Coalition defends Dutton's refugee comments

THE Prime Minister and a prominent Queensland LNP senator have defended Immigration Minister Peter Dutton's comment that expanding Australia's refugee intake could lead to "illiterate" asylum seekers taking Australian jobs.

The comment, made by Mr Dutton, in an interview on Sky News late on Tuesday, dominated political debate on the campaign trail yesterday.

He said many people seeking refugee status would not be "numerate or literate in their own language, let alone English" and they "would be taking Australian jobs, there's no question about that".

Mr Dutton told Sky News that while some would take Australian jobs, many would also "languish in unemployment queues and on Medicare and the rest of it".

The PM endorsed Mr Dutton's comments, saying he was an "outstanding" Immigration Minister.

Mr Turnbull said he agreed many refugees might not have completed high school and "large percentages of them have no English skills at all".

Also backing Mr Dutton, long-time LNP Senator Ian MacDonald said he was "not sure of what skills the refugees have".

However, a 2011 Department of Social Services report estimated 75% of refugees had completed high school and up to 35% had a trade qualification or university degree.

The debate has followed the Greens' promise earlier this week to lift the refugee intake from 13,750 a year to 50,000. Labor had previously pledged to raise it to 27,000 over 10 years.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten slammed Mr Dutton for "divisive" comments "Pauline Hanson would have been proud to make".

"Mr Turnbull needs to come out and recognise the damage Mr Dutton's comments are doing," he said.

Migration Council of Australia chief Carla Wilshire said she was "disappointed" by Mr Dutton's comments and urged politicians to "avoid inflammatory language".

She said millions of Australians were descendants of refugees.

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