Australia

Refugee groups are 'extremely concerned' about a Dutton prime ministership

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SBS News has talked with refugee advocacy groups about what a Dutton prime ministership would look like.

Refugee advocacy groups have voiced their "extreme concern" at the possibility of a Peter Dutton prime ministership.

"It would be devastating," director of advocacy and campaigns at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre Jana Favero told SBS News on Thursday.

"We are extremely concerned about what this could mean for men, women and children seeking asylum in Australia," she said, predicting that immigration policies may become "even more" hard-line. 

"All his policy discussion around people seeking asylum has been punitive and this will be magnified." 

She said domestically, race could be a more present feature of Australian politics.

"As prime minister of this country, he will lead the narrative of this country."

A protest in Sydney in July.
A protest in Sydney in July.
AAP

Ms Favero said on a more practical front, refugee advocacy groups such as hers will likely be "shut out" from any kind of dialogue in the corridors of power.

"Over recent years, the prime minister's office was more accessible to us than [Mr Dutton's] office ... Mr Dutton has regularly demonised refugee advocates."

Refugee Action Coalition spokesperson Ian Rintoul echoed these concerns.

"There would be a very large outcry from organisations like ours," he said.

"Just look at his record," Mr Rintoul said, highlighting his time as Minister for Health, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and Minister for Home Affairs.

"There's offshore detention ... There were his comments on 'African gangs' ... Raising the bar for citizenship."

"The snapshot of what he has done should concern everyone."

But Mr Rintoul said he thought Mr Dutton is "very unpopular" with the electorate. 

"The Liberal Party would be writing its own epitaph," he said.

The Liberal Party would be writing its own epitaph

Ian Rintoul, Refugee Action Coalition

Mr Dutton has made his mark on immigration since taking up that portfolio in December 2014. He threw his weight behind the Operation Sovereign Borders policy, turning back asylum seeker boats heading to Australia.

He gained more influence when he took over the newly-created mega Home Affairs portfolio.

As the enforcer of Australia's tough offshore detention policy, he has regularly clashed with refugee advocates over conditions on Nauru and Manus Island and his refusal to allow asylum seekers access to medical care on the mainland.

Peter Dutton faces the media on August 21.
Peter Dutton faces the media on August 21.
Sean Davey/AFP/Getty

But Mr Dutton has maintained the controversial offshore policy is designed to deter people from embarking on treacherous sea journeys, and thus saves lives.

Mr Dutton also has a record of disparaging comments towards refugees.

He once said allowing Lebanese Muslim refugees into Australia in the 1970s was a "mistake" accusing them of being responsible for higher crime rates in Western Sydney.

And in response to a Greens proposal to boost Australia's refugee intake, he once said "illiterate and innumerate" asylum seekers would take local jobs or languish on the dole. 

Additional reporting: Rosemary Bolger 

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