For some context – read about our Prime Minister’s joyous proclamation on our new draconian refugee policy here. The TL:DR; version is:
“From now on, any asylum seeker who arrives in Australia by boat will have no chance of being settled in Australia as refugees.”
Dear Prime Minister,
Advance Australia Fair.
I loathe people smugglers. My anger grows every time a boat sinks. My blood boils. As boat after boat, child after child, life after life, are lost at sea en route to our shores seeking ‘wealth for toil,’ perhaps, as your Foreign Minister (and mine) Bob Carr would have us believe, or perhaps they are genuinely seeking refuge from persecution, as they are legally entitled to, from their own governments.
Maybe they turned to Australia looking for a better life, as so many settlers have since our nation was so erroneously declared terra nullius. Maybe they are economic refugees. But to steal an axiom from the legal system – better an economic refugee be safely resettled in Australia where they can contribute to our economy than a genuine refugee be locked up in PNG – violating our international obligations.
Maybe these refugees are “jumping the queue” or “illegal immigrants” in the eyes of some of my fellow citizens.
Maybe that’s why you’re acting just a short time before calling an election. But I remember learning that people will judge you by the company you keep.
Maybe you’re glad to be in lock step with people like your Facebook fan Raelene, who writes:
“Lets see them all coming by boat now….won’t be so attractive! A scourge started by the labor party, allowing Captain Emad and co to come here and start a lucrative business… let us not forget this and stop thanking Rudd he created this mess…..the scourge is Rudd!!”
Or like Daniel:
“A true refugee dose not come by boat they dont have the money to pay to come by boat . They sit and wait for years to come here the legal way . The ones that come by boat are just country shopping and wont to come here for the free hand outs . So closing the door is the best news ive heard for a long time .”
Or perhaps Deborah:
“Seriously thank you Mr Rudd. Australia finally has a solution to the boat people crisis. I’ve been to PNG and in all honesty its a hole. (The people are beautiful hearted there though) When the boat people realise they are going from one poor country to another, it should curb the boats. Obviously the ones who complain about being sent to PNG (which will be 99.9% of them) are obviously not true asylum seekers”
Keep Australia Australian!!!
“All of you saying you are ashamed to be Australian, because of this new stand on queue jumpers, do the right thing then and put yourself on the boat and give the refugee your place. Hey, if you are ashamed to be an Australian, leave.”
It is clear you’re on a vote winner. You’re tapping into a real undercurrent of educated and rational anger. And acting strongly and decisively.
You may even scrape together a majority.
Perhaps you will do better at sparking a belief in resurrection than many of today’s churches.
But I’m an idealist.
Political expediency is not something I’m all that into. Securing votes while shirking our international humanitarian responsibilities doesn’t get me out on the hustings talking up a candidate. Nor does being the least bad option. Let’s face it. The Coalition are abominable on this issue.
But it seems like you’re out of ideas beyond “move right. win votes.” And I want to help.
Can’t we do something different? Can’t we change the game? Can’t you think outside the box and tackle the people smugglers head on? Before people get on a boat?
Can’t we do it without relying on Indonesian legal intervention and use the most powerful secular force known to modern man? The market.
Can’t we stop making people smuggling so lucrative?
We’re spending bucket loads on border security, and even more on detention. Why not spend that money on breaking the monopoly the smugglers enjoy.
Like you I’d love to see people smuggling stop.
I know you don’t want to see people dying in the process of pursuing life. And I know you’re an economic conservative. And I know you’re interested in job creation and, until recently, a big Australia. So I want to propose some market driven alternatives.
The best two ways I can think of to force people smugglers out of the market is to undercut them, or take away their boats.
The best way to save lives, if people are determined to get on boats, is to make sure they’re getting on safer boats.
What if we ran the boats? We could process asylum seekers en route. They could purchase a ticket for a fraction of what they’d pay to go with a people smuggler, fully refundable if their claim is legit. It might mean taking more asylum seekers, but if we controlled the process from start to finish there’d be less deaths at sea, less money for the criminals.
It seems that the lack of competition is what is making people smuggling so lucrative. Prices are high. Now, smugglers may make their prices much lower in order to stay competitive. I’ll leave your economists to figure out the details, but it seems to me that people smugglers are going to continue preying on the vulnerable even if we’re going to ship their precious human cargo off to PNG (at great expense). It seems that those people who are desperate enough to keep getting on boats even when we’re putting horrific billboards in their home countries to deter them, and even when boats are sinking with increasing regularity and claiming lives, will be continue to be desperate enough to get on boats even if it means ending up in PNG – so you’re not actually going to stop people smuggling. You know that right? You’re just stopping genuine refugees arriving in Australia.
And that’s a shame.
I know you’re a Christian. And I just want to finish by asking you to consider this issue not just from the Bible’s understanding of how the prosperous should treat those seeking refuge. That’s pretty clear. I want to go to someone who I know is something of an authority or influence for you.
You like Bonhoeffer.
Can you imagine how he would respond to this act of legislative and moral cowardice? I suspect in the same way that other people of principle are reacting to your decision.
I keep coming back to your article about Bonhoeffer. And how you think your faith should influence your politics. You say:
“Bonhoeffer is, without doubt, the man I admire most in the history of the twentieth century… He was never a nationalist, always an internationalist.”
“For Bonhoeffer, “Obedience to God’s will may be a religious experience but it is not an ethical one until it issues in actions that can be socially valued.”
This led Bonhoeffer to people smuggling.
After the failure of these efforts, in 1940 he joined the German Abwehr (military intelligence) as a double agent, and until his arrest in late 1943 he collaborated with the armed forces’ conspiracy against Hitler – and, at the same time, organised the secret evacuation of a number of German Jews to Switzerland.
Bonhoeffer’s was a muscular Christianity. He became the Thomas More of European Protestantism because he understood the cost of discipleship, and lived it. Both Bonhoeffer and More were truly men for all seasons.
“We have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the reviled – in short, from the perspective of those who suffer.” Bonhoeffer’s political theology is therefore one of a dissenting church that speaks truth to the state, and does so by giving voice to the voiceless. Its domain is the village, not the interior life of the chapel. Its core principle is to stand in defence of the defenceless or, in Bonhoeffer’s terms, of those who are “below”.
“I argue that a core, continuing principle shaping this engagement should be that Christianity, consistent with Bonhoeffer’s critique in the ’30s, must always take the side of the marginalised, the vulnerable and the oppressed. As noted above, this tradition is very much alive in the prophetic literature of the Old Testament. It is also very much alive in the recorded accounts of Jesus of Nazareth: his engagement with women, gentiles, tax collectors, prostitutes and the poor – all of whom, in the political and social environment of first-century Palestine, were fully paid-up members of the “marginalised, the vulnerable and the oppressed”. Furthermore, parallel to this identification with those “below” was Jesus’ revulsion at what he described as the hypocrisy of the religious and political elites of his time, that is, those who were “above”.”
Wouldn’t you rather stand with Bonhoeffer than with Raelene, Pauline, Adam, or Deborah?
Who is more marginalised than the refugee who no longer feels safe in their own country? Who gets on a boat, placing their life, and the lives of their families, in the hands of a people smuggler, if they are not oppressed and vulnerable?
“The function of the church in all these areas of social, economic and security policy is to speak directly to the state: to give power to the powerless, voice to those who have none, and to point to the great silences in our national discourse where otherwise there are no natural advocates.”
“Here lies the searing intensity of Bonhoeffer’s gaze, cast across the decades into our own less dramatic age: the need for the church to speak truthfully, prophetically and incisively in defiance of the superficiality of formal debate in contemporary Western politics. In other words, beyond the sound-and-light show of day-to-day political “debate”, what are the real underlying fault lines in the polity? Most critically, within those fault lines, who are the “voiceless” ones unable to clamour for attention in an already crowded political space – and who is speaking for them?”
I challenge you to listen to the moral voice of the church now – but I challenge you to think about not just how Bonhoeffer would have approached this issue, but how Jesus approached this issue for you – you who like all people, were alienated from God. Seeking asylum. And you who were brought into his kingdom by his sacrifice.
I want to leave you with your own words. Let this be a letter where the ghost of KRudd past speaks to the ghost of KRudd present.
“Another great challenge of our age is asylum seekers. The biblical injunction to care for the stranger in our midst is clear. The parable of the Good Samaritan is but one of many which deal with the matter of how we should respond to a vulnerable stranger in our midst. That is why the government’s proposal to excise the Australian mainland from the entire Australian migration zone and to rely almost exclusively on the so-called Pacific Solution should be the cause of great ethical concern to all the Christian churches. We should never forget that the reason we have a UN convention on the protection of refugees is in large part because of the horror of the Holocaust, when the West (including Australia) turned its back on the Jewish people of Germany and the other occupied countries of Europe who sought asylum during the ’30s.”