Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, says the country’s humanitarian visa programme won’t change to fast-track white South African farmers’ entry into the country – and there are no plans to do so.
Bishop was responding to the furore that erupted after Australia’s home affairs minister Peter Dutton said that white farmers should get fast-tracked entry into Australia on humanitarian grounds.
Dutton said this week that the Australian government was exploring how to bring white South African farmers to the country on humanitarian grounds due to the recent move by the SA government to change land laws, and also because of rising violence on farms in the country, which were said to be racially charged.
According to Dutton, white farmers face “horrific circumstances” in South Africa, and said that a ‘civil’ country like Australia should welcome the skills these farmers have.
His comments were labelled as racist, and prompted an official diplomatic démarche from International Relations and Cooperation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, demanding that the comments be retracted.
Speaking to Australian media on Sunday, however, Bishop said that there would be no special visa consideration for white South African farmers.
Bishop said that the country’s humanitarian visa programme was non-discriminatory and that each application is processed on its own merits, adding that there has been no change to that policy.
Bishop confirmed that Australia’s High Commissioner in South Africa was holding talks with the South African Government to clarify the basis of the visa program and to understand what their intentions are with land reforms that the government is implementing.
She also noted that the Australian government was keeping track of crime levels in South Africa, and noted with concern the ‘dramatic increase’ in violent crime in the country.
Speaking on ABC’s Insiders (at 23:30) she said:
“Australia does monitor the rate of violent crime in South Africa, and there has been a dramatic increase in recent years. 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 programmes’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.
“We do raise concerns about (South Africa’s) land reforms, and we want to ensure those land reforms don’t lead to tensions or violence. We have made these concerns known to the South African government.”