Government distances self from migrant-terrorism link
Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner has criticised a Federal Government backbencher for linking the threat of terrorism with immigration.
Labor MP Kelvin Thomson says Australia should severely cut its intake of migrants so the threat of terrorists coming in can be reduced.
In a speech to year 12 students at a foreign affairs forum in Melbourne, the Member for Wills called for more rigorous background checks on prospective migrants.
“The arrests this week in Melbourne will put renewed focus on our counter [terrorism] security measures. And it’s right that they should do so,” he said.
Mr Thomson says reducing Australia’s immigration intake by about half would improve security because it would give authorities more time to assess applications.
The suggestion comes just as the Race Discrimination Commissioner, Graeme Innes, is trying to prevent a public backlash against the Somali community.
“There have certainly been comments on talkback radio criticising the whole communities, when only a very small minority of people may be responsible for the allegations and the charges that have been made,” he said.
Mr Innes says it is wrong to link this week’s terrorism charges with a debate about immigration.
“I think it’s unfortunate that those suggestions have been made in this particular week,” he said.
“In several of the instances of people that have been charged, they came here as young children, and reducing migration intakes or vetting, better vetting of migrants just wouldn’t have addressed these issues.”
Mr Innes says making the link increased the risk of a backlash.
“It risks the sort of backlash where people in the broader Australian community start to tag communities as a whole as responsible for extremism and radical positions, whereas that is far from the reality,” he said.
The Opposition’s immigration spokeswoman, Sharman Stone, says Mr Thomson is right to highlight problems with security checks.
“Kelvin’s got his finger on the button when he says that there is a real problem right now about how we are assessing applications,” she said.
“It’s not, I think, due to the numbers of people coming in, it’s due to the reduction of resources.”
The Government’s Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs, Laurie Ferguson, says it is not more time that is needed for security checks as Mr Thomson contends, it is more resources.
Mr Ferguson says ASIO is under-resourced and that’s causing unnecessary delays.
“I often, almost weekly, write to ASIO about trying to finalise security checking of people in my electorate and their families. And there’s been a significant additional time that people are separated because of this requirement,” he said.
“And I do say that on occasion it seems to me that some cases are blatantly not a security worry, and yet they’ve still got to be waiting all this time.”
Despite Mr Ferguson’s admission that ASIO is not fully equipped for the task, the Federal Government is defending its security migration process.
Immigration Minister Chris Evans has released a written statement which says Australia’s migration screening is world class, and Mr Thompson’s views are not those of the Federal Government.