Australia's immigration minister is accused of xenophobia after saying that 'illiterate' refugees would be 'taking Australian jobs.'

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton speaks to the media at the Parliament House on May 3, 2016 in Canberra, Australia.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton speaks to the media at the Parliament House on May 3, 2016 in Canberra, Australia. (TRT World and Agencies)

Australia's immigration minister was accused of xenophobia after he said increasing the nation's refugee intake would lead to "illiterate and innumerate" people claiming welfare or taking local jobs.

Peter Dutton was responding to proposals by the Labour opposition to boost Australia's annual refugee intake from 13,750 to 27,000 while the Greens want it raised to 50,000 as they outline policies ahead of national elections on July 2.

"For many people they won't be numerate or literate in their own language let alone English and this is a difficulty," Dutton told Sky News late Tuesday.

"Now, these people would be taking Australian jobs, there's no question about that.

Hours after Dutton’s controversial comments, Australian’s took to social media to respond.

Labour frontbencher Chris Bowen, a former immigration minister, said the country had benefited hugely from the contribution of refugees over the years and criticised Dutton's comments.

"There are hundreds of thousands of refugees in Australia who've worked hard, who've educated themselves and their children and they will be shaking their heads at their minister today, in disgust frankly," he told reporters.

"If Peter Dutton owes anybody an apology it's not the Labour Party, it's them."

The comments also drew sharp reactions from Labour and the small left-wing opposition Greens Party, which is arguing for the intake quota to be increased to 50,000 people.

Labour leader Bill Shorten blasted Dutton and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for lowering the tone of the election.

"Mr Dutton didn't just insult refugees when he made those comments. He insulted the millions of migrants who've contributed to making this a truly great country," Shorten told reporters.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young called the comments "xenophobic" in a Twitter post.

But Dutton won support from Foreign Minister Julie Bishop who said he was only being realistic about the cost of resettling even more refugees.

"Peter Dutton is pointing out the very real cost involved in issuing humanitarian and refugee visas," she said.

While Canberra has a hard-line policy on asylum-seekers arriving by boat, sending them to Pacific island camps and refusing to settle them in Australia, it agreed last September to a special intake of an additional 12,000 refugees from the Syria-Iraq conflict.

It is also gradually lifting its annual refugee intake -- to 16,250 in 2017–18 and to 18,750 the following year.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies