‘Governments should grow up’: Liberal heavyweight Nick Greiner says refugee limbo must end
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Former Liberal premier Nick Greiner has urged federal leaders to end the limbo for refugees who have arrived in Australia by boat, saying the nation could afford to fix the lasting problem without weakening tough border controls.
Greiner also called on the Liberals to back the case for a bigger humanitarian intake for new migrants and shift its tone in the asylum seeker debate, pointing to the way Liberal governments had welcomed Vietnamese and Syrian refugees in the past.
Liberal heavyweight Nick Greiner says the limbo must end for refugees on Nauru and Manus Island.Credit: Wolter Peeters
The comments highlight the plight of more than 1000 refugees and asylum seekers who are being refused settlement in Australia because they arrived by boat and were processed on Nauru and Manus Island, a key policy under Labor and Liberal leaders over the past decade.
Greiner, who joined the board of the Refugee Council of Australia 10 days ago, was premier of NSW for four years to 1992, and federal president of the Liberal Party for three years until 2020, later serving as Australia’s consul-general in New York.
“I think keeping people in limbo for very extended periods is cutting off your nose to spite your face,” he said. “It’s not serving a purpose.
“I completely understand that we don’t want to send messages to people smugglers. That’s not just political rhetoric. But I think we could afford to find ways of quietly fixing a range of legacy issues.”
Greiner and his parents arrived in Australia as refugees in the 1950s after fleeing the communist government in Hungary. While he and his mother crossed the border safely, his father had to use a “people smuggler” to cross the Danube River while under fire from border guards.
“I just think governments ought to grow up and fix these things, which are, at the end of the day, about a small amount of money and a small number of people.
“I don’t think the Liberal Party needs to be knee-jerk negative on things like the humanitarian intake.
“We have a track record of Liberal governments on refugees which is, I think, historically very good. We seem not to be very proud of that, but we should be.”
Greiner made no criticism of Opposition Leader Peter Dutton or previous Liberal leaders, but he urged a solution to the problem left from Operation Sovereign Borders, which was set up by Scott Morrison as immigration minister after Tony Abbott became prime minister in 2013.
The Coalition policy came months after Labor, under prime minister Kevin Rudd, declared in July 2013 that asylum seekers who came by boat would never be settled in Australia.
Greiner also urged Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to do more, and expressed concern that Labor was “listening” to refugee groups but not acting on the problems.
Immigration Minister Andrew Giles expanded the annual humanitarian intake from 17,875 to 20,000 earlier this month, while Labor delegates urged a further policy change at the party’s national conference last week to accept refugees.
Labor for Refugees gained changes to the party platform to support a gradual increase in the community-sponsored refugee program from 5000 to 10,000 places each year.
Opposition immigration spokesman Dan Tehan has not rejected the increase in the humanitarian intake but has said the Coalition’s policy response will be delivered closer to the next election.
Greiner named the way the Liberal government of then-prime minister Malcolm Fraser accepted thousands of Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s, and the way the Abbott government accepted thousands of Syrian refugees last decade, as examples of a more humane approach.
“I think there’s an opportunity to de-politicise and de-weaponise the debate,” he said.
“I think the Liberal Party needs to think about its brand. And I think it needs to make sure that the charge that the party is ‘mean and nasty’ is not a plausible position.”
Greiner championed a Liberal brand that he called “warm, dry and green” in the 1980s because it sought to be moderate on social policy, dry on economics and protective of the environment.
“I still think that’s the right recipe for the Liberal Party – more so, in fact, 30 or 40 years on,” he said.
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