CANBERRA -- Prime Minister Tony Abbott has declared the Government will be “true to its values” as it responds to the Syrian refugee crisis.
Abbott has addressed mounting concern from within his own party that the Government has responded too slowly or not generously enough to what is widely being described as the biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II.
“We will do more,” Abbott told Parliament.
“It will be a decent and a compassionate response, but it will also be a strong response because that's what people expect from a decent country like Australia."
Earlier, the Prime Minister told the joint government party room that the Government would be “true to its values” and consistent with “Australia’s long term interests.”
Abbott also said the government wanted people in Australia who were going to be “good contributors to our country.”
Although a final decision has not yet been made, the Prime Minister has indicated the Government will increase this year’s intake of Syrian refugees, without increasing the overall 13,750 humanitarian places.
A decision is due to be made by the National Security Committee of Cabinet this afternoon based on a video conference briefing from Europe by the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.
In a quick dash to Paris and Geneva, Dutton has met with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, the UNHCR, the International Organisation for Migration and the Red Cross.
A considerable 17 government members addressed the Liberal party room and the joint government party room on the refugee crisis, with many reporting that they felt there had been a “decisive shift” in the mood of the electorate.
One reportedly said it was the “heart beat of the community is that (the government) should respond.”
Liberal MP Ewen Jones is among those on the government’s side calling for a one off immediate extra intake of between 30,000 to 50,000 people.
“We have to make sure we are in this space and we are showing that we are a compassionate people,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“I am a 100 percent on border protection, but this is completely different.”
The Opposition wants an additional intake of 10,000 Syrian refugees, while the Greens and aid groups want double that number.
It was noted on the joint government party room that the community sentiment towards helping the Syrian was not partisan, and that people who had stood by the Government on tough border protection policies, were now urging the government to take in more refugees.
Some MPs sought a focus on taking in persecuted minorities, particularly Christians, as well as taking refugees that “would fit in with the Australian community”.
Earlier, Government Senate Leader, Eric Abetz, backed a focus on Christians on the basis “of need”.
“Given the Christians are the most persecuted group in the world, and especially in the Middle East, I think it stands to reason that they would be pretty high up on the priority list for resettlement,” he told reporters in Canberra.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the government is also weighing up whether Australia has the necessary services to handle a large influx of refugees.
“The fact is we need to resettle people permanently, in the case of persecuted minorities,” she told reporters in Canberra.
“That means ensuring that there is the accommodation and the services, whether it be in health or education or otherwise available for them. These are some of the issues we are working through now.”