MIKE BAIRD: 'To shut our doors to refugees... is to deny our history, to deny our character'

Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images.

New South Wales premier, Mike Baird, has called for Australia to ensure it continues to embrace refugees in an Australia Day address.

His speech at the 32nd Australia Day Lunch in Sydney began with a warning against the politics of anti-immigration saying the country was “potentially at risk of losing what makes Australia the best place in the world to live”.

“To shut our doors to refugees, as many here and around the world are calling for, is to deny our history, to deny our character.”

Baird said that it was important that Australia’s “spirit of generosity and opportunity” was not overshadowed by “fear or ignorance” in the lead-up to Australia Day.

In his address, Baird made reference to lawyer and refugee advocate, Deng Thiak Adut, who was born in South Sudan and conscripted as a child soldier for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.

He was eventually smuggled out of the country and arrived in Australia at the age of 15 before taking up law at Western Sydney University. The former child soldier eventually became the face of a moving advertisement by WSU last year which has been viewed more than 2 million times on YouTube since its release.

“Deng is what happens when generosity meets opportunity,” said Baird.

“My genuine and honest fear is what will happen to Australia if shut people such as Deng out, whether it be out of fear or ignorance.”

Earlier last year, Baird also urged Australia to do more than carry out Operation Sovereign Borders — a security initiative by the government to stop the boats and prevent those from risking their lives and drowning at sea — after a photo of a drowned three-year-old Syrian toddler was posted online.

Australia announced a one-off intake of 12,000 Syrian refugees from Middle Eastern refugee camps in September last year bringing the overall humanitarian intake from 13,750 people to 25,750.

The first family of Syrian refugees arrived in Australia in November but officials are warning that security checks for visa grants could take up to a year.

Australia currently has a large inward migration program which was announced as part of last year’s Budget accommodating up to 190,000 people including skilled migrants and those sponsored by immediate family members.

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