The government deserves credit for offering to take 12,000 permanent Syrian refugees, beyond our existing humanitarian intake. Australia is a wealthy country that can and should do more for refugees, and it certainly should step up to play its part in response to a global refugee crisis created by the Syrian civil war.

But other aspects of its announcement today are deeply concerning — in particular, the announcement that the refugees will only come from “persecuted minorities” and that Australia will extend its air campaign against Islamic State into Syria.

We now know that the United States didn’t ask us to go to war with IS in Syria — we begged the US to allow us to join its war, just as previous Australian governments have begged to join previous wars. Abbott wants to go to war because he thinks that keeping the focus on national security will distract from his many deficiencies at home.

But bombing Islamic State in Syria won’t make us safer, and it won’t put an end to death and displacement in that region.

As independent MP Andrew Wilkie said in Parliament yesterday:

“When we helped invade Iraq 12 and a half years ago, we helped create the instability which racks the region to this day. When we gave diplomatic support to the Syrian rebels, we effectively gave diplomatic support to Islamic State, which was one of the rebels. And we now find ourselves in this ludicrous situation where we supported the rebels, but we’re now going to bomb them. We’re now going to bomb the enemy of president Assad.”

And as we wrote in this spot yesterday, selectively choosing refugees by faith will only give fuel to the fire of Islamic State, which feeds off the anger of young Muslim men towards the West.

The government had the opportunity to show Australia at its very best. But today’s announcement raises many questions about who exactly we believe deserves to benefit from our generosity.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey