Australia’s prime minister denied Friday that either he or his immigration minister had seen a leaked government document proposing changes to the country’s humanitarian resettlement policy, including additional screening of Syrian refugees.
According to a draft document marked “sensitive” obtained by news broadcaster ABC, measures including the blocking of direct access to permanent residency and improved methods of assessing migrants’ suitability are aimed at keeping the country clear of “extremists”.
"In the first half of 2016 the minister for immigration and border protection will bring forward proposals to reform the visa framework and remove direct access to permanent residents to better align visa and citizenship decision-making with national security and community protection outcomes," the document says.
It underlines that of the 12,000 additional Syrian refugees the government announced would be brought to Australia, some "will bring issues, beliefs or associations that lead them to advocate or engage in politically motivated or communal violence".
The document also refers to the country’s Lebanese community as the "most prominent ethnic group amongst Australian Sunni extremists", describing those taken in at the time of the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war as “largely from the poorer and uneducated Lebanese Muslim population".
Marked “protected” and “cabinet’, it is believed to consist of recommendations for the immigration minister to present to the National Security Committee.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters Friday that he could not comment on the document’s status as he was unaware of it.
"As far as future policies are concerned, I can assure you that in terms of people's rights, that there is only one class of citizenship in Australia," the Australian Associated Press quoted him as saying in Canberra.
He stressed that all citizens possessed the same rights and obligations, including obeying the law -- “so that applies whether you were born here or whether you took out your citizenship last week."
While Immigration Minister Peter Dutton also said he had not seen the document, he insisted he would not apologize over the issue of screening refugees.
"We are going to be tough in terms of the screening processes because we want to afford refuge to those people who are refugees," ABC quoted him as saying.
"This is a very serious time for our country, for Western democracies... people will pretend to be refugees when they're not," he added.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has responded to the leak by calling it an indication of "internal war" and “a most disturbing development” in which “national security documents are being leaked by people within the Turnbull Government to embarrass the Turnbull Government."
The opposition’s immigration spokesperson has expressed great concern if the leak of the “dangerous’ document was meant as a "kite-flying" exercise.
"If we take the leap that every Sunni Muslim is a potential terrorist that is an appalling step to take," he told ABC radio, drawing a comparison between the proposal and immigration policies of the 1950s.
"This verges dangerously down the path of putting in place a discriminatory immigration policy," he said. "If this is where the Government wants to take us, we are returning to a very dark past indeed."
The Lebanese Muslim Association condemned the document for its representation of their community, with its President Samier Dandan underlining that "[s]uch sentiments only exacerbate community tensions.”
According to ABC, the document refers to links between Australia’s “humanitarian intake” and terrorist attacks in the country.
It points to the cases of an 18-year-old of Afghan background who stabbed two officers in Melbourne in Sept. 2014, an Iranian-born gunman who laid siege to a Sydney cafe in Jan. 2014, and a 15-year-old boy of Iraqi Kurdish descent who killed a police accountant in Parramatta in October.
Each crisis ended with the perpetrators being shot dead.