Caroline Overington, The Australian, July 19, 2016
“I want to feel safe.” With those five words, television presenter Sonia Kruger kicked off a national conversation about Muslim immigration: specifically, how much is too much?
Kruger, a dancer, singer and actor, was speaking yesterday to colleagues Lisa Wilkinson and David Campbell on the Nine Network’s Today show when she called for an end to Muslim immigration in Australia.
“There is a correlation between the number of people who are Muslim in a country and the number of terrorism attacks,” she said, adding: “You’re not allowed to talk about it.”
Twitter critics were instantly en garde, calling Kruger a bigot and a racist, both terms she strongly denied. “As a mother, I believe it’s vital in a democratic society to be able to discuss these issues without automatically being labelled racist.”
Social media ran hot all day, with Twitter–which tends to lean Left–running strongly against Kruger, while Facebook–arguably more mainstream–finding many supporters.
Jennie Lynne, for example, went on Kruger’s Facebook page to say: “Thanks for being a voice for so many of us Aussies wanting our country to be safe. We are judged and condemned by those who are blind to what is obvious.”
Others were quick to try to discredit her views.
Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane tweeted: “This stereotyping of Muslims does nothing but breed hate . . . let’s speak out against it.”
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told The Australian yesterday that he could “certainly understand” why Australians might be concerned about national security in the wake of terror attacks by Islamic fundamentalists in Belgium and France, both of which had high levels of Muslim immigration. “I want to assure Australians that we do consider whether a person poses a risk to Australia,” he said.
“We don’t look at religion, but we do ask: is that person going to make the most of the opportunity to come to Australia? Are they seeking to do harm?”
Muslim immigrants have been coming to Australia since at least the 19th century, and yet there is little doubt that governments of all stripes have, in recent years, engaged in a deliberate strategy to pursue skilled migrants, students and persecuted minority groups, ahead of Muslim refugees.
More than 65 per cent of the immigrants who arrived in Australia in 2014-15, for example, came in under the skilled migration program, with 38 per cent of them employer-sponsored.
Muslim refugees also have to fight for a limited number of places under the humanitarian program, which in recent years has taken large numbers of refugees from Sri Lanka–who tend not to be Muslim–as well as Christian refugees from Syria, and Tibetans.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott, who made it his business to “stop the boats” of mostly Muslim asylum-seekers from arriving without permission, said the migration program was “more to do with finding people who want to join Team Australia”.
“Our immigration program should be very closely aligned to Australia’s national interest,” he said. “We run a program that is vigorously in Australia’s best interests and the personal challenge for Muslims is to make the most of the opportunity to join Team Australia.”
Asked if Kruger’s supporters were right to feel afraid, Mr Abbott said: “We need to face the future with confidence but it’s easier to be confident when you know the challenge you face, and dealing with radical Islam is one of the great existential challenges of our time. In my view it’s very hard to reconcile what’s in the Koran with a modern, secular, pluralist democracy.”
Mr Dutton noted that the Coalition had been “criticised by Labor because of the length of time it took to accept people from Syria and Iraq but the reason it takes time is because we have one of the most robust security systems in the world.
“It’s not about race or religion, but if there is any inkling at all that a person may pose a threat to Australia, they won’t be coming, because as we’ve seen in Europe, we do have to make sure our system is the toughest in the world.”
Malcolm Turnbull said in Canberra that Australia “has a non-discriminatory immigration program and a non-discriminatory humanitarian program, and has done for many, many years, and that is not going to change.”
The Nine Network resisted calls on social media for Kruger to apologise, saying: “Our view is that we believe in freedom of speech . . . Sonia, David and Lisa each expressed a variety of opinions on the show this morning.”
Kruger said she agreed with US presidential candidate Donald Trump, who wants to stop Muslim migration. “Personally, I’d like to see it stop now for Australia.”
She instanced Japan, with its small Muslim population, saying it did not experience terror attacks by Islamic extremists.
“I want to feel safe, as all of our citizens do when they go out to celebrate Australia Day, and I’d like to see freedom of speech.” Former immigration minister Philip Ruddock said the wave of support for Kruger on social media “isn’t surprising. It’s to do with events in France, in Belgium.
“People are concerned: could it happen here? In and around Paris and Lyon, there are no-go areas, or ghettos. We don’t have that here and that is because our priority has long been to focus on immigration in the national interest, and that will involve screening people who have a propensity for criminal activity. We live in a multicultural, cohesive society and that should never change.
“That said, the humanitarian program must be skewed toward those who need our help most.”
Islamic Friendship Association founder Keysar Trad told The Australian he was “heartbroken” by Kruger’s comments, saying she had been in his home, and met his family.
“She could see we were everyday Australians, just like anyone else, trying to raise our kids and do the right thing. I thought she was better informed.”
Muslim advocate Jamal Rifi also voiced deep concern about Kruger’s comments, but stopped short of calling them hate speech.
“You look at what these attacks around the world have in common, and being a Muslim is one of them, but so are other major factors like mental health issues, social isolation . . . There is more to it than being a Muslim.”