Senator David Fawcett made the statement while responding to Employment Minister Michaelia Cash in a senate estimates hearing at Parliament House today.
Senator David Fawcett made the statement while responding to Employment Minister Michaelia Cash in a senate estimates hearing at Parliament House today. AAP Image - Alan Porritt

Liberal senator refers to refugees as 'fleas'

A LIBERAL senator has described asylum seekers as "fleas" while quizzing the Immigration Department over border protection.

And another Liberal senator has praised the description as "nicely put".

Senator David Fawcett made the statement while responding to Employment Minister Michaelia Cash in a senate estimates hearing at Parliament House today.

Minister Cash had defended the Turnbull Government's track record on border protection by saying it was "still trying to clean up" a mess left by the former Labor government.

Senator Fawcett, a panel member of the estimates hearing, responded: "I'll leave it there, I just question the ethics of nitpicking when your particular group brought the fleas in the first place."

Senator Ian MacDonald said the description of refugees was “nicely put”.
Senator Ian MacDonald said the description of refugees was “nicely put”. News Corp Australia

Senator Ian Macdonald, who made headlines this month by defending the Life Gold Pass for retired politicians, laughingly said "Nicely put."

Shadow Immigration Minister Shayne Neumann later called on the senators to immediately apologise for their comments.

"It is beyond belief that a Turnbull Government senator would ever refer to vulnerable people seeking asylum as fleas, and even worse, to have other Coalition senators laugh, cheer and eagerly agree," Mr Neumann told News Corp.

"Senators Fawcett and MacDonald should immediately apologise for their comments and start treating Australia's humanitarian program with the respect and seriousness it deserves."

Meantime, a refugee deal between Australia and the US has stalled under Donald Trump's executive order to review America's migrant vetting processes.

No asylum seekers on Manus Island or Nauru have been vetted by Homeland Security yet as officials have not been directed by the US Government to begin the process.

It's thrown into doubt whether refugees in Australia's offshore detention centres will be resettled in the US in "the next couple of months", as Immigration Minister Peter Dutton claimed last week.

Immigration and Border Protection secretary Michael Pezzullo today confirmed the US vetting process was "poised" to begin but had not yet started.

Mr Pezzullo could not give a date of when the Trump Administration would direct Homeland Security officials to begin the vetting process but said it would be in "the foreseeable future".

It was expected there would be movement to begin vetting "in the next several months", he said.

"It's been made very clear and amply clear publicly that the US system has been directed by the US President to put in place revised vetting protocols and systems expeditiously, so I don't

suppose it's going to take a long time but that's a matter for a foreign government of course," Mr Pezzullo told the senate estimates hearing.

Greens Senator Nick McKim questioned whether the US could simply take none of the refugees on Manus Island and Nauru under the as-yet-unknown US vetting threshold.

Mr Pezzullo responded: "I presume the US potentially could set their threshold so they take no refugees from anywhere in the world."

"The President has indicated that they're looking with this program here to take 50,000 refugees, so I assume they'll have their settings at a rate that allows them to follow through on that commitment," he said.

Mr Pezzullo said the Trump Administration had indicated it would take 1250 refugees, as announced by White House press secretary Sean Spicer, if they passed the vetting process.

Earlier this month, President Trump tweeted he would look at the "dumb deal" which had been made between Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and former US President Barack Obama.

After days of uncertainty, the White House confirmed the US would honour the deal with its long-time ally.

It was also revealed at the estimates' hearing today that two people trying to claim asylum had been recently deported from the detention centres after having been found not to be refugees.

The two people were deported to Nepal.

Two others had been deported in previous years.

News Corp Australia

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