SUBJECTS: Fair Share Agreement – Refugee Resettlement and New Zealand’s Offer

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Peter Khalil has outlined in a speech to the Alfred Deakin Institute, Jemma, what he is calling the Fair Share Agreement. Now, we are about to talk to Peter Khalil in a moment, but in a nutshell, it’s asking Australia or proposing to Australia that it step up its diplomacy and as far as I can tell, ultimately its effort on the resettlement of refugees. It’s a matter of record that around the world that those who have been displaced by conflict and other crises around the world is at record levels at present and this is something that has exercised Peter Khalil’s mind. He is the member for Wills Jemma, he entered Parliament back in 2016. The son of migrants who had fled from Egypt in some turmoil back in the day, he also once worked for SBS. So Peter Khalil does take a keen interest in matters concerning ethnic communities and migration. Jemma, Peter Khalil joins us now from our Melbourne studios so Peter welcome to you, the fair share agreement , why don’t we give you a straight forward one first of all, what is it? 

PETER KHALILMP: Good day Greg. Thanks for having me on. Look we have had the same corrosive, toxic debate and conversation for almost 20 years now. We passed the Medevac bill into law earlier this year, we have repealed it, or it was repealed by the Government last week. What I was talking about today was the need for Australia to take a lead in negotiating and developing, what I call the Fair Share Agreement, working with the international community to increase the refugee intake amongst multiple countries and ensure that countries across the globe, recipient countries are doing their fair share and the reason for that, not only would it remove the toxicity of the debate we are having domestically but it actually seeks to pre-empt what is a global and worsening crisis. We have got 70 million displaced people globally; we have got 26 million refugees. Just last calendar year of those 26 million, only 92 thousand were resettled to recipient countries. What I am talking about is the need to actually work with countries to increase that intake, based on a fair share model, looking at a consistent set of metrics and set data points agreed upon in a negotiated outcome, where each country does their fair share. Some developed wealthy countries are taking as little as 30 or 40 refugees a year. I think that is unsustainable into the long term and it is our national interest, especially for regional security and stability that we take a more international stance and lead this. And there is an opportunity next week with the UN Global Refugee Forum in Geneva for member states of the UN to actually work together and make those commitments and contributions.  

JENNETTOkay, some of those numbers you mentioned there are astoundingly large. 26 million, well beyond the capacity of even a handful of countries to accommodate them. I think it was the former Labor Foreign Minister Bob Carr, once said when you get into these sort of debates the price of entry should be a number, really, a ball park figure on what you think is acceptable. What is your number? We know what Australia’s current refugee intake is, about 12,000 or so. Where do you think it should or could land? 

KHALILRelatively speaking of the 92,000 resettled we are doing, we are fairly generous. We have come third. The US is second with 22,000, Canada with 28,000. Those figures are slightly larger when you include people making asylum seeker applications in-country, who go across the border or arrive by plane and so on. But the fact is, it’s a drop in the ocean. What we’re talking about, too – you mentioned the pressure on host countries – there are countries, usually developing nations, largely – who are hosting these millions of refugees that create further instability globally. We’re talking about countries like Pakistan who have 1.4 million. Bangladesh – almost 1 million refugees. Uganda – 1.4 million, and so on. There are many countries that are hosting that the resources stretch their limit. What I’m talking about is making sure, through an international processing and resettlement agreement, with Australia taking the lead, using our diplomatic wherewithal, drawing on our internationalist DNA, to actually get countries doing their fair share to help alleviate the burden on those host countries, but also – in our national interest – to ensure greater security and stability in our region. Reduce that instability that comes. I mean, this is only going to get worse, Greg, with sectarianism, conflict, impacts of climate change – particularly in our region in the Pacific. You’re going to see nations and peoples fighting over depleted resources, more population displacement. We need to pre-empt that worsening crisis. I think our inwardly focused policies are not dealing with the growing global challenge. 

JENNETT: I think you’ve outlined those strategic challenges that lie out in the future but, just to bring it back home and into the here and now, what do you think is a feasible number? Sure, we can engage in diplomacy with others around the world, but let’s speak for the Australian government – and who knows? You might be a member of one at some point in the future… (LAUGHS)  

KHALIL: We hope…! 

JENNETT: What is a realistic number, in your view? It’s running about 12,000. Is it in the 20,000s, 40,000s, 50,000s? 

KHALIL: Well Labor has already taken a policy to the last election. We committed to doubling our refugee intake from the current number and adding another 5,000 in a community-sponsored refugee program. That’s fine. We’re a generous country. But I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the need for many wealthy, developed nations to actually do their fair share as well. Some countries take as little as 30 or 40 refugees a year. And there is a need, at the international level, to address this growing global challenge.  

JENNETT: But as a real power, how does Australia do that? If these were easy levers to pull, diplomatically, I imagine others before would have done just that. Why would some of these countries – you can name them, if you wish – I know you listed them in your speech – but why would they listen to Australia? 

KHALIL: Because it’s in their interests. It’s in their interest for regional stability and security to reduce the instability in countries that are carrying that heavy burden, where there’s more conflict and more population displacement. It’s in their interest for their own security and prosperity to make this work. Because we’re facing a global challenge that affects all countries in the region and globally. And this has been done before, Greg. You say, “Why would they do it?” We had the ODP program here between 1975 and 1982. That regional multilateral agreement saw 69,000 Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian refugees, resettled in Australia. Only 2000 came by boat directly to Australia. The vast majority were flown in after they were processed according to regional agreements that we entered into. This has been done before. History has shown us there are alternatives to our current set of policy frameworks.  

JENNETT: Which countries would you single out for specific attention if Australia’s going to saddle up for this fair-share agreement? Which ones stand out as developed, reasonably wealthy, able to accept more, but aren’t – in your view – pulling their weight?  

KHALIL: You want to play the “gotcha” game – not very diplomatic, by the way, to try to get these countries involved. There are many countries. For traditional reasons, historical reasons, monoculture, countries like Japan – who are very generous to the UNHCR but only take something like 26 refugees a year, or South Korea, or Portugal at 35, or many other Western European countries that take very small numbers. The point is not to try and single them out, Greg. The point is to try and get an agreement that we can have a set of consistent metrics – whether it be on GDP per capita, population, relative historical intake, migration numbers, resettlement services, and so on and so forth, that is agreed upon that gives us a consistent number of refugee intake for each of the countries. And for those that seek to opt out of that, we can arrange financial contributions that are commensurate to some of the intake numbers that would come out of that model to help pave the resettlement services. 

JENNETT: And who pays for that? Australia, or some global collective like the UN?  

KHALIL: Well, as I said, a global collective of countries that countries might opt out of taking additional refugees, they can offset their required additional intake based on the model by making financial contributions a – some of these countries already do that to the UNHCR. What I’m talking about is a fairer, more consistent model. The UN refugee forum going on next week is the start of that process. Already, 193 UN member states have agreed to the refugee Global Compact on Refugees to actually more equitably share the load and the burden around refugees. This is only going to be better for us to actually relieve the pressure on some of those host countries where there’s the greatest exacerbation of conflict and instability in our region as well. And I think it’s necessary for us to take that step and take the lead. These are ambitious ideas, Greg. I don’t see this current government even thinking about this. I mean, they’re not even sending anyone, I don’t think, to Geneva. There’s no real high-level representation there. And we need to think about this. 

JENNETT: There may be, or they may not be – there have been different models over the years, there’s working through the UNHCR, there are local initiatives – I think there’s one called the Bali Process that Australia has tried to invagual others to joining over the years, but to mixed reception, I suppose. Looking closer to home, since we have mentioned local mechanisms, at about 1,000 a year, do you think New Zealand is proportionally pulling its weight when it comes to refugees? 

KHALIL: Well, per capita, you would argue – no. Not on the current intake. This is the thing – there are dozens of wealthy, developed nations that people might, you know, perceive are doing well, but they’re actually not. The fact is, there are dozens of these countries. And I think what I’m suggesting is to have a consistent set of data points that actually allow the model to have a refugee intake across multiple countries that is fair and relatively fair. It’s a fair-share agreement in many respects. And that, I think, is needed to start dealing with what is a global challenge that we’re facing. It’s not the case that, you know, 26 million refugees settle around the world and we only resettle 92,000 last year – maybe a little larger with those who make their asylum cases in-country arriving by plane or otherwise. It’s still a drop in the ocean. Now, the question is really this – is that sustainable into the long-term? With the increasing pressures that we’re seeing with respect to conflict, violent conflict, the rise of authoritarianism, failed states, depleting resources, further population displacement – are we just burying our head in the sand if we don’t deal with this? And my argument is that we are. And we need to demonstrate some leadership as a middle power.  

JENNETT: Alright. Right on cue, as I mentioned New Zealand – just a signpost to our viewers, Peter Khalil, that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is expected to hold a media conference to talk about the volcano incident – the eruption that’s happened there. We will bring that to our viewers live and truncate our discussion if it should happen in the next couple of minutes or so, Peter Khalil. Just moving on from your speech, I suppose, and sticking with New Zealand – your own attitude, now that medevac has been revealed – it’s pretty clear that the government is going to see through the US resettlement third-country option there, and what is your own attitude towards then opening up a program of accepting New Zealand’s offer to resettle from Manus and Nauru? 

KHALIL: We have said consistently on the Labor side that the government should accept New Zealand’s generous offer to take more refugees and resettle more refugees. And they have refused to do so.  

JENNETT: Yep. They look like they might go there. That then poses a question to the parliament – this lifetime ban legislation that would sit behind such a resettlement – how does that sit with you?  

KHALIL: Well, I opposed it last time, as did our party. We’d have to look at what they put forward this time. I mean, we are devastated that the medivac law was repealed, because it was working. It was actually providing care to sick people. We worked on this, we merged some of Labor’s private member’s bill with Kerryn Phelps’ bill and passed it in the parliament earlier in the year. This, by the way – I said this in my speech this morning – despite the framing of refugees in the negative way, the obscene way, that they are framed in the toxic narrative – I mean, our own Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, said when we were debating the bill in February that they may be paedophiles – I’m quoting him – they may be paedophiles, they may be rapists, they may be murderers, and this bill would let them in. It’s simply obscene dog-whistling that is untrue. 

JENNETT: Sure. That ship has sailed. The parliament of Australia, for better or worse – depending on where you sit in the parliament – has dealt with that, as recently as last week. So new proposition comes forward now, and it’s one that does come to the caucus – and you sit in that room – do you see it, within your own worldview, as something that you, personally, would support? Would you happily go along with a lifetime ban if Anthony Albanese and the leadership said “We need to, for reasons of resettling off those islands”? 

KHALIL: Again, without pre-empting what they put to us as far as – they haven’t even accepted the New Zealand offer, by the way. Sure. It’s hypothetical if they were. It’s probably not useful to talk in hypotheticals, but I can refer to what arguments I made with respect to the last time they tried to put up the lifetime ban. How ridiculous would it be if a refugee was resettled in New Zealand, became a great surgeon, and she was asked to come back to Sydney to perform life-saving surgery on some children at the hospital there in Sydney, and was banned from doing so? Or they became a minister in a New Zealand government? I mean, how do you get around that problem? I’d like to see how they propose to do that. 

JENNETT: Do you think it’s contrary to – you know, our own bilateral relationship with New Zealand? What are the red lines here that you would not be prepared to cross? Because we’ve already mentioned your own personal conviction on issues of ethnic communities and refugees. So this strikes close to home for you. You’re very outspoken about these things. Would you contemplate going against – hypothetical, I know – against a position that said it should be supported?  

KHALIL: Again, Greg, I’m outspoken about these issues, as are many of my colleagues, because we’re passionate about these issues. Rather than the obscene framing of refugees, as I mentioned the Prime Minister has done and government ministers – I know of the success stories of refugees in this country and of migration in this country. We are a better nation – a more diverse and wonderfully multicultural nation – because of our migration story, which is a foundational part of our nation’s story. That pathway to citizenship, and being Australian. I’m part of it as well. So I’ll always stand up and speak out against some of these dog-whistling that goes on the far right of politics for that short-term political gain. I can’t speak to hypotheticals. The fact is, our caucus would look at what offer they put forward. If they’re saying they’re going to accept the New Zealand offer, let’s see that. That’s great. If they try and put in a lifetime ban as part of that, how do they propose to avoid the ridiculous scenarios that I’ve just outlined to you? What do they propose to do? Block a future New Zealand minister who happened to be a refugee if they were to run for parliament in New Zealand? Could they not come back and have ministerial meetings across the ditch? I mean, seriously. 

JENNETT: That’s a problem with hypotheticals, isn’t it? They can throw up all sorts of variables. You’ve outlined a couple for us there. And fair enough – I don’t think we could reasonably expect you to state a categorical position this afternoon, Peter Khalil, but we’ve canvassed the food for thought that you’ve put on offer in your speech on the fair-share agreement. So, let’s see how that goes down with the powerful – the great and good – in the government of Australia. No doubt we’ll talk to you about this, and other issues, in the new year. But for your time this afternoon, Peter, thank you so much.  

KHALIL: Thanks!  Merry Christmas. Happy new year.