10559953_648730211878959_441484897271009707_nIs the Love Makes A Way campaign a new phenomenon?  Maybe, maybe not.  It certainly is within this generation of Australians.

For those who are unaware, it is a movement grounded in the Christian churches, that protests our government’s (and therefore our nation’s) utterly appalling treatment of asylum seekers and refugees.  There is much that can be said, and is being said, about this, the real issue:  Australia is mistreating men, women, and children – real men, real women, real children, real people.  The justification is a veil of spin.  The execution of the policy is empty, not only of humanity, but of foundational political principles about accountability, transparency, and the power of executive government.  My commentary here would only add to the noise, particularly since the devastatingly draconian amendments to the Migration Act were recently passed.  A good place to start, however, would be this article by two political heavyweights from both sides of the fence (a former conservative PM, and a former Labor Minister) who rightly note:

We should rightly ask, if the government is prepared to be so cruel and give itself this much unchecked power over refugees, who’s next?

It is genuinely scary stuff.

But to return to Love Makes A Way: The form of protest adopted by this group is one of non-violent civil disobedience.  Pastors, priests, nuns, and other Christians, enter the electorate office of a politician; they sit down and pray and politely refuse to leave while their concerns about refugees remain unaddressed.  In the vast majority of cases they are eventually gently lead away by police, charged, appear in court, and are given a rap over the knuckles or even vindicated.  Awareness is raised, the alternative voice is heard.

Personally, there is much that I admire about this:

  1. Civil disobedience in the “pure” sort is when you find yourself in the path of a wrongdoing and you refuse to cooperate.  This is the next step:  In physical, practical terms, by entering the electorate offices the protestors are placing themselves in the path, and then refusing to cooperate.  To the extent that silence in the presence of oppression is a form of cooperation, it is my view that this next step is justifiable.
  2. It aspires to protest in the right spirit.  There is nothing about this that is angry young chanters who are violent in their words if not with their actions.  This is about polite, gentle, peaceful, but firm refusal to cooperate with wrong, and I find that admirable.
  3. It is (and I hope it remains) distinctively Christian.  Not in the sense that only Christians can protest this way, but by the self-identity of the protestors: it is Christian spirituality that is their common ground (across quite a diversity of other distinctives), and it is their Christian spirituality which motivates them.  This not only gives coherency, but also identifies the movement with a much wider swathe of the community than your typical banner-waver. [NB: There have been rabbis involved in some of the protests, so perhaps “Judaeo-Christian” would be the more precise descriptor]

As to its effectiveness, that remains to be seen.  In terms of public perception, it is surely more notable when a nun gets arrested for sitting in an office than if an angry young student gets arrested in a caterwauling face-off with police.

In political terms, not much has changed.  It certainly hasn’t checked the resolve of Abbott, Morrison and co. (many of whom claim a Christian faith) in their policies, nor even in their attitude and manner of executing that policy.  I’ve always said that it’s one thing to have to be “tough” in a world of terrible choices, it makes a whole new other thing when such toughness is crowed about with triumph, not exercised as a perceived necessity with tears and trembling.

In electoral terms, it’s complicated.  On the one hand, from a conservative point of view, these are not protestors that can simply be wiped away into the corner of “loony lefties that would never vote for us anyway.”  No, those who sympathise with and support Love Makes A Way includes the full-range of swing voters (like myself), and is encroaching into conservative home territory.  And many of those who are protesting are thought-leaders.  If I were a Government MP I’d be counting my numbers.  But… and this is the big but… I wouldn’t be too worried because the Opposition’s track record on this issue is almost as bad.  It’s a matter of “who else you going to vote for?”  Unless there’s a viable alternative, the electoral effect of Love Makes A Way is severely dampened.

But there’s nothing quite as persistent as those who know they’re on a “mission from God” (just ask the Blues Brothers).  Except of course, those who are on a mission and also have blood in the game.  And this is what we now have with Love Makes A Way.  It takes a certain level of courage to face arrest.  But once that hurdle is passed, the resolve is strengthened.  I mean, “What’s the worst that could happen?  We get arrested?…. Again?”  Movements that pass that point are persistent, and people notice, and it scares them.

In these last few days, Love Makes A Way, has passed this particular threshold.  On December 10, Human Rights Day, another round of “pray-ins” occurred throughout the nation.  It could have been just another round of polite conversations, awkward-looking but very-professional police, a file past the TV cameras, and an obscure court appearance a few weeks later.

But in Perth, for some reason, someone thought an increase in intimidation would be sensible.  A media release describes it:

Australian Federal Police and WA Police attended the scene. WA Police repeatedly threatened the church leaders with strip-searches and attempted to provide the group with inaccurate information about other sit-ins around the country. More than 7 hours elapsed between the arrival of police and arrests being made. At the Perth Watch House each of the church leaders was refused the opportunity to seek legal advice, stripped naked and searched. The church leaders repeatedly expressed that they did not consent to the search, and repeatedly advised police that they were not in possession of firearms or drugs.

From the Government’s point of view, the escalated response is stupid.  It just brings more attention, it engenders more sympathy, it’s a lose-lose in every conceivable outcome.  My first thought was, “What were the authorities thinking?”  And my second thought was: Dear Love Makes A Way, keep in the opposite spirit; to indignity and violence, render gentleness and respect.  Keep “on attitude” as well as “on message.”

If they can do that, they’ve won.  They may not see it for a while, but they’ve won already.

The response from Love Makes A Way, so far, is pretty good:

They are right, the real story is the asylum seekers. But it is not the only story.  The story of a growing number of ordinary Christians, willing to do the hard yards of finding the right spirit, and refusing to cooperate with evil, is also real.  And it’s a story that hasn’t readily been heard in Australia, certainly not in this generation.

Postscript: As I write, a group of seven Love Makes A Way protestors are facing court in Geelong for their protest in October.  They are pleading guilty but asserting their belief that they have done the “right thing.”  They are giving no guarantees of good behaviour, because in all honesty, they will not commit to repeat their actions.  They have been fined $200 without conviction recorded. This of course would be very interesting if it ever gets this far in Tasmania, considering the recent passage of new anti-protest laws in this State.

Love those who are foreignersThe 2nd Session of the 52nd Synod of the Diocese of Tasmania met a week ago.  There was a motion in my name dealing with the issue of asylum seekers.  It went through formally without debate and so I thought I’d include my intended speech here.

Here’s the motion:

THAT this Synod,

recognising our welcome with God freely given in Christ; and

understanding the call to reflect this with justice and compassion welcome to those who are aliens and strangers (Deut 10:19); and

affirming that the membership of the Anglican Church in Tasmania includes those who have sought asylum in Australia, having fled persecution in other places,

notes with concern significantly inhumane outcomes of the Government’s asylum seeker policy and its manner of implementation; and

requests the Bishop to write to the Minister for Immigration and Border Security, urging in the strongest possible terms that the Minister:

1) follows more closely the responsibilities and commitments made by Australia under the UN Convention on Refugees; and

2) refrains from the current actions in which immigrants and asylum seekers, including children and mothers, are incarcerated indefinitely and without due process; and

3) reverses the policy decision to offer temporary second-class safety in the form of Temporary Protection Visas, rather than the true refuge of permanent resettlement; and

4) allows proper and fulsome scrutiny of the actions of the Government with regard to asylum seekers.

And here’s what I would have said:
I am moving Motion #17 in my name on the Business Paper.In the middle of next month Ms. Misha Coleman, the Executive Officer for the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce will be visiting Tasmania and holding a forum at the Cathedral. In preparation for her arrival I perused the Taskforce website to get it’s perspective on the issue of asylum seekers.The Taskforce describes its purpose like this:Drawing on core Christian values and traditions, the Taskforce is committed to offering a strong Christian moral voice into what has become a heated and hostile public debate fuelled by divisive political rhetoric and constantly changing policies.

Christian values, offering a strong moral voice, in the midst of a volatile debate.

It is worthy mission and articulates something of the intention of this motion. Motions such as this are not history-changing events. But they do record our voice, and articulate our values, and particularly so when saying nothing is no longer an option.

This motion records our voice in the following ways:

The first section articulates why we give voice on this issue. This issue engages with our very identity as followers of Christ: we are all in need of rescue, we are all in need of the gracious welcome of God. We speak as ones who have freely received.

Our voice is motivated by a clear call from God to reflect that same generosity and gracious welcome. Deuteronomy 10:19 is a call to “love those who are foreigners, because you yourselves were foreigners.”

Our voice is also motivated by collegiality. We are not talking in the abstract here. Those who are affected by the debates on asylum seekers are not just fellow humans, they are not just fellow Christians, they are literally members of the Anglican Church of Tasmania, parishioners with whom we share the grace of God in fellowship and sacrament.

I, and a number of others in this room, have had the privilege of worshipping, praying, and sharing with those who have come to this land as refugees, many of them by boat. Some of them are the same age as I was when I first immigrated – six years old or younger. I see their innocence, and their parents coping as best they can in a cross-cultural context with very little assistance, and I feel for them. But then I hear threats of them being deported, or sent indefinitely to Manus Island or Nauru…   And I become aware that these are not idle threats – that indeed there are around 1000 children in indefinite detention:  children who are just like my brothers and sisters, and I am e-motivated. And with my voice I want to say “Do not harm my brother, my sister.”

This motion notes that current asylum seeker policy has inhumane outcomes. This is not an idle consideration.

Within the last year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has noted, with respect to Nauru that “the policies, conditions and operational approaches” of the Regional Processing Centre

a) constitute arbitrary and mandatory detention under international law;
b) do not provide a fair, efficient and expeditious system for assessing refugee claims;
c) do not provide safe and humane conditions of treatment in detention; and
d) do not provide for adequate and timely solutions for refugees.

A similar conclusion is made with respect to Manus Island, and forms the context in which there has been a failure to protect asylum seekers, including Reza Barati who was tragically killed in February of this year.

More recently, with reference to the Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into children in detention, the President of the Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, spoke of the more than 300 children in detention on Christmas Island:

“The overwhelming sense is of the enormous anxiety, depression, mental illness but particularly developmental retardation,” she said.
“The children are stopping talking. You can see a little girl comes up to you and she is just staring at you but won’t communicate.”

In the light of all this, the motion asks the Bishop to exhort the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection to do the following:

Firstly, to follow Australia’s commitments under the UN Convention on Refugees. This should go without saying. It is significant that it has to be said.

Secondly, to refrain from the practice of indefinite detention of anyone, but particularly with respect to the weakest and vulnerable. The term “due process” refers not just to the process of being assessed as a refugee – which itself takes too long – but to the fundamental principle by which we rightly limit the power of the State to lock people up.

Human Rights Barrister Jessie Taylori spoke at the Opening of the Legal Year service at the Cathedral in January about mandatory indefinite detention.  She informed us that under this policy, someone who has never been charged, tried, or convicted of any crime can be imprisoned for anything up to the term of their natural life. She spoke of her abhorrence as a person and as a lawyer. This motion echoes her voice.

Thirdly, the exhortation is for the minister to forgo the policy of Temporary Protection Visas. Temporary and limited refuge is not true refuge. It does not “love the foreigner” in our midst. It relegates people to an uncertainty and a restriction that prevents their life from being rebuilt.

Fourthly, the exhortation is for transparency and accountability with respect to the operation of immigration policies and the treatment of asylum seekers within Australia and in Australian-sponsored immigration centres.  This exhortation is sadly needed.  We have the “militarisation” of on-water activities, the prevention of the Human Rights Commissioner from visiting Nauru and Manus Island, and the abrogation of responsibilities to third countries and private companies. In the treatment of other human beings, we need to be above reproach, and this only happens by appropriate scrutiny.

I commend the motion to the Synod.

Here is the best transcript I can find of the open letter written by the PNG Governor Powes Parkop to the PNG Foreign Minister and to the Australian High Commissioner in PNG.

He says it as it is.

“This is an Australian practice which we should guard ourself against. We are a compassionate nation and people known for our hospitality and compassion reaching out to people in hardship, distress or seeking comfort. We are also a nation and people who proclaim to be christian.

It is therefore repugnant to our traditional and contemporary culture and to our christian values to keep such people in near prison like environment.”

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Link shared on facebook on Apr 29, 2014
Abject cruelty as a means to an end. This should not be who we are.


An ex-Navy officer and former G4S guard reveals the truth of Manus Island.

ABC’s Four Corners reported on the violent attacks last night. You can watch the full episode here – http://ab.co/1h82ylE

Please LIKE and SHARE this brave, compassionate response to the Abbott Government’s cruelty.