If you drop bombs on Syria you should take its refugees, Q&A told | Australia news
It is much easier to drop bombs on Syria than to provide safe haven to people fleeing the conflict, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, told ABC’s Q&A program on Monday night.
Roth said Australia should increase its refugee intake in response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. On Saturday, the US, France and the UK launched military strikes on Syria after reports of chemical weapons attacks on civilians.
“The irony here is that it’s much easier to bomb Syria in response to [president Bashar al-] Assad’s atrocities than it is to [accept] refugees who are fleeing this. We should do the hard thing,” Roth said.
“Every wealthy government that has means should be bringing in far more refugees.”
Roth’s call was backed by Labor’s veteran’s affairs spokeswoman, Amanda Rishworth, who said the country “can be more generous and ... accept more refugees”.
But the comments from American-based Roth drew scorn from Grahame Morris, the former chief of staff to then-prime minister John Howard, in what proved the minor flashpoint of an otherwise sedate discussion.
“I’m getting a bit sick of people like Ken from overseas giving us curry,” Morris said. “We’re getting lectures from people from overseas saying: ‘Hey, you’ve got to do more.’ Are people who queue and do the right thing somehow less worthy than people who come in through the back door?”
Roth responded: “People who are facing death and persecution don’t have the option to queue. They’ve got to get out.”
Songwriter Missy Higgins said Australia’s treatment of refugees fleeing places like Syria was “just really appalling”.
When discussion turned to a question on religious freedom, Roth argued that people cited religious freedom to justify acts of bigotry and discrimination.
He said the government, which is conducting a religious freedom review after the vote to legalise gay marriage, needed to draw the line to prevent religion being used to justify mistreatment.
“Religious freedom is about personal beliefs,” Roth said. “No one can tell you about what god to pray to, or how you are going to pray, or who you are going to get together with when you pray. Those are all critical elements of freedom of religion.
“On the other hand, some people cite freedom of religion to justify mistreating others and that’s where you have to draw the line. For example, when people say: ‘I’m not going to bake a cake in my bakery for a gay couple.’ That’s bigotry, that’s discrimination. That’s not freedom of religion, and it’s important to make that clear.
“How we treat other people is a matter for discrimination laws ... it’s not a matter for our religious freedom, our personal beliefs.”
The communications minister, Mitch Fifield, raised concern that any legislation designed to protect religious freedom could “create a problem that didn’t previously exist”.
“In trying to fix a problem you [can] codify what you don’t want to be acceptable into being accepted.”
Morris said it was a “no-brainer” that churches should be exempt from performing gay weddings, but that the review needed to look at other cases.
“What about a country hall, where the council is a bit uncomfortable?” Morris said.
In a wide-ranging discussion, which also touched on Facebook and the role of celebrities in public debate, Morris revealed that senior ministers “from the prime minister on down” have been alarmed by attempted cyberespionage attacks on Australian agencies.
“They are seeing stuff that’s really got ’em spooked,” Morris said.
“There have been a number of would-be attacks on various government departments, various government agencies from the outside and it’s really got them worried.”
Fifield said electronic means provided a new avenue for espionage.
“We need to be vigilant, not just around our traditional adversaries but also those who have technology and who aren’t necessarily part of a state organisation.”