Tony Abbott says Australia may have scope to accept more refugees in future but for now he is not being swayed by the Greens’ call to accept 20,000 people.
As the crisis in Europe escalates with thousands crossing the Mediterranean to escape the conflict, church groups and the Greens are pressing the government to open its doors.
The Greens are calling for an emergency intake of 20,000 Syrian refugees and $150 million funding for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale said more than 250,000 men, women and children had already died and it was time for Australians to lend a helping hand.
He said attitudes towards refugees had reached a turning point following distressing images of young children trying to escape the war being washed up on beaches in Europe.
“I just say to Tony Abbott, if you have a skerrick of compassion, of decency, of humanity – you would support the Greens’ call and immediately welcome 20,000 Syrian refugees who desperately need our help,” Senator Di Natale told reporters in Melbourne on Saturday.
“We are a lucky country and strong enough to offer people safety and respite from war.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he will not bow to the calls made by the Greens.
The coalition agreed to take 440 people from northern Iraq and east Syria in 2014 as it carefully considered the impact of Islamic State through those areas, Mr Abbott said.
He did, however, suggest that Australia may have scope to accept more refugees in the future because of his government’s controversial Operation Sovereign Borders.
“One of the good things about stopping the boats is that we are now in a much better position to increase our refugee and humanitarian intake,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Hobart.
Despite describing her organisation as apolitical, Joyce Chia, senior adviser and spokeswoman for the Refugee Council of Australia, joined Senator Di Natale at a news conference calling on the government to offer asylum to Syrian refugees.
“The situation in Syria is one of the world’s most urgent and increasing crisis,” she said.
“It is a crisis we can do something about.”
Australia has previously provided refuge to 40,000 Chinese people following the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989 and also issued temporary visas to 4000 Kosovo refugees in 1999.
Tasmania Premier Will Hodgman on Saturday confirmed the state is in talks with Canberra about how to bring more displaced people to the island under the Commonwealth’s safe haven visa scheme.
“We are engaging with the federal government at a very high level … to bring refugees, those who have come to our country seeking a safer place to live, (to Tasmania),” Mr Hodgman told reporters.
It is an issue the premier said he discussed with Mr Abbott during the prime minister’s visit to Hobart overnight on Friday.
“The indicative advice we have got and indeed the position I’ve put to the federal government is we could take potentially around 500 new applicants under the safe haven visa program,” Mr Hodgman said.
“It shows we are keen to not only boost our population but show a humanitarian approach to dealing with what is a terrible global problem.”