Critics 'dead to me', says Australian minister in SAfrica farmers row

Sydney (AFP) - A senior minister vowed Thursday to press on with a plan to bring white South African farmers to Australia, hitting out at criticism from "crazy lefties" who he said were "dead to me".

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton sparked uproar last week by singling out the farmers' need to flee "horrific circumstances" for a "civilised country".

He is examining whether they deserve "special attention" for acceptance on refugee or humanitarian grounds, which led to South Africa hauling in Australia's envoy to Pretoria for a dressing down and a demand that he retract the comments.

It also set off claims at home that Dutton was a racist amid fears that it signalled a return to the "White Australia" policy, referring to laws in place for seven decades from 1901 that prevented non-white immigrants settling Down Under.

Dutton, who has drawn criticism in the past for cracking down on asylum-seekers from Asia and the Middle East, is unfazed.

He insisted he was blind to skin colour and would bring in migrants based on national interest.

"It concerns me that people are being persecuted at the moment -- that's the reality -- the numbers of people dying or being savagely attacked in South Africa is a reality," he told 2GB commercial radio.

"We're looking at ways we can help people to migrate to Australia if they're finding themselves in that situation."

He said the backlash "meant nothing to me", while attacking several media outlets for their coverage.

"Some of the crazy lefties at the ABC, and on The Guardian, Huffington Post, can express concern and draw mean cartoons about me and all the rest of it," he said.

"They don't realise how completely dead they are to me."

According to police, 74 farmers were murdered between 2016 and 2017 in South Africa, which has one of the world's highest crime rates.

Dutton made his initial offer in response to Pretoria's vow to enact land "expropriation without compensation" to redress land confiscations of the colonial and apartheid era.

He said he had been inundated with messages of support since.

"If people think I'm going to cower or take a backward step because of their nonsense, fabricated, fake news criticism, then they've got another thing coming," he added.

Up to 500,000 white South Africans have left the country in the past 30 years, according to official statistics, with Australia ranking as the top destination.