Federal Politics

Leaked cabinet document reveals radical citizenship revamp, links migrant program to terrorist attacks

New arrivals under Australia's humanitarian program could face much greater scrutiny and be denied direct access to permanent residency under a swathe of radical measures being canvassed by the Turnbull government, according to a sensitive draft cabinet document obtained by Fairfax Media. 

The government is also subjecting the 12,000 refugees to be taken from Syria and Iraq to more stringent character, identity and security checks than European countries and changing the make-up of the intake to minimise the risk of "extremist infiltration".

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Prepared by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton's department, the document says the minister will bring forward the proposals in the first half of this year to "mitigate radicalisation risks" of new humanitarian arrivals. Australia's humanitarian program of 13,750 is due to rise to 16,250 in 2017/18 and 18,750 in 2018/19.

Mr Dutton has declined to be drawn on the proposals or whether he supports them, telling Fairfax Media through a spokesperson: "Government departments produce draft documents for consideration all the time. This is a draft document which has not been seen by the minister or his staff - nothing more."

Chief of the Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, former defence minister Kevin Andrews, former prime minister ...
Chief of the Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, former defence minister Kevin Andrews, former prime minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced Australia would take 12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq in September. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The document warns that some refugees from the Syrian conflict "will bring with them issues, beliefs or associations that lead them to advocate or engage in politically motivated or communal violence".

Around 20 Syrian refugees have so far arrived under the separate commitment to take 12,000 refugees from the conflict in Syria and Iraq. The processing of several hundred is almost complete and several thousand are being interviewed for inclusion in the program.

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The highly controversial proposals are a direct response to last year's terrorist attacks in Paris and social unrest in Europe and seek to minimise "Australia's potential exposure to the risks posed by extremism and radicalisation of migrants, including humanitarian entrants".

It suggests the risk of radicalisation could be reduced if new arrivals are settled outside Australia's major cities.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton Photo: Andrew Meares

"While there is no clear causal relationship between the size of a migrant community and the number of Islamic extremists that emerge from that community in Australia, settlement in regional areas that provide employment opportunities and display a level of community cohesion may reduce the potential for future radicalisation," it says.

The proposals will be branded an over-reaction by multicultural groups and refugee advocates that could stigmatise arrivals and make them less likely to successfully integrate.

Among the proposals canvassed in the document, marked "PROTECTED Sensitive: Cabinet" are:

  • Changes to simplify Australia's visa framework and "create stronger controls over access to permanent residency and citizenship".
  • Constant assessment of arrivals from pre-visa stage to post-citizenship conferral.
  • An "enforceable integration framework" to assess aspiring migrants' suitability for life in Australia.
  • A revamped Citizenship Test and Citizenship Pledge to "strengthen accountability for commitments made sat citizenship conferral".
  • Application of the tougher screening of the Syrian intake across the entire humanitarian program "to help ensure that we accept individuals with a high probability of successful integration".

This verges dangerously down the path of putting in place a discriminatory migration policy. If this is where the government wants to take us, we are turning down a very dark path indeed

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he had not seen the document.

"Assuming it's genuine, ideally these things do not get leaked. But it happens from time to time," he said. 

"I haven't yet had an opportunity to discuss it with the minister."

Labor's immigration spokesman, Richard Marles, said the leak portrayed a "deeply divided" government.

"This is a public document intended for the National Security Committee and it has found its way into the public domain," he said.

"This is unquestionably an issue of division but if it's kite-flying, that should be of greater concern to the Australian people because the substance of the document is deeply worrying. 

"This verges dangerously down the path of putting in place a discriminatory migration policy. If this is where the government wants to take us, we are turning down a very dark path indeed."

Critics will ague that assessing the suitability of migrants according to an "integration framework" is problematic, and that a country's capacity to support and integrate new arrivals is far more relevant. They will also assert that new arrivals will have have greater integration prospects if they have permanency of residence.

The paper also proposes a longitudinal study be undertaken of the 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees to "inform any proposed future changes to Australia's settlement program".

It also cites the wave of humanitarian migration to Australia of Sunnis as a result of the Lebanese civil war as highlighting "potential community safety and national security risks associated with unsuccessful integration".

The paper says that while the vast majority of humanitarian entrants have integrated into Australian society without national security concerns, "it has been established that there are links between recent onshore terrorist attacks and the humanitarian intake".

The perpetrator of the Martin Place siege, Man Haron Monis, arrived as a refugee from Iran and shootings in Melbourne were perpetrated by individuals who arrived in Australia as dependents of parents who came under the humanitarian program.

"Humanitarian entrants face significant settlement challenges as a result of their experience of persecution and discrimination," the paper says.

"They may need to overcome educational and English language barriers, as well as mental and physical health problems.

"In general, they have lower labour market participation, are less highly educated and have lower rates of English language proficiency than other migrant cohorts or the Australian-born population."

But the paper says research shows that the children of humanitarian migrants "perform strongly against integration indicators, with labour force participation, educational outcomes and income above the Australian average.

It also says "humanitarian entrants" show a high level of entrepreneurship and high levels of citizenship uptake.

The paper proposes prioritising family groups who have been registered with the United Nations refugee agency for lengthy periods.

Mr Turnbull would not say whether he supported the recommendations in the document.

" As far as future policies are concerned, I can assure you that in terms of people's rights, there is only one class of citizenship in Australia. All citizens have got the same rights but they also have the same obligations and one of those obligations is obviously to obey the law and so that applies whether you were born here or whether you took out your citizenship last week."

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the Prime Minister "needs to decide what type of Prime Minister he really wants to be".

"It's unfortunate to see the government trying to whip up fear and hysteria around people seeking asylum like this," she said.

"The government has been caught out preparing for a campaign based entirely on fear that will divide the community rather than unite it."

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