How Australia stood up to minister's 'illiterate migrants' comments

Australia's Immigration Minister Peter Dutton speaks to the media at Parliament House on May 3, 2016 in Canberra Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Peter Dutton may not want to go online for a while

When Australia's immigration minister spoke out about the level of literacy and numeracy among migrants late on Tuesday, he was addressing what has become one of the hot potatoes of this election season.

With the build-up to the 2 July vote now in full swing, Peter Dutton responded to proposals by the opposition Labor party to increase annual refugee numbers from 13,750 to 27,000.

"They won't be numerate or literate in their own language, let alone English," he told Sky News. "These people would be taking Australian jobs, there's no question about that."

At this point, it is important to point out that 26% of the population of Australia is foreign-born. That's some 5.8m people, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), with a fair few voters among them.

In the hours after Mr Dutton's interview, plenty of those people, their children and their supporters took to social media to respond.

Image copyright Twitter/@Kon_K
Image caption Kon Karapanagiotidis, the founder of Australia's Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, responded soon after the interview
Image copyright Twitter/@Kon_K
Image caption Mr Dutton did not reply to the question
Image copyright Twitter/@sabinahusic
Image caption Sabina Husic, who works on the media team of Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews, of the opposition Labor Party, found herself trending in Sydney after this tweet
Image copyright Twitter/@MariamVeiszadeh
Image caption Lawyer Mariam Veiszadeh, who works with the Welcome to Australia campaign to support refugees, was one of many to use the hashtag #Soilliterate

While many people took issue with Mr Dutton's comments about literacy levels, others spoke out about what they saw as stereotyping of migrants and refugees, and went on to highlight what some immigrants had gone on to achieve in Australia.

Image copyright Twitter/@Raymartin55
Image caption Veterans campaigner Ray Martin shared this photo of Munjed al-Muderis

A number of people mentioned the work of Munjed al-Muderis, a surgeon who fled Iraq after ignoring army orders to cut off the ears of deserters. He arrived in Australia by boat, and went on to become one of the country's most prominent orthopaedic surgeons, known for his work helping amputees.

Another prominent refugee is Hieu Van Le, the governor of the state of South Australia, who travelled to Australia by boat in 1977 having fled his native Vietnam.

Image copyright Twitter/@Kon_K
Image copyright Twitter/@umabp
Image caption Sky News Australia's New Zealand correspondent Uma Patel shared her family's story

A handful of people online gave their backing to Mr Dutton but they were drowned out by the voices of opposition. His fellow Liberal members of parliament also stood up for him.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull defended Mr Dutton, calling him an "outstanding" immigration minister.

Mr Turnbull said: "People that are coming out of the war-ravaged areas, out of the Horn of Africa and other places in the world, of course they have - many of them have never been employed. Many of them have not had very much education. Many of them are illiterate in their own languages."

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop later agreed with Mr Dutton over his concerns jobs would be lost to refugees.

Mr Dutton's office then released statistics to back up his statement - or at least that was the intention.

Image copyright Twitter/@danielaritorto
Image caption Former BBC presenter, and current SBS senior political correspondent, Daniela Ritorto pointed out the discrepancy in Mr Dutton's statements

But, having looked in detail at Mr Dutton's comments, it was radio presenter Lewis Hobba who had the last word:

Image copyright Twitter/@LewisHobba

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