Minister scoffs at Tampa talk
The Age (Melbourne)
October 6, 2007
Kevin Andrews tells Jewel Topsfield that he is bemused by the political storm over his remarks on African immigration.
THE row over the drastic cut in African refugees escalated yesterday, with Queensland Premier Anna Bligh branding Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews racist, while Pauline Hanson applauded the Government for protecting the “Australian way of life”.
The Federation of African Communities Council said it would lodge a complaint with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission on the grounds the African community had been racially vilified.
Former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser said that instead of refusing to take Africans because they had trouble settling, the Government should hold another Galbally inquiry into post-arrival services for refugees.
But a nonplussed Mr Andrews denied deliberately raising the question of whether Sudanese refugees were failing to integrate on the eve of the election, and said critics should “throw away the rhetoric”.
Mr Andrews was this week accused of dog whistling to marginal outer-suburban electorates with large numbers of Sudanese refugees, such as Isaacs in Melbourne, which is held by Labor by just 1.5 per cent.
But Mr Andrews said he had simply answered a question at a press conference on Monday. “I am a little bemused, to be honest. This wasn't something I deliberately set out to raise This thing seems to have taken on a life of its own,” Mr Andrews said in an interview with The Age. He said he had not spoken to the Prime Minister all week.
“What I would have to call a left-wing conspiracy theory that this is the new Tampa is just so far off the mark it's laughable.”
Mr Andrews said there was “nothing new” in his claims that African intake had been cut from 50 per cent to 30 per cent of the refugee intake in 2007-08 because of integration concerns.
This is despite previously claiming in a press release that the Government had changed its refugee program composition because of an improvement in conditions in some African countries and the need to help Iraqis displaced by war and Burmese refugees living in camps along the Thai-Burma border.
“Way back in February I made comments about the challenges of integration and in the budget we put additional money into settlement services,” he said.
He also conceded that a dossier he released this week, which claimed African refugees were forming gangs, fighting in nightclubs and attacking other families, was based on “anecdotal” feedback from the community.
Mr Andrews was criticised for not substantiating the claims and only releasing a summary of the evidence, in the same way he released part of the advice for cancelling the visa of Indian doctor Mohamed Haneef.
“By its nature, what the community is saying to the department, that part is anecdotal,” Mr Andrews said. “We know as a matter of empirical data this is a group of people who have lower levels of education, more have come from refugee camps. In the end you make decisions based on a whole range of evidence, some data, some anecdotal, that's always been the way of Government.”
Mr Andrews disputed Victorian police commissioner Christine Nixon's assertion that the Sudanese were not over-represented in crime statistics. “You can use data in all sorts of ways,” he said.
Mr Fraser said the Government had played the race card too often. “Now the Government has turned its heat on refugees from Africa Unfortunately, there are those who will respond to it, but I believe there will be many more who will be repelled by it,” he said in a letter to The Age.
But Ms Hanson, who accused African migrants of contributing to a 25 per cent increase in HIV in Victoria, said Australia should send aid to Sudan instead of accepting refugees.
Peter van Vliet, the executive officer of the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria, called for restraint from the media. “It is the view of the multicultural sector that the current debate around the small number of African people in Australia is now doing far more harm than good and the media response to the story is becoming disproportionate to both the small size of the African population and level and extent of any perceived problem,” he told The Age
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