3AW Mornings - interview with Neil Mitchell
JULIEBISHOPGood morning Neil.
NEILMITCHELLThis is going to cost much more than $175 million a yearisn't it?
JULIEBISHOPIn terms of the refugees?
JULIEBISHOPYes, we believe that taking 12,000refugees and permanently settling them in Australia could cost up to $700million over four years.
NEILMITCHELLBut that's $175 million a year, isn't it going to costmore than that?
JULIE BISHOPWe are working withState and Territory Governments and community organisations, NGOs and Churchgroups who will partner with us to provide the kind of services that permanentresettled refugees require. It is a very big exercise. I believe it is thelargest single intake of permanent resettled refugees since the Second WorldWar in any one year, so it is a big undertaking but the scale of thehumanitarian crisis in Syria is unprecedented. It is the largest humanitariancrisis in the world at present.
NEILMITCHELLI'm not arguing about whether we should do it, I'm justtrying to get to the bottom of the figures. That's $14,500 each a year underyour budget. The Parliamentary Budget office estimated it at $35,000 a year orso ago, $35,000 a year to keep a person in the community, a refugee in thecommunity. Does that mean you are looking for double the figure, the cost, andthe other half has to come from the private sector?
JULIEBISHOPWell Neil, these are all issues thatwe will work through over time with the experts, with the settlement services.
NEILMITCHELLWhy don't we know yet?
JULIEBISHOPThis is interesting, the media arecriticising us for not acting swiftly enough. We take a measured, consideredapproach to the number of refugees that we can permanently resettle. Of coursewe have estimates, we have provided those costs to our experts and we havesettlement services but we are also working with the States and Territories andcommunity organisations.
This is aone-off and so we will work through the cost because it will depend where theyare housed, where they go to school, where they live, what kind of education orhealth services they require, whether they will be able to get a job and, if soof course, they won't require social benefits, so the figures have been workedthrough but of course things can change and we are prepared to be flexible.
The wholepoint is Australia has reacted strongly. We've taken 12,000 permanent refugees.Other countries are offering safe haven which means it's a temporaryarrangement, ours is a permanent arrangement.
NEILMITCHELLOkay, I guess that is, what I'm getting at, we don'treally know the overall cost yet. I'm not saying you shouldn't do it but itcould be as much as double what we've allowed here.
JULIEBISHOPWell I don't understand that to be thecase.
NEILMITCHELLWell the Parliamentary Budget Office figures say $35,000.
JULIEBISHOPBut you have to look at what they'vetaken into account and what they base it on. We are talking about partneringwith other States and Territories, we are talking about partnering with NGOs,church groups. The public have already said in many instances that they wouldbe prepared to assist so there are a lot of factors to take into account but wehave put out the figure of $700 million and that's the assessment we have atthis point.
NEILMITCHELLWhat about the employment situation, as you say, we werelooking up some figures this morning. I think the employment rate amongst Iraqirefugees has been about 12 per cent, Afghani about nine per cent, so looking ata 90 per cent unemployment rate. Do we have to look at those sort of figuresfor these people?
JULIEBISHOPThe difficulty is that in the pastmost of the permanent resettlement has been in our cities and job opportunitiescan be hard to come by. What we are talking about now is resettling them acrossAustralia and there are areas, in fact even in the Party Room yesterday anumber of local members said that there was a need for workers in theirelectorate where Australian workers were not taking up the jobs, or notavailable for the jobs. So it depends where they are settled across the countryand that's why we will be working with States and Territories.
NEILMITCHELLWhat do you want from Victoria?
JULIEBISHOPA discussion with Victoria as to whatthey can offer. New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia havealready been quite forthcoming but we will have discussions with all of theStates. If they have accommodation, if they have opportunities for theserefugees of course we'll be delighted to discuss it with them.
NEILMITCHELLThere are people ringing me offering to take refugeesinto their homes. Do you want them to do that?
JULIEBISHOPWell obviously we need to ensure thatthis would be safe, it would be secure. These people would be subject to quiterigorous security, health and identification checks, character references andthe like, so there will be quite a process that we can go through to ensurethat we will have people that will fit into the Australian community and beable to make a contribution here.
NEILMITCHELLThere will be a long queue I would think, wanting to comehere. How are you going to choose people? The PM has said minorities would begiven preference. Does that mean Christian minorities?
JULIEBISHOPNo it means ethnic and religiousminorities who are the most in need, the most vulnerable. They have beenpersecuted by both the Assad regime, by the terrorist organisations in the mostbrutal ways. Indeed Da'esh has been the most egregious in its persecution ofethnic and religious minorities. There are Muslim and non-Muslim minorities,there are Christians, there are Yazidis, Druse, any number of minorities. Andthe point is this – they do not have a home to which they can return. There aremany others in the camps and on the border who want to return to Syria or Iraqwhen it is safe to do so. But these persecuted minorities literally havenowhere to return to, so that is why we are bringing them to Australia andresettling them here permanently. Other countries like Britain and France haveoffered temporary protection and safe haven so that they can return home whenit is safe to do so.
NEILMITCHELLIn the end the decision will have to be made. Who willdecide and what – the choice a 35 year old single Muslim man or a 19-year-oldYazidi woman – what do you decide and who decides?
JULIEBISHOPWell obviously each case will beconsidered on its individual circumstances. We have a team of officials whowill be going over there and working with the UNHCR, the InternationalOrganisation of Migration, people who are experienced in doing this but ourofficials will go through the character checks, the health checks, the securitychecks, interview them and make a decision. Our preference is for families,women and children from persecuted minorities so that is what we will belooking for.
NEILMITCHELLSo no preference to Christian groups?
JULIEBISHOPWell Christian groups do make up asubstantial part of the persecuted minorities so of course there will beChristians among the group.
NEILMITCHELLOf course but no preference being given to them ahead ofMuslims?
JULIEBISHOPThe preference is for persecutedminorities, those most in need and you look at them on a case-by-case basis soit would be irresponsible for me to say well we are going to take a, b, c ifI'm not looking at the individual circumstances of these cases and that's whatour officials will be doing.
NEILMITCHELLI guess 60 per cent of Syria is Sunni Muslims. Does thatmean 60 per cent roughly of the refugees would be Sunni Muslim?
JULIEBISHOPWe are looking at persecutedminorities, the Sunni majority in Syria is under the rule of a Shia minoritybut we are talking about the persecuted minorities. Let me give you an example,last year we took 2200 Syrian refugees and 2200 from Iraq and it was a mixtureof some Muslim but mostly non-Muslim that's the way it turned out. There were Christians,there were Druze, there were Maronites, there were Yazidis, any number, butthey were considered on a case-by-case basis. But the proportion of thosemaking up the persecuted minorities means that they will be the group fromwhich we take our permanent refugees.
NEILMITCHELLWhen will you expect the first refugees to arrive?
JULIEBISHOPWithin weeks, we hope, this year.
NEILMITCHELLAnd where will they go?
JULIEBISHOPWell that will depend on theaccommodation that is available, the State that is prepared to house them andthe communities that are prepared to accept them.
NEILMITCHELLHow long will it take to get them into the community?
JULIEBISHOPWell that is a matter for thesettlement services to undertake. It does take some time because of course youhave to find appropriate housing, you have to find schooling, you have to findplaces where they can access health care and of course we want them to haveopportunities to take up employment so that they can contribute to theAustralian society.
NEILMITCHELLWhat is the character test that is referred to? How doyou do that?
JULIEBISHOPThey will require identification aswell. We are not taking people who have thrown away their identification andcome via a people smuggling trade so they will need identification papers. Wedo this all the time with the humanitarian and refugee program. I mean this isnot the first time we've taken refugees under a humanitarian program. We haveone of the most generous on a per capita basis in the world, so last yearsomething like 13,000 under this humanitarian program, so we have people who dothis as part of their job.
NEILMITCHELLWhat about values? I read that they will be asked toagree to Australian values. How do you do that?
JULIEBISHOPWell that is what all people who aretaking citizenship in Australia do, that is standard for those coming toAustralia.
NEILMITCHELLThese people aren't taking citizenship are they?
JULIEBISHOPWell they will be eligible forcitizenship.
JULIEBISHOPAccording to the usual rules ofeligibility for citizenship.
NEILMITCHELLWith the security checks, do you think there is a risk ofterrorist infiltration?
JULIEBISHOPThe terrorist organisations have beenstating that they have infiltrated countries in Europe through their refugeeprograms. I mean that's the propaganda that the terrorist organisations arepromoting so that is why we are sending our officials over there to interview,to carry out the security checks and assessments as best we can.
NEILMITCHELLSo is there a risk of terrorist infiltration?
JULIEBISHOPThere is a risk of terroristinfiltration now. We have home grown terrorists in Australia. We have peoplecoming into this country and with the best will in the world and there isalways a risk. I mean the terrorists only have to be lucky once, we have to belucky all of the time to ensure that we can keep our people safe.
NEILMITCHELLWill we take more if this continues because it is, as yousay, a genuine crisis?
JULIEBISHOPThis is a one off, we have no plans todo that. I spoke with Secretary of State John Kerry last night and also othercounterpart foreign ministers in the Middle East and discussed with him andwith them what more can be done in relation to the humanitarian crisis.
That is whywe've provided funding to support displaced people in the camps. We've providedextra funding that will directly support 240,000 people who are in camps and inplaces of refuge along the Syrian/Iraq border particularly in Lebanon, Turkeyand Jordan. So Australia is doing its part on a humanitarian basis and we arecertainly playing our part militarily on the security front and we aresupporting the political solution in relation to the Assad regime.
NEILMITCHELLJust finally Minister, if I may on that military area. Itis suggested this military action could last two or three years. Correct?
JULIEBISHOPWell I don't talk about it in thatmuch detail, I'm not the Defence Minister. We've always spoken in terms ofyears not months.
NEIL MITCHELLDoyou believe that the action will begin soon?
JULIEBISHOPYes I do. The action is alreadyunderway. We are already involved in air strikes over Iraq. The air strikes byother Coalition partners are taking place over Syria. It just means that wejoin the operations over Syria so it is just an extension of what we arealready doing.
NEILMITCHELLDoes that extension you believe potentially increase thesecurity risk in Australia. Make us more of a target?
JULIEBISHOPI don't believe so. I believe thatwhat we must do is defeat this terrorist organisation and prevent Australiancitizens from fighting with it in Iraq and Syria and prevent Australiancitizens from supporting it here at home so that we don't have a terroristattack in this country.
NEILMITCHELLMinister, thank you for your time.