Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop: Parliament House - Syrian refugee crisis






SUBJECT/S: Syrian refugee crisis.

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Again this morning, Labor is encouraging Mr Abbott to step up to this humanitarian crisis. Sometimes you can't pick circumstances and indeed events pick us, but it is time for Australia, I believe, to offer another 10,000 refugee places to the victims of the terrible Syrian and Iraq conflicts. This would be 10,000 on top of the existing 13,750 places.

The whole world is trying to grapple with this challenging problem. I believe that Australia has a role to play in assisting the international movement to respond to the problems that the neighbours of Syria are facing, and more importantly the population of Syria. Happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: Is 10,000 Labor’s final position?

SHORTEN: Well we haven't heard Mr Abbott's initial position yet. What I say in essence is this - Mr Abbott, please, we can't just simply substitute some refugees from other regions of the world and put Syrian refugees in their place. We need to lift the overall number, that's the essence of what Labor's proposing and we also say let's do this together. This is not politics as usual, this is not business as usual. we've suggested a meeting of the Opposition and the Government, state leaders, community organisations and of course religious organisations, and finally we're proposing that there be $100 million provided to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to make sure that we can provide timely assistance to the neighbouring countries where literally millions of Syrians are living in poverty and destitution, and great hardship.

JOURNALIST: Is 10,000 to conservative just given that Ewen Jones is saying 50,000. So there's other much higher numbers being floated.

SHORTEN: There's no doubt that there's higher numbers being floated. Labor is open for a discussion of above 10,000, so let's not mistake that. But what we've done is speak with our experts and understand what our settlement services can cope with. If in the next financial year we were to take not 13,750 refugees, 23,750, that would be a massive increase and we want to make sure that whatever generosity we extend and the compassion that we extend, we want to make sure that we can actually absorb those services and keep those promises. But of course we're in the market to work constructively with Mr Abbott, because the whole world is stepping up here and Australia should too.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] the population seems to be where the Government's going with this. Are you comfortable with that or should Islamic or Muslim people leave Syria [inaudible]?

SHORTEN: Being a victim of war doesn't know a particular religion. We're interested in making sure that minorities and oppressed groups have the access to safety. But if you're a woman facing terrible crimes committed against you, if you're a child, a little child potentially drowning at sea, I'm not interested in their religion I'm interested in their safety.

JOURNALIST: Barnaby Joyce said this morning you can't have an answer without working out the equation. Is money a factor in that equation? Should be looking at the cost first?

SHORTEN: Well of course there'll be a real cost, of course there will. But I, you, know I just remind Barnaby Joyce that the Pope himself has challenged the parishes of Catholic faith all around the world to step up. There is already a real cost going on in Turkey, in Lebanon, in Jordan. When I met senior representatives of the Turkish Government, they explained they have millions of people in camps. If you look at Jordan if you look at Lebanon, there is already a cost to this crisis. As we just heard on a radio interview I did the interviewer made the point that Germany's expecting another 800,000 refugees. There is a cost where police are picking up drowned children off the beach. So I just say to the Government, please don't be guilty of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. We'll work through this issue, state governments have said they'll step up. If we can encourage religious organisations to pick up their co-religious and help them. If we can look at communities and country towns, you know this is not a problem beyond the wit and wisdom and compassion and generosity of Australia to deal with.

JOURNALIST: Is temporary safe havens an option, a realistic option - or has it got to be permanent resettlement?

SHORTEN: Well I think as Foreign Minister Bishop said there's a lot of differences between the Kosovar solution which I think is what you're referring to, and this current crisis. I think the idea that temporary relief when we don't know how long the Syrian civil war and violence is going to take is sort of selling people short. So no I don’t think it is realistic, and I don’t think it fully grasps the nature of the protracted genocidal conflict in this part of the world.

JOURNALIST: What do you think of the offer to use facilities that are sitting idle by some State Premiers?

SHORTEN: Sounds sensible. Again, that's why perhaps Mr Abbott should get together people in the same room at the same time. We all know that refugee policy has been a vexed political question in this country. There is an opportunity to do things a little differently now when confronted with this humanitarian crisis at a massive scale. So when you've got State Premiers giving the lead, Liberal and Labor, it's time for the national Parliament to step up as well.

JOURNALIST: Is our social security and social services system have the capacity to deal with 10,000 extra refugees all at once?

SHORTEN: Well our settlement services are amongst the best in the world, but your question really goes in part to earlier questions, what's the right number. First of all let’s accept that we need to do more than we're currently doing. Secondly let's accept that 13,750 refugees in face of what the world's dealing with is, is plainly inadequate, and thirdly let's sit down and work it through. This is an ideal opportunity for leadership not partisanship. One more question thanks.

JOURNALIST: What about if Mr Abbott decided to bring forward the increase in our humanitarian intake to 18,750 straight away to accept more Syrian refugees, would you support that?

SHORTEN: Has he said that to you?

JOURNALIST: No he hasn't.

I don't know what Mr Abbott's going to do. We've said 10,000 - you know when you look, Europe's going to take 120,000 people. I think 10,000 for a nation of our wealth and capacity it's appropriate. This is not business as usual, this is the largest peace time diaspora. 11.5 million Syrians have had to move, 11.5 million Syrians - that's roughly half the population of Australia. That's like asking, you know if everyone in NSW and Queensland just simply had to leave their homes. I hope that'll never happen here, I don't believe that will, but I hope that if a country such as ourselves, ever experienced some of that difficulty, that we would have some of the help that we should in this case, extend to other people.

Thanks everyone, see you later.