A leaked Cabinet document suggests Immigration Minister Peter Dutton is planning to make sweeping changes to the Government’s humanitarian resettlement program, making it harder to get permanent residency and increasing monitoring of migrants.
The document obtained by the ABC’s Lateline reveals the extent of the Government’s concerns about terrorism and the lengths it is prepared to go to keep radicals out of Australia.
Marked “protected”, “sensitive” and “cabinet”, the document is believed to contain recommendations for Mr Dutton to present to Cabinet’s National Security Committee.
The document points to the recent attacks in Paris and unrest in Germany as it outlines “a package of reforms to simplify Australia’s visa framework and create stronger controls over access to permanent residence and citizenship”. Those changes include:
• An enforceable integration framework to assess aspiring migrants’ suitability for life in Australia;
• A revamped citizenship test and citizenship pledge; and
• Enhanced access, use and protection of sensitive information to strengthen intelligence-led, risk-based decision making, from pre-visa stage through to post-citizenship conferral.
Presumably, that would mean refugees brought to Australia under its humanitarian program would be closely monitored, even after they become Australian citizens.
The document says Mr Dutton will bring forward the proposals in the first half of 2016 “to reform the visa framework and remove direct access to permanent residence to better align visa and citizenship decision-making with national security and community protection outcomes”.
Removing direct access to permanent residence would see bona fide refugees accepted by Australia no longer given the certainty of a life in Australia.
Links between terrorist attacks and humanitarian intake
The document cites links between terrorist attacks on Australian soil and its humanitarian intake, pointing to the Martin Place gunman Man Haron Monis, Parramatta police shooter Farhad Jabar and the Melbourne knife attack by Abdul Haider.
It points out that all were either refugees or dependents of recent migrants.
There are also specific concerns raised about the 12,000 additional Syrian refugees the Federal Government announced it would take in September last year.
The document says “it is expected some refugees from this conflict will bring issues, beliefs or associations that lead them to advocate or engage in politically motivated or communal violence”.
Since September, the expected surge of migrants from Syria has been a trickle of just over 20 people.
The document says the Department of Immigration will “apply additional screening criteria to the 12,000 Syrian intake and extend this, where possible on a risk basis, to the humanitarian program”.
‘Lessons learned’ from Lebanese migrants
Meanwhile, the Lebanese community is singled out in the document as the “most prominent ethnic group amongst Australian Sunni extremists”.
The document points to “lessons learned” after a wave of migration to Australia as a result of the Lebanese civil war between 1975 and 1990.
“Australia’s historical experience with the Sunni Lebanese community illustrate potential community safety and national security risks associated with unsuccessful integration,” it said.
The document says Australia’s intake from the Lebanese conflict “was largely from the poorer and uneducated Lebanese Muslim population”, introducing a new element to the largely Christian Lebanese community in Australia.
“This led to the transportation to Australia of a Sunni community which included elements who already held extremist beliefs or who were more highly receptive to extremist messages,” it said.
Earlier this week Mr Dutton told Lateline the Government had strict measures in place to assess those wanting to come to Australia.
“We look through each of those cases to make sure that the bona fides are established and as I say, very importantly, we conduct biometric tests and conduct those tests in a very rigorous way and we work with our US, UK and Canadian partners to make sure that we can mitigate any threat that might come from people that would pose themselves as refugees but aren’t true refugees,” he said.
But the document also outlines another way refugees are being selected.
“Australia is prioritising family groups who have been registered with UNHCR for lengthy periods to further reduce the potential for deliberate extremist infiltration,” it said.
That would mean those fleeing some of the most deadly conflicts in recent months are unlikely to make to Australian shores.
Lateline requested an interview with Mr Dutton but he was unavailable for comment. A spokesman from the Immigration Department said draft proposals often came before Government but were not adopted.