CANBERRA - Former Victorian Premier Steve Bracks -- a prominent and successful Australian of Lebanese heritage -- sees only a "dangerous slippery-slope" in the Federal Immigration Minister's singling out of the descendants of Muslim refugees from Lebanon.
Peter Dutton insists he has "spoken the truth" in continuing to link terrorism to second and third generation Australians, by repeatedly saying former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser made a mistake in the 1970s in allowing Lebanese Muslins to resettle in Australia.
The comments, from which the Minister has vowed not to back down from and have not been criticised by the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, have hurt and angered members of the Lebanese community.
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) November 23, 2016
Although Dutton is now stressing the "vast majority of Lebanese Australians are law-abiding, hard-working, good decent people," Bracks -- whose great grandparents came to Australia in the 1890s -- said the Minister is causing great damage.
"It is not just a backbencher or an MP starting to talk about race and creed as a principle on which our immigration policy would be determined," Bracks told The Huffington Post Australia.
"It is the Immigration Minister himself and that is quite dangerous."
Steve Bracks, grandson of Lebanese immigrants, 2nd longest serving Premier of Victoria. Dutton would have kept him out. pic.twitter.com/RhRobWW5FG— Mike Carlton (@MikeCarlton01) November 22, 2016
Victoria's 44th, and second longest serving, premier said Australia's immigration policy should be ignorant of race, creed or sectarianism and "that has been broken by Minister Dutton".
"It is irrelevant what country of origin. It is irrelevant what religious background a person has," he told HuffPost Australia.
"Once you decide on that matter you are really dividing the community significantly."
Bracks insists Australia's refugee and migrant intake should have selection based on genuine humanitarian entry, family reunion or by the skills that Australia requires.
He said the waves of migrant communities around Australia, from post the World War II Italian and Greek communities to Asian, African, Eastern Europe and Middle East communities, would be watching the current debate with great concern.
"What it says to them is that another country, another religion could be easily classified as not able to enter Australia in the future," he said.
"That is the slippery slope Mr Dutton would be on, if he was to change his rhetoric to be policy."
Dutton insists he's "not going to be dishonest in this discussion" and he has "spoken the truth".
"The point that I was making is that we should call out the small number within the community -- within the Lebanese community -- who are doing the wrong thing," he told Sydney radio station 2GB.
"You can go through any transcript you like in terms of what I have said. I have been factual in what I have said."
But, Steve Bracks says the emphasis should be on the crime, not race or religion, if a crime is committed by any Australian.
"The full force of the law should be brought to bear. You don't attack race or creed because of a crime committed."
And, for Bracks, if the line of thought is taken to the n'th degree?
"Does that mean retrospectively we should look at, for example, the waves of Vietnamese migrants who came here, of which there was some criminal activity in the gangs which operated, or the Italians in some of the extension of the Mafia? You attack the crime," Bracks insists.
"Waves and waves of migrants have settled here. You have to work with them and support them in their entry and adjustment into Australia and that is very, very important."
"You don't demonise a whole race or religion. Essentially that is the implication of what Mr Dutton has done."