Department Told “Bring More Christians”
July 19, 2008
FORMER immigration minister Kevin Andrews instructed his department to lift the intake of Christian refugees from the Middle East in response to what he saw as a pro-Muslim bias created by corrupt local case officers.
The Weekend Australian says Mr Andrews was so concerned about the extent of corruption in Middle Eastern posts – despite the allegations being investigated and dismissed by his own department – that he wrote to then prime minister John Howard advocating a $200 million plan to replace local employees with Australian staff in 10 “sensitive” countries, including Jordan, Iran and Egypt.
Opposition immigration spokesman Chris Ellison said yesterday this remains Coalition policy.
“We do not want discrimination or bias occurring … and that's why I believe it is appropriate that our sensitive overseas posts, such as those in the Middle East, are staffed by Australians,” Senator Ellison said.
A Department of Immigration spokesman said there were no substantiated cases of anti-Christian discrimination in Australian embassies and no plans to replace “Islamic locally engaged staff” with Australian officials.
An investigation by The Weekend Australian has discovered Mr Andrews was petitioned by the
Australian Christian Lobby to address alleged religious discrimination against Iraqis. Before losing office in the November 2007 election, he ordered the number of Christian Iraqi refugees to be increased by 1400 for 2007-08, almost doubling the previous year's Iraqi total of 1639.
“Put it this way, it was made very clear to the immigration department that more Christian refugees were wanted,” a Howard government source said.
In his letter to Mr Howard in August last year, Mr Andrews, a devout Catholic, proposed significant changes to the refugee selection process.
In the letter, seen by The Weekend Australian, Mr Andrews accused the case workers in Australian embassies of fraud and bribery when processing migration applications.
Such posts are predominantly staffed by local workers.
He said this raised “considerable security risks”.
Mr Andrews named 10 countries – Pakistan, India, United Arab Emirates, China, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Kenya, Russia and Egypt – in which the posts should be staffed exclusively with Australian departmental officers.
The non-Muslim countries named by Mr Andrews are understood to be less riddled by religious discrimination and more so by corruption, a source told The Weekend Australian.