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Govt deciding on refugee intake within 24 hours -

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MARK COLVIN: The Prime Minister says the Government will decide in the next 24 hours how Australia will respond to the growing numbers of refugees fleeing conflict and persecution in Syria.

The crisis dominated the Coalition's regular party room meeting, where 17 MPs and Senators contributed to an hour long debate.

There's a strong sense from the Government that its response will prioritise the needs of Christian and other religious minorities over other refugees.

But that has drawn a sharp response from the Opposition and the Greens, who say it would be discriminatory.

From Canberra, Naomi Woodley reports.

NAOMI WOODLEY: The Prime Minister has told Parliament to expect a decision on Australia's response to the refugee crisis very soon.

TONY ABBOTT: I expect that within 24 hours, the Government will have much more to say on this matter.

NAOMI WOODLEY: The Government is waiting on advice from the Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, who has been in Paris and Geneva discussing the crisis with the UNHCR and other international agencies.

TONY ABBOTT: We do need to be prudent, we do need to plan. We shouldn't delay, but nevertheless we do need to be careful.

NAOMI WOODLEY: Mr Dutton will brief the National Security Committee of Cabinet tonight. Any decision will then go to Cabinet, and it's possible the Government's plan would also go back to the Coalition party room before being finalised.

Today, the best part of an hour in the Liberal and then Coalition party room meetings was spent discussing how Australia should respond.

There were 17 speakers in total, some who reported a noticeable shift in the community sentiment in favour of doing more. Another cautioned about taking "too many" refugees, and others spoke of the need of accepting refugees who would "fit in well with the Australian community".

The Prime Minister is framing the Government's intentions in this way.

TONY ABBOTT: What we do need is to try to ensure that people can be safe in country, as well as try to ensure that people can be safe out of country. And that people who are in camps - particularly persecuted minorities: women and children who are in camps - do have the prospect of a better life.

NAOMI WOODLEY: There is clearly an emerging view in Government that any additional measures should prioritise Christian and other religious minorities, and women and children.

The Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop spoke to AM this morning.

JULIE BISHOP: I think that Christian minorities are being persecuted in Syria, and even if the conflict were over they would still be persecuted.

And so I believe there will be a focus on ensuring we can get access to those persecuted ethnic and religious minorities who will have no home to return to even when the conflict is over.

NAOMI WOODLEY: The Queensland Coalition backbencher George Christensen has been more blunt.

GEORGE CHRISTENSEN: If you're coming into this country and you harbour, you know, a jihadist outlook on life, if you believe that Sharia law should be the law of the land, well perhaps you're not welcome in this country. Perhaps you should be seeking safe haven in one of the many Muslim countries that's around the world.

NAOMI WOODLEY: The Opposition says the Government's approach to wait for advice from Peter Dutton is creating a vacuum for unhelpful comments.

And the Opposition's immigration spokesman, Richard Marles, says selecting refugees on the basis of their religion is a dangerous idea.

RICHARD MARLES: I visited the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan on the border with Syria earlier this year. I spoke with an olive farmer, a Muslim, and his family, met his family.

He is absolutely a victim of this conflict. He doesn't know whether his house still exists. He doesn't know whether his olive grove still exists. The victims of this conflict are across a range of religions, and what we need to be doing is putting an offer on the table, and working with the UNHCR about how best those numbers can be deployed in such a way as to reduce the sum of global human misery.

That's our mission statement here, and putting a religious bias on this I think is a very dangerous path to walk down.

NAOMI WOODLEY: Labor's also pressing for the Government to adopt its plan for an additional 10,000 refugee places over and above Australia's existing refugee intake of just under 14,000.

The Independent MP Andrew Wilkie tried to suspend Question Time to call on the Government to accept an extra 30,000 refugees. He also urged against the Australian airforce extending its bombing campaign from Iraq into Syria.

ANDREW WILKIE: But what are we doing about president Assad? We're now going to bomb his enemies and basically become a de facto ally of Russia. How dare we criticise the Russians for having a military presence in Syria assisting president Assad when we're going to be bombing president Assad's enemies?

NAOMI WOODLEY: After a short debate Andrew Wilkie's suspension motion was voted down.

Cabinet's decision to extend the bombing campaign into Syria is also expected to be made in the next 24 hours.

MARK COLVIN: Naomi Woodley.