CANBERRA -- The Federal Opposition has urged the Prime Minister to “seize the moment” of the world’s refugee crisis and has proposed an immediate 10,000 boost to number of refugees Australia’s accepts every year.
The call comes as Tony Abbott virtually confirms the government is about accept a U.S. request to expand Australian air strikes to Islamic State targets in Syria.
“Should we choose to extend our air strikes into Syria, we will be doing this in the collective self-defence of Iraq,” Abbott told parliament.
“We would be doing this out of a responsibility to protect innocent people at risk of horrible death from the most violent people imaginable.
“We would be doing this in defence of our own country.”
The National Security Committee of Cabinet is due to make a decision on Tuesday.
“When people are threatening our country, when people inspire others to attack our country, this Government will react with decency and with force and with force,” Abbott declared.
“We will not hesitate from doing what is necessary to keep our country safe.”
Earlier, Labor Leader Bill Shorten said the world is facing the greatest peace-time refugee crisis since World War II and declared Australia should to “dig a little deeper” to help those in need.
“Labor is calling today for a one-off increase in our humanitarian intake of refugees from 13,750, for an additional 10,000 refugees caught up in a conflict not of their making,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“We are proposing a significant increase because this is a significant crisis.”
Abbott told parliament that Australia will do more.
“I can inform the house that it is the Government's firm intention to take a significant number of people from Syria this year," he said.
"We will give people refuge. That is the firm intention of this Government.”
The Prime Minister declined to give details but it will involve more money.
“We have already provided a strong humanitarian response to the problems in the Middle East and that response will be stronger within coming days,” he said.
Labor’s proposal put yet more pressure on Abbott who is experiencing an outcry from within a growing cohort his own party to do more for the millions of Syrian people fleeing conflict.
The Prime Minister announced on Sunday that Australia was inclined to “step up” and accept more Syrian refugees, but he is standing firm on not increasing the nation’s overall refugee intake.
The Opposition admitted there would be a substantial cost to the proposal but the shadow Immigration spokesman Richard Marles said more must be done.
“Tony Abbott needs to seize this moment and demonstrate some leadership," he said.
Abbott on Sunday dispatched Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to speak with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres.