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Transcript of interview with Tom Elliot: 3AW Drive: 7 September 2015: Syrian refugee crisis

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SUBJECT/S: Syrian refugee crisis

TOM ELLIOTT: Right now, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Richard Marles joins us, Richard good afternoon.


ELLIOT: Good, now I believe you have urged a one off increase of 10,000 refugees to occur here in Australia, is that correct?

MARLES: That is right, and we are saying it should be a one off intake into our humanitarian program, they should be permanent places but what we are calling on is for the Prime Minister to get a round table together in the next couple of days involving state leaders, community leaders, church leaders to see how we can all work together to put 10,000 places on the table.

ELLIOT: How have you come up with 10,000, why that figure?

MARLES: Well 10,000 would be a significant contribution for Australia to make, it would be comparable to the kind of contributions that are being made by European countries, on Wednesday Europe will be hearing a plan from the EU President of 120,000 people being placed across Europe and that includes for example Germany taking 31,000, France taking 24,000 so 10,000 would be a significant offering on the part of Australia in contrast to that and I think it is an offering that we can do. If you do share with state leaders, state governments, they have been coming out in the last few days saying they believe they can play a role, if you have community based sponsorship of visas, which is a program we introduced when we were in Government, which reduces the cost on the public purse, if you have family reunion and you allow those coming, to engage in work then all of these can reduce the cost

associated with this so what we are saying is the Prime Minister should show some leadership here and put everyone around the table and get this together.

ELLIOT: Richard can I say this to me smacks slightly of opportunism, I mean this crisis in Syria, this civil war is four years old, it is not like these refugees appeared suddenly overnight, they’ve been around for a couple of years now. Secondly, there are tens of millions of refugees around the world why would we suddenly increase ten thousand for this crisis, for this time.

MARLES: Well it’s not opportunism Tom, if you look at what the UNHCR has been saying over a period of time now. In that you are right, we have been experiencing as a globe the largest humanitarian need since the Second World War, it is why during Labor’s national conference back in July we announced that if we were in Government, we would make a transformational commitment to the UNHCR, $450 million.

ELLIOT: But I want to know why now, we’ve had millions of refugees around the world for a very long time, this particular issue is getting a lot of press but I suppose that is because it is hitting Western Europe, that is the reason.

MARLES: No, I don’t think that is fair at all.

ELLIOT: Look at the millions of refugees in Africa, I mean there is just as many there and no one is saying we must increase our quota for them?

MARLES: Because it is actually not right, what you have just said. The single biggest source of refugees in the world today is from Syria, I mean this is the country the size of Australia, or at least it was before the Syrian civil war, something like seven million people are displaced, four million are outside the borders of Syria, it is easily the largest contributing factor to the humanitarian need we have seen in the world today which has spiked in the last few years.

ELLIOT: It is the largest single country, but I have read the UNHCR estimates there is between 50 and 100 million displaced people around the world, this is between four and seven, so it is not in and of itself a reason to suddenly add sixty per cent to our refugee intake.

MARLES: The UNHCR estimates there are 59 million people in the world today who are seeking permanent, or who are displaced but if you look at those who are displaced, the UNHCR will tell you that it has spiked over the last three years and that has principally been because of Syria, not entirely but you are right Boko Haram in northern Nigeria has been responsible for another million and a half people being displaced, Yemen as well, Afghanistan. But the single biggest issue has been Syria and that is why there is a lot of people on the move right now.

ELLIOT: What happens next year? Cause I don’t think the Middle East is going to get any better any time soon, what happens next year if it spreads to other countries what will we be expecting, another ten thousand, another ten thousand? Where does it stop?

MARLES: Well if we look at our history Tom, we have, when there have been crises that the world has faced we have played our part. John Howard did that in respect of the Kosovars at the end of the 1990s.

ELLIOT: They were given temporary entrance not permanent.

MARLES: But the reality is Tom that most of those that came here at the time ended up staying here permanently and we looked at the arrangements that the Kosovars came under, it is in fact cheaper to do it the way in which we are proposing right now.

ELLIOT: That assumes if we do it, can I ask you what about countries like Saudi Arabia, fellow muslim countries, who are much, much closer to all of this than we are, how many are they taking.

MARLES: But surely Tom you are not about to say that we benchmark ourselves against every single country out there?

ELLIOT: What about Qatar? Kuwait?

MARLES: You look at Syria, Syria is a country of about five or six million people, sorry Jordan, Jordan there are 600,000 Syrians in Jordan, you look at Lebanon, it has been estimated that about a quarter of the people in Lebanon today are from Syria.

ELLIOT: That is because those countries can’t control their borders.

MARLES: That is not right.

ELLIOT: You are saying that in Lebanon they voluntarily just took them, they didn’t, the people are flooding across the border and they can’t stop it.

MARLES: Tom, I have had the benefit of having been to Jordan and visiting the Zaatari refugee camp, a Syrian refugee camp on the border between Jordan and Syria. What the Jordanian Government is doing there, a middle income economy, much poorer than ourselves in terms of supporting those who have come across the border is absolutely enormous and it is absolutely not right to say they don’t control their borders.

ELLIOT: Well I can tell you that I do not believe they do, but again I am looking at the wealthy countries like Saudi, which has an extraordinarily high standard of living, Qatar, Kuwait, which by the way we helped liberate from Saddam Hussein twenty five years ago, are they doing their part?

MARLES: Sure and I don’t think there would be, I don’t think John Howard or Malcolm Fraser would say that the right way in which we benchmark the contribution that we make in the world is against Saudi Arabia or Qatar, what we have done in the past, if you look at what we have done in the past and what we are proposing to do, it sits in the tradition of the way in which Australia has played a role

internationally. It is what we should be doing, if you look at our likeminded countries, countries like Canada, countries like Europe.

ELLIOT: What about New Zealand?

MARLES: I’m not exactly sure what New Zealand are doing.

ELLIOT: I know exactly what New Zealand are doing, at the moment they take 750 that’s and they are debating whether to take an extra 100.

MARLES: What we are proposing is a contribution which is in line with community opinion Tom and which we can absolutely afford if we get around the table to do that, and we shouldn’t be seeing leadership on the conservative side of politics be driven by the state opposition leader or the New South Wales Premier, we should be seeing this done by the Prime Minister himself and I do think if do get around the table we can make this happen and it is what Australians would want to happen.

ELLIOT: Thank you Richard Marles