Love Makes A(nother) Way


Love Makes A(nother) Way

A New Strategy in Protesting the Treatment of Asylum Seekers

For those who come across the seas,
We’ve boundless plains to share.

So we sing in our National Anthem. But it’s not Government policy. Not at all for sharing our plains, are we at the moment. I disagree with much of what the Abbott Government, with the agreement of the Labor Opposition, is implementing in refugee policy.

I think:

  • Manus Island and Nauru detention centres should be closed.
  • Processing should be done on the mainland where possible.
  • Detention times should be reduced substantially.
  • Asylum seekers should be cared for in the community where possible.
  • Asylum seekers should be able to work and contribute to Australian society.

I don’t like the language the Government uses. Asylum seekers that arrive by boat are not “illegals”. Border protection is not the issue, rather humanitarian concerns should be the main consideration.

I dream of large projects on which refugees can work, like the hydro-electric scheme in Tasmania and the Snowy River irrigation scheme in NSW after the war.

I dream that the Government could send cruise ships to Indonesia, Pakistan and the Myanmar-Thailand border where refugees gather, and bring 2,000 at a time safely to Australia, rather than have them risk their lives with people-smugglers.

My views are the views of many on the left; I hold them with passion because I am a Christian and relate them to my Christian faith.

I support the #lovemakesaway movement. Friends are being arrested. If it were physically possible, I would consider joining them. All power to their arm.

I have written to the Minister, to the Prime Minister, to my Federal Member, to the Leader of the Opposition, to the Opposition spokesman and to other politicians. Some, like Richard Marles, Nola Marino and Scott Ludlam, take the time to reply. Others have their staffers send form letters.

These are the tried and true strategies. We beg Minister Morrison to be more compassionate, to be more prepared to show that Australia wants to share its boundless plains. And the more we beg, the more punitive his policies become. The last round of legislation whipped through the Senate is stunning in the removal of human rights from asylum seekers.

 “…the more we beg, the more punitive his policies become.”

My concern is that Mr Morrison is actually responding to the Christian left. The more we beg him to be compassionate, the more he believes he has the balance right, and the more licence he has to take a  harder line. We have become a counter-weight. Our strategies may be making things worse for asylum seekers.

I wonder whether we need a new strategy to add to the sit-ins and pleas for compassion.

 

I plan to write to Minister Morrison again, and affirm him. The policy area of asylum seekers is complex across the region. He deserves credit for dealing with a toxic mix: the push factors in dangerous countries like Afghanistan; the transitions in countries like Indonesia; the people smugglers and the dangerous journeys they sponsor, and dealing with Governments in the region about all this. He does well to keep on top of all these volatile realities.

Managing thousands of vulnerable people in detention is sensitive and difficult. There are outbreaks of serious self-harm and violence, but on the whole, they run smoothly. Christmas, Manus and Nauru are remote islands with limited access to modern technology. His department keeps the detention centres under some control.

The inevitable paper-work to process thousands of asylum seekers under these conditions is handled competently. People-smugglers often force their clients to ditch their identity papers. Sourcing information about individuals in war-torn countries is a big ask, but the Department obviously succeeds regularly.

These, and other behind-the-scenes tasks, deserve credit. If we only beg for more compassion, we are heard as angry, ill-informed and obstinate.

Mr Morrison does many difficult things well. If we tell him so, he may continue the habit, and start doing other difficult things as well!

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Author: Ted Witham

Husband and father, Grandfather.Franciscan, writer and Anglican priest.

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