E&OE…
Sabra Lane

As we heard on AM yesterday, the last of the special intake of 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees are about to arrive in Australia. They’re grateful to be given a new opportunity, s ome are already trying to get their own businesses off the ground but the majority have been settled in city areas leading some councils to struggle under the strain. Zed Seselja is the Federal Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs, he joined me earlier. Minister, good morning and welcome to the programme.

Minister Seselja

Good morning Sabra.

Sabra Lane

The 12,000 additional refugees are nearly all settled. In hindsight would the government had done anything differently?

Minister Seselja

Well I think this has been done very well. Can I just make a couple of points in relation to the stats, obviously we take over 13,000 humanitarian entrants every year, this 12,000 cohort is in addition to that and we’re also seeing an increase in that annual cohort this year to over 16,000 and next year to over 18,000 so it’s a big job, it’s a big task, over a period of around 5 years we’ll spend a little over $1 billion on settlement services. It’s a very generous program and I think if I, and I’ve travelled all over the country and I’ve met with many who have arrived from Syria and Iraq, I’ve spoken with a lot of the service providers, I think we do a pretty good job at welcoming them, at trying to transition them into Australian life so I think we should be proud of what we’ve done in reaching out to one of the conflict zones in the world where there are many people who are doing it very very tough and we are doing I think more than our bit in taking some of the most desperate from around the world.

Sabra Lane

Will the government a breakdown of where all these refugees have settled given that some are claiming that they’ve had to shoulder an unfair burden and the Fairfield Mayor, for example, has said that his region has seen an influx of 7,000 people, putting a strain on services. Will we see a breakdown?

Minister Seselja

Well in general terms, when it comes to the 12,000, we don’t specifically release the exact numbers that go to each location and there’s a number of reasons for that. People can over time track generally where the movements are but there’s a couple of points I’d make, when the government sponsors these individuals when we determine where they’re going we do favour regional locations, we’re aware of some of the pressures that exist in cities, many of these people are sponsored, so they’re sponsored by particular communities, those communities will therefore share a lot of the burden in terms of costs, so getting them here and the like, so in those cases though they will most often settle where their sponsors are but a third point which is really important, Sabra, when we accept humanitarian entrants into Australia we accept them as permanent visa holders and they have freedom of movement, so we can settle in places like Toowoomba, where we do, or Hobart, or Geelong or other regional locations but in the end people are free to move so we do all we can to try and provide the services in regional locations but in the end we can’t tell people that they can’t move to Sydney or they can’t move to Melbourne or other areas.

Sabra Lane

But are you worried by that substantive point that some councils though end up bearing more of the burden than others, like Fairfield saying it’s got 7,000 extra people there, that’s an extra strain on medical services and schools?

Minister Seselja

Look in relation in Fairfield I think some of the claims that have been made by the Fairfield Mayor are incorrect, some of those numbers just aren’t right, but I do acknowledge that Fairfield and other parts of Sydney have seen a reasonable influx and of course we work with those councils and with state governments and of course with our services providers and I’d make another point – where an area does get larger numbers coming in they also get a larger amount of funding because the funding follows the clients so in our settlement services, if there is an area which is getting more than their share they’ll also get more than their share of funding and support services to assist with dealing with those.

Sabra Lane

All right. I know it’s not your responsibility area, the government’s issued a discussion paper on visas today, has the government taken any head of the warning that by introducing a special provisional residency that it might cause a breakdown in social cohesion, how will that be addressed?

Minister Seselja

Of course Minister Dutton, and I won’t speak for him, of course he’ll be taking into account all of that advice and that’s why there’s a consultation process that he’s going through but he can obviously talk to the detail of that.

Sabra Lane

All right, there is a push within the Liberal Party for a parliamentary vote now on same-sex marriage. Some Liberal MPs say given the failure of Parliament to support a plebiscite that it should be dealt with in this way. What do you think?

Minister Seselja

Well I think we should stick to our election promises Sabra and we very clearly went to the election and we said, I mean the Labor Party went to the election and they said that there’d be a parliamentary vote and the parliamentary vote would a conscious vote for this term and no longer in the next term.

Sabra Lane

That won’t happen and that’s why the MPs are saying that it should be with in another way.

Minister Seselja

Well if you let me finish, that’s the Labor policy and we took a policy which was a vote would come to the parliament only after the people had had their direct say through a plebiscite so that remains our policy, I haven’t heard why we should be, one year after an election which we won, adopting Labor’s policy on same-sex marriage. So no I don’t accept that we should be changing our policy, I think we should stick our policy.

Sabra Lane

Is Mr Turnbull’s leadership under threat if this goes ahead?

Minister Seselja

No

Sabra Lane

Minister, thank you for talking to AM this morning.

Minister Seselja

Thanks very much Sabra.

[ENDS]

Contact for
Senator Zed Seselja , Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs
Veronica Hayes
Media and Community Affairs Adviser
veronica.hayes@aph.gov.au
0401 815 853