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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull stands up for Immigration Minister Peter Dutton

AAP logoAAP 22/11/2016 Paul Osborne

Malcolm Turnbull insists his immigration minister is right to point out there are lessons to be learned from past government policies.

Peter Dutton has been criticised for blaming Fraser government immigration policies for problems such as radicalisation and gang violence 30 years on.

Mr Dutton added to his comments in parliament yesterday by saying 22 of the past 33 people charged with terrorism-related offences in Australia were from second- and third-generation Lebanese Muslim backgrounds.

The comments sparked a debate in the coalition party room today, with one Liberal MP saying the government needed to be much more careful with the "tone" of remarks about immigration.

The MP said it was important to maintain the goodwill of ethnic communities.

However, other MPs threw their support behind Mr Dutton.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. © AAP Image/Lukas Coch Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. The prime minister told reporters in Canberra the minister was entitled to reflect on past policies.

"If you talk to people ... of very long experience in this area, you'll understand that the move to a more skills-based migration program was based on the conclusion that previous policies had not been as effective as they could be," Mr Turnbull said.

He described Mr Dutton as a "thoughtful, committed and compassionate immigration minister".

Labor leader Bill Shorten was critical of the minister in a caucus meeting.

"In the Labor party, we don't call people second- and third-generation migrants. We call them Australians," he said.

Mr Turnbull said without doubt the "greatest failure of immigration policy" occurred under Labor, which outsourced immigration to people smugglers, allowing 50,000 unauthorised arrivals and 1200 deaths at sea.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks with Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. © AAP Image/Dean Lewins Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks with Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. Nationals MP George Christensen wrote on his Facebook page a review of the Lebanese intake had found "concerns about health and character requirements, personal qualities and the migrants' ability to integrate".

He noted the families moved to "the same southwest Sydney enclave".

"The dysfunction that Fraser's open slather immigration policy caused is still being felt today. Many of the second and third generation of these migrants have been locked in a monocultural enclave that breeds extremism," Mr Christensen wrote.

Liberal MP Michael Sukkar, who comes from a Lebanese Christian background, is understood to have backed the minister in the party room.

Labor frontbencher Chris Bowen, whose western Sydney seat has a large migrant population, said the minister's comments had brought the debate to a new low.

"I've had many people contact me to say 'Well, I don't think my parents or grandparents coming here was a mistake because I've gone on and contributed to this country. I've worked hard, I've started a small business, my children are at university, my children are doctors'," he told ABC radio.

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