NSW LIBERAL Democratic Senator David Leyonhjelm is calling on the Australian government to take diplomatic action on the “developing crisis” in South Africa due to the government’s controversial policy of taking farmland without compensation.
Senator Leyonhjelm said he wrote to Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop in recent days asking her to take up the issue of South Africa’s treatment of farmers, in international forums.
He said he’s urged her to join with other governments to let the South African government know ‘this is not acceptable and is against international norms and you can’t do that with impunity’.
Senator Leyonhjelm said he’d also written to Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to call for action, after the issue flared up in recent weeks, saying the Coalition government should be “generous” towards allowing visas allowing entry into Australia for any South African farmers in distress, including under the humanitarian intake, if need be.
He said the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) also needed to take a “sensible position” on the matter, given it was impacting other farmers and could benefit the local agricultural sector.
“The NFF is a farmers’ organisation so talking about the plight of farmers you’d think they might take a position on it but the NFF is inclined to be timid on most issues,” he said.
“You’d like to think they might overcome their timidity and take up a position on it - but this is not a five minute issue.
“This is going to be around for years to come so that’s plenty of time for the NFF to get their head around it and come to a sensible position.”
Senator Leyonhjelm said South Africa was facing a “developing crises” with many reports suggesting that 400 white farmers had been killed in the past 12 months and they were also being forced off their land, as the new policy was implemented through African National Congress (ANC) and its new leader and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“A motion passed in the South African parliament recently which calls for expropriation of land without compensation of white farmers,” he said.
“There’s also statements made by various political leaders like Julius Malema in support of the policy, so there’s a series of signs suggesting things are not looking good.
“We have the experience of Zimbabwe to South Africa’s north where under Mugabe white farmers were forced out, killed and driven off their land and they also had their land expropriated.
“Zimbabwe went from being a very, very productive agricultural country producing all of its own food and exporting it, to importing their own food – it just destroyed their agricultural sector.
“We know the consequences for the economy and of course there’s the human cost.
“My concern is that it must stop.
“The first priority should be for the Australian government to join with other governments in telling the South African government ‘we know what you’re doing and we want you to stop it’.
“Just because the history of apartheid was whites suppressing blacks it does not justify blacks supressing and persecuting whites.
“It’s also unconstitutional in South Africa to seize land without compensation in any event, so you have to respect your own constitution.
“The South African constitution also has the protection of human rights.”
Senator Leyonhjelm said Ms Bishop’s first priority should be to convince the South African government that it wasn’t in their interests to allow the situation to gather any more momentum.
“But having said that, clearly there’s a risk that it might and people may suffer because of it and South African farmers will be driven off their land and fleeing for their own safety,” he said.
“Under those circumstances, my view is Australia should be helping them.
“They are farmers and we can do with more farmers because we have an ageing farming population in Australia and South Africa has similar geographic conditions to what we have here.
“They’d obviously be valuable contributors to our agriculture.
“We should be very welcoming to them if they decide they’ve got no future in South Africa and they want to come here.
“Ideally you’d let them in as skilled migrants but if they didn’t qualify I’d like to think our government can take a fairly generous approach to that and say, given their circumstances and what’s happened to them, and what’s motivated them to come to Australia, ‘we should take a very generous approach and welcome them’.”
Senator Leyonhjelm said another way of letting the fleeing South African farmers into Australia was under the humanitarian program.
“We take normally 13,000 to 14,000 refugees per year and it has got up to about 20,000 in the last 12 months because of a special intake of Syrians,” he said.
“There’s a lot of competition for those places and you'd hope South African farmers wouldn’t be so persecuted that they’d qualify as refugees but arguably that’s what the situation developed into in Zimbabwe so I think we should be dismissive of that possibility.
“We’re not there yet but if we do reach that situation I’d like to think those farmers forced off their land in those circumstances would have a safe country to come too.”
Senior political leaders chime in
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the situation was best handled by the Immigration Minister but he didn’t consider South Africa was uncivilised.
“We've got a cricket series being played there at the moment and it’s a bit robust as well,” he said.
“I'm sure that, on a bilateral and international basis, we will sort it out in the best interests of all concerned.
“I'm sure that'll be done in a very diplomatic way.”
Opposition leader Bill Shorten said some media reports would indicate that some farmers are experiencing difficulty in South Africa.
“I have to say though that I also read media reports that other South Africans can be the victims of crime,” he said.
“Let's go to the heart of the matter here: we have a non-discriminatory immigration system.
“It doesn't matter who you are, if you're facing persecution you've got the right to apply for protection.
“That could equally go for South Sudanese people, refugees or white refugees in South Africa if they're there.
“For me what matters is that a case should be assessed on its merits, if there are applicants the Department should be allowed to do its job and assess them.
“For me it is not the skin colour of the refugee or the victim that matters to me; its whether or not they're the victim of a crime and that's the way we treat people in Australia and if that's the way we treat people in Australia I think that's a sensible principle to apply across the world.”
Trade Minister Steve Ciobo said the Australian Government can only do so much but had a “very rigorous” and “very generous” refugee program.
“The Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, is doing an outstanding job of making sure we retain integrity, while also being compassionate,” he said.
“He said he's having a close look at events that are unfolding in South Africa and I think that that's a good outcome.
“The actual details in terms of how the process works are better answered by the Minister of Home Affairs, not by me, I won't have the depth of knowledge about how each program actually works.
“But let's be frank, if we see in this case, people who are being thrown off their land, being persecuted, I've read some harrowing reports of people being shot, of rapes, of all sorts of things, then I do believe that there's a role to be played.
“Australia does have a very generous refugee program, we continue to provide safe haven for refugees from around the world and of course, we would also look at what we can do in this particular case.”
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The story Political action urged to assist fleeing South African farmers first appeared on Farm Online.