Australia will be making no special visa considerations for white South African farmers, Julie Bishop said, as she refused to back Peter Dutton’s claim the group deserved “special treatment” over alleged persecution.
The foreign minister became the latest senior government figure to dismiss one of the home affairs minister’s policy ideas, which in recent months have included limiting Australia’s migration intake and labelling white South African farmers the “sorts of migrants that we want to bring into our country”.
Dutton has previously been made to walk back comments he made during his regular segment on Sydney radio 2GB. At other times his colleagues have swiftly dismissed his ideas.
Bishop was drawn into the latest maelstrom after Dutton’s comments last week led to the South African government demanding a “full retraction”. Australia’s high commissioner was called in to Pretoria to explain the Coalition’s position.
Speaking to the ABC’s Insiders program Bishop said there were no plans to treat South African applicants any differently under Australia’s humanitarian visa program.
“Australia does monitor the rate of violent crime in South Africa, and there has been a dramatic increase in recent years,” she said. “Last year there were about 19,000 murders in South Africa, and that’s a very high number for a country of that size.
“We do have a humanitarian visa program if any person feels they are persecuted, then they can apply to Australia for a humanitarian visa, and that would be considered on its merits, and I believe that that’s what Peter Dutton is referring to.
“I believe the humanitarian programs’s credibility comes from the fact that it is nondiscriminatory and that each application is assessed on its merits. That’s been the case under the Turnbull government, and as far as I’m aware, there are no plans to change that visa program.”
While the South African government made it clear it had been “offended” by Dutton’s comments, others questioned where his information had come from.
Last week Gareth Newham at South Africa’s Institute for Social Studies reported “young black males living in poor urban areas” faced a higher risk of being murdered, citing a murder rate in those areas of between 200 and 300 per 100,00 people.
He said the highest estimates of farm murders, regardless of race, stood at 133 per 100,000 people.
Tensions have been growing in the former apartheid nation, over the South African government’s push to redistribute farming land. Up to 70% is thought to be owned by white Afrikaners and black South Africans hold the title deeds for less than 10% of the nation’s agricultural land.
Bishop said that was something Australia was watching, but she said she would not be drawn on who would make a better addition to Australia’s society.
“Clearly each case has to be assessed on its merits,” she said. “On the question of farmers in South Africa, we do raise our concerns about land reforms that the South African government has been implementing, and we want to ensure that those land reforms don’t lead to tensions or indeed violence, and so we have made our concerns known to the South African government in relation to land reforms more generally.
“There are many South Africans in my own electorate of Curtin, and they make a great contribution to life in Australia, as do so many immigrants from all around the world. They make an incredible contribution to the peace, stability and prosperity of our nation.”