News National Abbott being led by Baird, Europe on refugee crisis
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Abbott being led by Baird, Europe on refugee crisis

Refugees in Europe
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There is only one story dominating the news at home and abroad and that is the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War.

As Europe struggles to accommodate the thousands of people flooding its borders, no one doubts what they are fleeing.

Syrian cities reduced to rubble, families destroyed, livelihoods lost. A civilian death toll beyond a quarter of a million.

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• Abbott urged to take 10,000 Syrians

The country’s president Bashar al-Assad is responsible for most of them, making the Islamic State “death cult” second-tier accomplices in this shocking human tragedy.

Seven million people are displaced inside Syria, another four million are in camps in neighbouring countries. After four years, and with the conflict worsening, many have given up hope of ever being able to return home.

Syrian refugees
An estimated seven million refugees are internally displaced inside Syria. Photo: Getty

At first, when he was asked to respond to the desperately sad pictures of the limp body of a three-year-old drowned refugee child, Tony Abbott insisted Australia is already doing enough.

This from a Prime Minister who cut our refugee intake by a third when he came to office and, even with foreshadowed increases, will not get back to where it was in 2013. Even then the number seeking refuge and shelter worldwide was the highest in 70 years.

On Friday he put it in bald terms. Australia has stopped the boats so we can take more refugees from Syria – but not above our current intake. The PM held this line for four days. He now finally says it is his firm intention to take a significant number of people.

Labor is calling for 10,000 additional humanitarian places. The Prime Minister isn’t ruling that out but he is waiting to hear from Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who he despatched to Geneva for consultations with the United Nations High Commission For Refugees.

That looks more like window dressing. Do you need to fly a minister to Switzerland to be told more countries, including Australia, need to take more displaced persons?

Mr Abbott’s inability to instinctively read the sentiment of the nation left many of his colleagues bewildered. Though it is just another example of a tin ear that has undermined his two years as Prime Minister and left his government in terminal decline.

Tony Abbott
PM Tony Abbott: how many doors will he open for asylum seekers? Photo: AAP

Thirty consecutive negative Newspolls now stuck on an eight-point losing gap behind Labor.

On Saturday there was leadership from the country’s most popular political leader, the Liberal premier of New South Wales Mike Baird. He wrote that he was greatly encouraged about the federal Coalition’s willingness to increase our humanitarian intake over coming years.

“But I believe we should do even more. And we should do it now,” he said.

He continued: “Stopping the boats can’t be where this ends. It is surely where humanitarianism begins.”

And more of it may be needed as Australia is poised to commit its fighter jets to bombing raids inside Syria. Mr Abbott calls it an even stronger response. But where and when will it end?

As one Liberal backbencher lamented, the PM would be better to send the Foreign Minister to Russia and China to see if a political solution can’t be achieved to break what is a cruel and bloody stalemate.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics. He is Contributing Editor for Network Ten, appears on Radio National Breakfast and writes a weekly column on national affairs for The New Daily. He tweets at @PaulBongiorno

Read all of his columns here

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