Labor has challenged the government to accept an extra 10,000 refugees from Syria and spend $100 million in humanitarian assistance as the Middle East crisis grows.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott says Australia will add to its humanitarian efforts, but not until a report is received from Immigration Minister Peter Dutton who is in Europe for talks with United Nations officials.
“It is the government’s firm intention to take a significant number of people from Syria this year,” Mr Abbott told parliament on Monday.
“And there will be more money because we must assist the UN high commissioner for refugees to do its job.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten called on the government to allow a one-off addition of 10,000 permanent refugee and humanitarian places within the financial year and provide an extra $100 million in relief.
He also called for a bipartisan meeting of state leaders and community and religious representatives to ensure the new intake goes smoothly and minimise its cost to the federal budget.
“I believe at a moment such as this, Australians expect our parliament to show leadership, decency and compassion,” Mr Shorten said.
Australia already has provided $100 million in humanitarian assistance to the Middle East in the past year and taken in 4500 people fleeing the conflict.
Later in the week Mr Abbott will meet with community representatives to discuss how Syrian refugees can be best integrated into the community.
The report from Mr Dutton was expected overnight.
Mr Abbott flagged an initial response to the report within 48 hours, but admitted it may need to be further revised as the crisis unfolds.
Under current government policy, the total refugee and humanitarian intake is due to stay at 13,750 in 2016/17 and rise to 16,250 in 2017/18 before lifting to 18,750 in 2018/19.
Refugee Council of Australia president Phil Glendenning described Australia’s contribution so far as “shameful” and called on the government to do more.
Syrian refugees would be a good fit for Australian society, a former ambassador to the war-torn country said.
“They are not welfare-oriented in the least, they are very business-like, very entrepreneurial,” said Bob Bowker, Australia’s ambassador to Syria from 2005 to 2008.
State leaders say they are prepared to help the federal government settle more refugees.
Mr Abbott is also taking advice from defence officials on allowing RAAF bombers to expand their operations from Iraq into Syria to hit Islamic State targets.
Mr Shorten said Labor was still considering its position on the expanded military role.
Greens MP Adam Bandt said Australia should take 20,000 more Syrian refugees and reject a request from the United States to bomb Syria.
Mr Abbott said there needed to be both a humanitarian and military response.