Peter Dutton says ‘illiterate’ refugees would be ‘taking Australian jobs’

Immigration minister criticises pledges by Labor and the Greens to increase Australia’s refugee intake, claiming it would lead to unemployment.

The immigration minister, Peter Dutton, has said refugees aren’t numerate or literate and would take Australian jobs in inflammatory comments arguing against increasing the refugee intake.

Labor has said the comments are deeply offensive and called on Malcolm Turnbull to “unequivocally reject” them.

On Tuesday evening, Dutton made the remarks on Sky in response to a question about the Greens’ policy to increase the refugee intake to 50,000.

The show’s host, Paul Murray, said 90% of Afghan refugees don’t have a job and asked: “What on God’s Earth are these people suggesting about 50,000 being taken from every hell-hole of the world?”

Dutton responded: “For many people – they won’t be numerate or literate in their own language, let alone English.”

Dutton said the Greens were “very close to the [Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union]” and Labor had “obviously well-known” affiliations with the union movement, implying that increasing the humanitarian intake would be unpopular with unions. “These people would be taking Australian jobs, there’s no question about that.

“For many of them that would be unemployed, they would languish in unemployment queues and on Medicare and the rest of it, so there would be huge cost and there’s no sense in sugar-coating that, that’s the scenario.”

In July the Labor national conference approved a policy mimicking the Coalition’s government’s strategy of turning back refugee boats. At the same conference it approved an increase of the humanitarian intake of refugees from 13,750 to 27,000 by 2025, which was supported by many union delegates.

The shadow treasurer, Chris Bowen, rebuked Dutton for the comments: “There are hundreds of thousands of refugees in Australia who have worked hard, who have educated themselves and their children and they will be shaking their heads at their minister today in disgust. He owes an apology, and it’s not to the Labor party, it’s them.

“Australia takes refugees for the right reasons, because of humane reasons, but we have also benefited over the years from the contribution of refugees. Most Australians would tell him he is just plain wrong.”

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