gives is getting directly to the cause for which it is given.

There are literally millions and millions of genuine refugees around the world. I have always raised in this chamber, particularly in the days of Labor governments when they were opening the borders to people smugglers and people who were quite clearly economic entrants into Australia rather than genuine refugees, that every time you let in one of these people who are coming here for a better life—and I do not blame them for trying—you halt those genuine refugees who have been waiting in squalid refugee camps around the world for years for their turn to come to Australia. That is why I have always thought we should have an ordered system of migration into our country that looks at genuine refugees. I would love it if every person in the world who wants to come to Australia could come to Australia, because we are indeed the lucky country and we are blessed with riches and natural wealth, but we simply cannot take everyone. As other speakers have said, Australia punches well above its weight when it comes to the acceptance of refugees. We have a program that is better per capita than any other place in the world. So Australia has nothing to be ashamed of.

I confess that I do not know enough about the call for Syrian refugees. I just wish that the Syrian people could sort out their own problems. I note that on Facebook—not always a good authority—there are questions about how many other Middle Eastern countries are taking refugees. It is a question that I must ask of the appropriate authorities. There is a push for Australia, Europe, Britain and America to take more Syrians, but are the very, very wealthy countries in the Middle East taking their share? I do not know the answer, but I do intend to find out.

This debate today is a typical Greens motion. It is all care and no responsibility. You get a warm feeling in calling for these things, but somewhere along the line we have to have an ordered system that fairly brings into Australia the quota which the Australian people believe is appropriate for this country—and, as I say, as Australians, we have nothing to be ashamed of. We have the best refugee intake per capita of any country in the world. I often lament that these problems in the Middle East and elsewhere happen, and we who live hundreds or thousands of miles away in Australia can never understand how people in their own countries cannot sort out their own problems and stop these issues. But I guess that is a question that needs to be explored at another time.

I congratulate the government on what it has done so far. It has increased the number of refugees coming in. I am cautious about announcements by our Prime Minister that there will be more Syrians brought in, because if more Syrians are being brought in it means others who have been waiting in squalid refugee camps around the world for years and years have to wait yet another year. That concerned me under Labor 's open door policy, and it concerns me now, if I understand what the Prime Minister has announced. I have not questioned the Prime Minister about that, and we will be looking at that in the future. But I do congratulate the government for what it has done to date, and I congratulate every Australian for being part of the best refugee intake system in the world.

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