Govt faces pressure on Syria refugee help

As the image of a drowned Syrian toddler continues to cause soul searching around the world, differences have emerged within the federal government about how much Australia can help the humanitarian crisis in Europe.


Cabinet minister Barnaby Joyce believes there’s room for more Syrian refugees, despite Tony Abbott’s insistence more space has already been created.

But veteran Liberal Philip Ruddock says the crisis has reached such a tipping point any increase in intake will do little to help.

Mr Ruddock earlier this year called for a Kosovo-type solution where Australia would accept masses of Syrian and Iraqi refugees who would return home once it was safe.

But now he says it’s up to international partners to do more to solve the problem, the scale of which he says hasn’t been seen since World War II.

“When you talk about 14 million people being displaced, let’s be realistic, whatever Australia does is not going to ultimately resolve this issue,” Mr Ruddock told AAP on Friday.

“It’s of the size and dimension well beyond our capacity.”

The Anglican Church in Australia on Friday wrote to the prime minister and the immigration minister pleading for them to allow another 10,000 Syrian refugees before Christmas.

Bishop Huggins, chair of the national church’s working group on refugees and asylum seekers, said something must be done given the lack of any immediate diplomatic or political solutions.

Mr Joyce also advocated for more refugees, touched by a man whose plastic bag of water bottles and a packet of biscuits were his only possessions in the world.

He said he felt a sense of sympathy for the accountant who’d had his life destroyed.

But Mr Abbott says the government has already raised Iraqi and Syrian refugees places by 4400 thanks to tighter border control policies.

“We’re doing exactly what Barnaby has suggested,” he said.

He said the tragic drowning of Aylan Kurdi was a warning to stop the flow of boats and put an end to illegal migration.

The “very sad” images of children “tragically dead at sea” were a reminder that keeping people safe relied on stopping the boats.

“As long as people think if they can get here and they can stay here … we’ll have the tragedies at sea,” he said.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Australia was considering a refugee increase and will work with other countries on possible solutions.

“Australia will play its part along with other countries and I’m sure this matter is under review by the minister for immigration,” she said.

Opposition immigration spokesman Richard Marles accused the government of turning its back on international duties to refugees.

He said the prime minister was only offering “ignorant” and “gratuitous” three-word slogans which Europe was treating as a joke.

But asked if he’d turn back a boat full of Syrian refugees, Mr Marles conceded he would.

Mr Abbott said he had not read a scathing critique of Australia’s immigration policies by The New York Times.

The paper in an editorial urged Europe not to replicate Australia’s hard-line approach to asylum seekers, labelling the government’s policies inhumane.

The newspaper said Mr Abbott’s policies were also “strikingly at odds” with the country’s tradition of welcoming people fleeing persecution and war.