Malcolm Turnbull

Di Natale slams Dutton as 'racist' after South African farmers comments


The prime minister is treading carefully over Peter Dutton's comments about white farmers in South Africa, while the Greens leader has accused him of being a 'racist'.

Malcolm Turnbull has stopped short of defending Peter Dutton's comments about taking in persecuted white South African farmers, insisting Australia has a non-discriminatory humanitarian program.

Pretoria launched a formal protest and demanded an explanation from Canberra's high commissioner after the home affairs minister declared the farmers needed protection from a "civilised country".


Mr Turnbull was pressed on Friday about whether his government stood by Mr Dutton's comments.

"Our program is thoroughly non-discriminatory," the prime minister told reporters in Sydney.

"We have a very large community of Australians of South African ancestry, from every background, and they also make a phenomenal contribution to our very successful multicultural society."

Greens Leader Richard Di Natale claimed on Thursday that Mr Dutton was a "racist". 

"It looks like Peter Dutton wants to bring back the White Australia policy," he told reporters in Melbourne.

"The bloke is an out and out racist. He's pitching to One Nation voters in Queensland." 

Several coalition colleagues have defended Mr Dutton despite calls from South Africa for him to withdraw.

Pretoria flatly rejected his suggestion white farmers are facing "horrific circumstances".

Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar said suggestions Mr Dutton was being racist were "laughable".

South Africa has "demanded" that the Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton retract his comments about the country's white farmers.
South Africa has "demanded" that the Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton retract his comments about the country's white farmers.

The government had already been able to help Syrians and Iraqis under its refugee program.

"Now when other issues emerge, including these persecuted white farmers, I think it's wholly appropriate that we look at it because there are persecuted groups all around the world," he told Sky News on Friday.

Mr Sukkar said expats here were sharing horrific stories with Australian MPs.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop denied there was a double standard in Mr Dutton speaking up for white South African farmers but not Palestinian farmers persecuted by Israel.

"I reject that. What we do in our humanitarian visa program is assess visas on their merits and that's what Peter Dutton as home affairs minister does every day," she told ABC radio.

But the minister said she and Mr Dutton were working to determine if any changes were needed to the offshore humanitarian visa program.

Ms Bishop said Australia's high commissioner Adam McCarthy was in regular contact with the South African government about Australian concerns.

She said Australia wanted the nation to ensure the safety of all citizens, and ensure any changes to land ownership won't disrupt the economy or lead to violence.

Labor leader Bill Shorten said he didn't know what motivated Mr Dutton to make the comments.

"There are some media reports that would indicate some farmers are experiencing difficulty," Mr Shorten told ABC radio.

"I have to say though I also read media reports that other South Africans can be the victims of crime."

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