Karen Andrews has welcomed Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil’s decision to visit western Sydney to hear concerns about the repatriation of ISIS brides – but insisted the meeting is “long overdue”.
The Labor government announced it would repatriate dozens of women and children from Syria, but Sydney residents have expressed concerns about community safety.
Ms Andrews told Sky News Australia on Thursday that the Home Secretary’s visit was “long overdue” and it was “time” she spoke to local people about the government’s decision.
“She’s had ample opportunity to do that and frankly she’s been dragged kicking and screaming there, but at least she’s finally showing up,” she told First Edition host Danica de Gorgio.
“Let’s see what kind of reception she gets and if she can come up with the answers that Western Sydney has been crying out for.”
Labor has insisted incoming ISIS brides and their children will continue to be assessed for security risks by multiple agencies.
However, the shadow home secretary claimed the government had disappeared when asked about the measures in place to ensure community safety.
“They’ve ducked and wove, failed to show up, gone overseas and decided they don’t want to talk to anyone,” she said.
“It is the decision of today’s government whether they want to bring back the wives of ISIS terrorists or not, it is entirely up to them to do, but they must be responsible for their actions.
“But frankly, every time you ask the minister a question, all you get is outrage, as if nobody should question any of her decisions, that’s not what a sensible debate should be about.”
Ms O’Neil said the decision to repatriate the women and children had been informed by “individual assessments” and “very detailed work by national security agencies”.
“My concern is for the national security of Australians who are in Australia full stop, that’s the prism through which I see this,” she said.
“As Australian citizens, these women and children will have an ongoing right to re-enter our country – we need to deal with this issue.”
She will travel to the suburbs of Fairfield, Merrylands and Wetherill Park on Friday to meet with local mayors and community groups to discuss the repatriation programme.
Fairfield Mayor Frank Carbone told Channel Nine’s Today the community would fight to ensure the new arrivals were not resettled in western Sydney.
“We want to make it absolutely clear that we do not want them resettled in western Sydney, we are not a dumping ground for the government,” he said on Thursday.
“The government tried to dump Kristina Keneally here not too long ago and we sent her back, so we certainly will not accept the ISIS brides to be resettled here in western Sydney.
“We are now having discussions with other councils and if the government is not sensitive to those who have been persecuted, we need to understand that these people came from a prison camp from abroad, it was not a refugee camp.”
Independent Fowler MP Dai Le – who has called on the government to communicate better about the program – has also been invited to the meetings.
“I have been contacted by quite a few members of the church and people who say they are very scared and too scared to speak up because many of their families are still back there and in a region controlled by ISIS ,” she told Sky News Australia earlier this month.
“There is a large portion of those communities in the Fowler electorate, approximately 10 to 14 percent are from that background, and in the last few days many of them have reached out to me and raised concerns.”
Four Australian women and 13 children arrived in Sydney in October after the government announced it would repatriate them from Syria’s al-Roj camp – where they had been living since the fall of Islamic State in 2019.
The Australian-born women were married to radicalized members of the terror organization but fled and returned safely to Australia after an ASIO operation saw a further 43 women and children repatriated.