CANBERRA -- Malcolm Turnbull has refused to join in the Immigration Minister's critique of Australian Muslims of Lebanese background and his attack on the legacy of former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, but says Peter Dutton is "compassionate" and "doing an outstanding job".
Yesterday in federal parliament, Dutton singled out Lebanese-Muslims and linked terrorism to second and third generation Australians as he doubled down on his attack on Fraser's immigration legacy.
In remarks that have hurt and angered the Australia-Lebanese community, Dutton suggested the former Liberal Prime Minister has made a mistake in letting people of Lebanese-Muslim background into Australia, citing as evidence the small group of people who have been charged with terrorism offences.
"The advice I have is that out of the last 33 people who have been charged with terrorist-related offences in this country, 22 of those people are from second- and third-generation Lebanese-Muslim background," the Minister told parliament.
Asked three times upon his return from the APEC summit what he thought of the Minister's analysis, Turnbull cited Peter Dutton's efforts in the role and said he is "doing an outstanding job as immigration minister".
Specifically asked whether he supported the Minister's critique of the descendants of migrants, the Prime Minister refused to join in. He also refused to name Lebanese Muslims as a cohort.
Turnbull did, however, concede that the immigration system may need improvement and the minister was "entitled" to reflect on the past.
"There is no question that there are lessons to be learned from previous immigration policies and the minister was reflecting on, you know, on policies many years ago," he said.
"He's entitled to do that."
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"I'm not making any comment on his remarks other than to say that it's fairly fair for all of us to reflect on past policies and how effective they were or not and seek to improve, in the light of that, to improve what we're doing now."
The Prime Minister may not have supported Dutton's words, but he doubled down on his support for the Minister.
"Now, Peter Dutton is a thoughtful and committed and compassionate Immigration Minister," he declared.
"He's keeping our borders secure. He's seeking to ensure there are viable, durable resettlement options for people that Labor sent to Manus and Nauru."
"He's closed 17 detention centres. There are no kids in detention in Australia whereas there were 2,000 under the Labor Party."
"You know, the Labor Party is constantly envious of Dutton's record as an Immigration Minister, because every day, by his effectiveness, he demonstrates what failures they were when they were responsible for our nation's borders."
Labor's Tony Burke, who has a high proportion of Muslims living in his south-west Sydney electorate, is outraged.
"You have to go back a very long way in Australia's history to find a minister for immigration arguing that immigration decisions should be based on race or religion. A very long way," he told reporters in Canberra.
"And let's make it clear, that is the argument that Peter Dutton is making, because he's not arguing that Malcolm Fraser made a mistake because of who he let in. He's arguing that the people he let in then had grandchildren and that there should have been foresight about the grandchildren.
"We are on new territory with what Peter Dutton has said in the Parliament".