MP says checks on immigrants need to be tightened
Chief Political Correspondent
The Sydney Morning Herald
August 8, 2009
A SENIOR federal Labor MP has called for Australia to slash its immigration intake so entrants could be better screened for terrorist links.
Addressing a foreign affairs forum in Melbourne yesterday, Kelvin Thomson said the sharp increase in immigrant numbers during the Howard years had made it difficult for authorities to adequately screen new arrivals.
As an example, he mentioned Somali immigrants. Four Somali men were arrested in Melbourne this week and charged with plotting a terrorist attack on the Holsworthy army base in Sydney.
''Given time, it would be possible to get to the bottom of the background of applicants from Somalia and elsewhere to work out whether they have an association with fundamentalist groups and make a rational assessment of whether they pose a risk,'' he said.
''Reducing our rates of immigration intake to the rates prevailing back in the 1990s would provide authorities with much more time in which to assess applications and thereby improve Australia's security.''
Mr Thomson was the shadow attorney-general in 2007 but was demoted after it was discovered he had inadvertently given a character reference to the Melbourne underworld figure Tony Mokbel.
He represents the multicultural Melbourne seat of Wills.
Mr Thomson acknowledged his remarks would cause controversy because he would be accused of labelling all migrants as prospective terrorists.
''But this is no more true than the claim that the existence of a police force is an accusation that all of us are prospective criminals, or that having examiners walking down exam aisles means that all students are prospective cheats.''
He said the overwhelming majority of migrants ''are not prospective terrorists but we are all entitled to be protected from the few who are''.
Mr Thomson also called on Australia to lift its foreign aid contribution as a proportion of GDP from 0.32 per cent to 0.7 per cent, which is the United Nations benchmark, by 2015.
The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has promised to increase aid to 0.5 per cent by then.
Mr Thomson said the extra money could be found by scrapping the $1.5 billion fringe benefits tax concession for company cars.
''The design of the tax concession rewards drivers for using their cars. The more you drive, the bigger the break, and in this day and age this is perverse,'' he said. Mr Thomson said increasing foreign aid would have indirect national security benefits for Australia.
His speech came as the Race Discrimination Commissioner, Graeme Innes, called for calm amid reports of a backlash against the Somali community in the wake of the arrest of the suspected terrorists.
“The Australian Human Rights Commission's recent work with communities from Somalia and other parts of Africa shows that many are already experiencing difficulties in everyday activities, as well as finding employment, housing and education,” Mr Innes said. “These hardships, which are commonly experienced by migrants and refugees upon entering a new country, will be made worse if a racist backlash against them is able to gain momentum.”