The dawn is approaching #bringthemhere

On Good Friday Christian’s commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus. We reflect on the harsh injustice of this punishment and try to identify with his suffering. Easter Saturday morning brings to the forefront, our helplessness, hopelessness, the silence of the darkness and the deep reality of loss and despair.

Good Friday was marked with another harsh reality this year as we were shocked into remembering the forgotten incarcerated men detained on Manus Island for the past 4 years. More than 800 men still seeking asylum had another level of fear and suffering inflicted on them with shots fired and their safety put at risk once again. This is the news I woke to this Easter Saturday morning.

It is startling to think that it’s been a whole year since the detention centre in Manus Island, PNG was officially declared by the PNG high court to be an illegal operation. The Australian government has continued to run an illegal operation for a full year with no apparent end in sight.

For the past 3 years as a member of the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce (ACRT), there have been many times when I have despaired at the reality of what our immigration policies do to those who are seeking our protection. Easter Saturday morning was one of those times.

As our Easter story reveals to us, it is not despair that endures. It is not suffering, silence or darkness that has the final say. Easter Saturday for those who adhere to the words of Jesus, is a time to anticipate a new reality. We celebrate the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday not as a once upon a time story, but as the ultimate victory for today and the future!

As we reflect on the fullness of the Easter story, all lost hope is renewed, new opportunities emerge, a once devastated reality is transformed and the human story which once ended with death is rewritten to be a story of new life.

Christians in Australian churches cannot celebrate resurrection hope on Sunday without being transformed by its enduring reality. To ignore the suffering of those who seek our protection would render our celebration meaningless. We must be people of the resurrection hope, advocating for justice, new life and a changed reality.

This Easter we must continue to call for a new reality in our immigration policy. We must insist of the closure of both Manus and Nauru centres and bring all men, women and children to Australia for appropriate processing. Even if a third country (USA) is the only option on offer, we cannot leave them in harm’s way. The despair and suffering that should never have occurred in our name needs to come to an end now. We have a responsibility to act with compassion and human decency towards these vulnerable people, not to take away hope but to renew it. Let us heal the wounds of despair and help construct a future where asylum seekers need not live in fear anymore.

The dawn is approaching.

Here is a statement from the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce to be shared by churches on Easter Sunday. However I hope it is a call for renewal everyone will participate in.

Here is a prayer I’d like to offer for anyone looking for the words to pray on Easter Sunday:

“God of hope and renewal, we were taught to pray ‘your kingdom come’. Today we celebrate the foretaste of your kingdom coming in the resurrection of Christ. Empower us as people of your kingdom, transform us as people of hope and do not allow us to keep this for ourselves.

May the reality of your kingdom be known in the lives of asylum seekers who have been detained in Australian detention centres. We  particularly think of those detained in Manus Island and Nauru. May they despair no more and may the light of a new dawn break through their darkness.

Convict the hearts and minds of our elected government, help them to see another, compassionate way. Forgive us our silence. Help us be the voices of reason to guide the decisions our government makes.

Lord of life we place the suffering and the vulnerable asylum seekers before you now and ask that you renew their strength and give them reason to hope.

You are our reason for hope, it is you who helps us endure. Lord let us continue in the discomfort of seeking your justice and your kingdom reign until all is as it should be.

Amen.”

Shalom

Rev. Mark Riessen

Vice Chair, Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce

A parable

A Christian was walking to Sunday morning worship. On the way they caught a glimpse of something very unusual through a local café window. Jesus was sitting at a table eating with people who made others in the community very uncomfortable. At the table was an openly gay couple, a person who identified as transgender, a young family of asylum seekers who had struggled to find friends in the community as they were devout Muslims (and everyone knew they had arrived in the country illegally). There was a sex worker who had a drug use problem and a person with an intellectual disability was standing beside Jesus with his hand on Jesus’ shoulder. The Christian leaned closer to the window to get a better look and noticed Jesus slap the table with one hand as he let out an enormous belly laugh at a joke someone at the table had told. The curious Christian opened the café door and peeked in. Just then they overheard Jesus say to everyone at the table, “the Kingdom of God belongs to people such as you.”

Running late for worship the Christian closed the door and hurried off. Once they arrived at the church they reported to a church leader what they had just observed. Following the worship service the church leader called other church leaders in the community to come together and discuss this amazing phenomenon that had been reported. A group of church leaders met in a local church residence and discussed the incident. It was discovered during the conversation that Jesus had not attended any of their Sunday morning worship services for a number of weeks. What was even more concerning is that he hadn’t tithed to any of the churches either and one church leader declared that this put his membership with the churches at risk. The church leaders resolved that they should all go together to the café to see if Jesus was still there so that they might discuss this membership concern with him. (Though no one verbalized it, really, they were curious to see if the report was true, that Jesus was meeting with people of questionable reputations in the community).

When the church leaders arrived at the café they observed what was reported. Jesus was still there eating and laughing with homosexuals, asylum seekers, sex workers and others. Eventually one of the church leaders stepped forward as if to make an announcement. Jesus and everyone at the table went quiet and turned to look at the church leader.

The church leader said…

Jesus replied…

How do you think the parable finishes?

Is it ok to boo?

This morning I arrived at the primary school where I have a weekly commitment to mentor a child for one hour through the Kids Hope program our church runs. When I entered the class room, the teacher enthusiastically welcomed me in and exclaimed that the class have been talking about Adam Goodes and the media around racism and booing. It was a lively conversation and they hadn’t yet engaged the curriculum for the day.

The teacher (Stephen) then asked me, ‘Mark, what do you think?’ My first response was to ask them a question, ‘Is it ok to boo anyone at anytime?’

Stephen became very animated, ‘great question Mark, let’s see what the class thinks’. ‘Actually no I’ve changed my mind’. Stephen reinstructs the class, ‘Everyone who thinks booing is ok stand over in that corner and everyone who thinks it’s not stand in that corner.’ Within moments we had half the year 4/5 class at one end of the room and one at the other.

Stephen went and joined the group who identified they were pro booers and it seemed they were in a huddle discussing why they were in this corner. So I gravitated to the anti booer group. Actually that’s the group I’d rather belong to anyway so it worked out well. Interestingly the child I mentor was in the opposite corner.

I proceeded to ask the students in my group why they chose this corner. One girl Jess was quick to respond and said, ‘I don’t think it’s good to boo because I would rather treat someone the way I want to be treated’. Wow, what a way to start. As we explored the conversation we discovered that even those in the same group didn’t hold the same view. One boy Tim said it depended on the context. General group booing was ok at a footy game but ganging up or directing it constantly at one person was not ok.

I called over to Stephen and indicated that we had some really great points to share so he said let’s hear one. I asked Jess to go first because I thought what she said was so good. Then a girl on the other side of the room responded so eloquently, ‘I hear what you are saying Jess, but I think…’ My mind kind of stopped right there. In the moment I was engaged with her response but what knocked me over was the way she responded. She disagreed with respect and honoured the person she responded to.

The conversation went on like this for half an hour. Stephen and I facilitating and clarifying points but the kids didn’t really need our help. They were brilliant debaters. Each took turns and each began their sentence with, ‘I hear what you are saying’.

At the end before I went out with my student for a mentoring session I asked Stephen if I could address the class. With the teachers approval I told the kids how proud I was of all of them. They had really great points, all of them and stated their arguments clearly and with respect for opposing views. I told them that I find myself in debates over divisive topics all the time and that adults don’t do this very well.

What these students modelled in front of me was it was safe to take a position and stand with conviction without someone telling them they were wrong. They honoured and respected one another and they listened. They listened to one another, asked for clarification of points and altered their position if they felt they wanted to. Grace was offered towards one another then opposing parties went back to sitting next to one another as friends at the table.

I thanked them for the privilege of being able to participate in this space and told them never to lose the skill they have been learning because they can teach us adults a lot about how to talk to each other when we disagree.

I’ve been asking my urban mission students a question consistently over the last couple of weeks. When you enter public spaces, ‘What do you see of God?’ I saw grace, respect, dialogue and honouring of the opposition.

May we learn to be like children

 

Shalom

Mark

 

The Senate are been held over a barrel

The Senate are been held over a barrel regarding the governments proposed amendments to the Migration Act, with human rights as the bargaining chip. To pass the bill or not pass the bill is a matter of choosing to abuse human rights now or later. Neither option should be on the table.

In November this year the United Nations slammed the proposed changes calling it an abuse of human rights. One of the most critical pieces in this is Australia distancing itself as far as possible from the Refugee Convention we helped put into place.

Cross bench Senators this week are faced with a terrible moral dilemma and the government are dangling carrots in front of them to distract from some of the most concerning issues to get their bill through.

So what is going on here? Excuse me while I brain dump to try and make sense of this

The current government inherited a horrendous asylum seeker policy from the former Labor government which excises the Australia mainland from the migration zone and does not allow any asylum seeker who arrived by boat after July 19th 2013, to settle in Australia. Offshore detention was ready to go and plans to settle people in neighbouring countries were under way.

Instead of correcting the wrongs of the previous government, this Coalition government have discovered cruel and inhumane ways to stop people arriving on boats and detain people in centres under terrible conditions as a deterrence to others. Yes I know stopping boats in popular and we are saving lives at sea, blah, blah, blah. I don’t want to see people risk their life at sea either. Nor do I want our navy personnel pulling bodies out of the water. But have you ever stopped to consider what we are currently doing to those we have detained long term? Or what has happened to those who have been turned back at sea? The stories some have been able to tell have indicated that it would have been better to die at sea than face what they are facing now. Currently what we do to people by detaining them for so long has nothing to do with boats at sea and everything to do with how we extend basic hospitality to those already in our care.

Mr Morrison is currently making concessions to get his bill through the senate. One of these is to increase the annual humanitarian intake from the current 13,750 to 20,000 over the next 4 years. However they will only do this once the current case load of +28,000 on Bridging Visas and more than 3,000 in mainland detention centres are processed. Until then don’t expect to see an increase. It’s not a terribly generous one either, we can afford to double that and find ways to stop people getting on boats in the process.

Mr Morrison has also proposed to release people from detention under proposed Temporary Protection Visas. The controversial TPV will allow people to come out of detention, work and make a life for themselves. However in 3 years when that visa expires they have no right to stay in the country. They will have no right of appeal and no right to permanent protection. They will be expected to go back to the country they fled from. So the plan is to send people back to their persecutors. Until then they will spend 3 years in limbo on a TPV.

When this current government came into power, they had inherited 6,403 people in detention including 1,078 children. Just over 25,000 were on bridging visas or under community residence determination. Currently according to immigration statistics, there are 5,235 people in detention including 726 children (these detention stats include Nauru and Manus Island). Just over 28,000 are on Bridging Visas or under community residence determination. From what I can understand the TPV will only apply to those detained on Australian mainland and not the offshore centres. That leaves 2,151 including 167 children detained awaiting resettlement in another country.

The problem no-one is talking about is that the current government have the means and the power to release all people from detention now. They have had for the last 14 months or so. Instead the average stay in detention has now crept past 15 months, breeding helplessness, hopelessness, mental illness and deeply embedded trauma due to long term detention in facilities not suited for long term stays. However, this government does not have the will. They do not want people in detention being able too have the right to settle permanently in Australia. All proposals on the table are just different ways of punishing them for getting on a boat and seeking asylum in Australia. Asylum Seekers are being held hostage to a Bill in the Senate. This is a conscious choice the government has made based on their policies.

If the Migration bill is approved this week, the government will release people on TPV’s. In the short term they will look like saints for releasing children from detention (something they currently have the power to do but won’t). But in the long term they will be sent back to where they came from. Because we all know Iraq was a safe place to live after the Gulf War in the early 90’s. Persecution just passes like a phase doesn’t it? No problem.

If the Migration Bill is not passed the government will blame the Senate for keeping children in detention along with others and not having the vision to deal with the ‘problem’. But releasing children from detention is something this government currently has the power to do if they had the will.

So what to do? Pass the Bill and get people out of detention in the short term? This will get them out but leave them in limbo eventually sending them back to where they came from. This is a human rights breech. We will also have the power to reject people at will and be as distant as we ever have been from the Refugee Convention.

Or reject the Bill for a longer term possibility of hope for all these people? This will keep people detained because the government don’t want to let them out giving them the possibility of applying for permanent protection.

Either way its a shocking choice on offer and we ought to be appalled. This is a Bi-partisan shambles and the Bill is an abomination. It’s near impossible to work with in the short time frame it was presented so late in the year. Compromises will be made and we will sell our soul in the process. I don’t envy the cross bench Senators right now, there is nothing good to be gained for the people who currently need our help.

How on earth can we care for the least of these?

Shalom

Mark

LMAW testimonies – Rev Sandy Boyce

Rev Sandy Boyce is a Uniting Church minister at Pilgrim Uniting Church in Adelaide. This is her testimony. She was able to deliver a summaries version to the Magistrate in court on August 26th 2014.

 

Your Honour, thank you for the opportunity to speak today, to give an account of myself in relation to the trespass charge. I was part of a group of 9 people who gathered for a peaceful, non-violent action focused on a common concern for children in detention. The group included a Jewish rabbi, a Quaker (Society of Friends), and 7 Christians including 4 Uniting Church ministers. We found ourselves in remarkable company as we discovered common journeys and commitment. We each took a soft toy, and we left them in the office at the end of the day. The soft toy has become a symbol for the children held in indefinite detention – a symbol of a child’s innocence, as well as their vulnerability and need for comfort and consolation. The rest of the group has already had the opportunity to address the courts, and I welcome the opportunity to share my own motivation.

 

Your Honour, the situation for children in Australian detention centres is of great concern,

especially in offshore detention centres where hundreds of children are in mandatory detention, some without their families. United Nations guidelines clearly state that children should not be placed in detention for anything more than what is absolutely necessary for health checks and security checks. Instead, children are being held in indefinite detention, and the emotional, psychological and physical harm being reported should be of great concern to all people of good will. Some children are responding to their living conditions in ways that are pitiful – self-harm, insomnia, trying to poison themselves, illness and poor health, banging heads against the wall, bed wetting long after toilet training, depression, even a young girl who tried to hang herself with her hijab. How heartbreaking to read the statement from a 15 year old on Nauru: ”This is a bad life. I fled from war in Iraq but got stuck in harsh jail in Nauru where is nothing but cruelty. We want justice. This is not fair. There is no standard in Nauru. This is a hell for children.” The former head of mental health services for detainees, Peter Young, has revealed the Immigration Department asked him not to report on the rates of mental distress and disorders among children and that the department was “concerned about what the figures are showing”. In the first 3 months of this year, the department’s own data shows 128 children self-harmed. It is unacceptable. Immigration detention is no life for a child. All children are precious, and we share responsibility to ensure the welfare of children, which should not be dismissed as mere sentiment.

 

If children displayed these kind of behavioral responses arising from their living conditions in the wider community, it would be spoken of as child abuse. Yet this deplorable situation is allowed to continue in detention centres. Only last Friday, the Immigration Minister said that children in off shore detention centres would not be eligible for release because it was those conditions that were stopping ‘more children coming on the boats’. However one justifies children in indefinite detention, it is unacceptable. It goes without saying that the longer the children are held in detention, the more significant their mental suffering. Psychiatrist Peter Young has said, ”If we take the definition of torture to be the deliberate harming of people in order to coerce them into a desired outcome, I think it does fulfil that definition.” We desperately need an alternative to provide better care for these vulnerable children, and Australia has the capacity to positively support their well-being.

 

The peaceful, non-violent action in which I participated simply asked the question, when will these children be released from detention? Our group sought to highlight their plight and their vulnerability, and to urge that they be released into community care while their applications for asylum are processed. Indeed, a coalition of church agencies and not for profit organisations has offered to work with the Government to arrange community accommodation and appropriate support for families and young children while their applications are processed, but that offer has not been acted upon.

 

My Christian faith is not limited only to what one might call a vertical faith – me and God. Rather it seeks expression outwards in the way I demonstrate compassion and care, build peace and seek justice, and contribute to the common welfare. Faith is personal, but never private. In my work as a Minister in the Uniting Church, I seek to link the biblical narrative with the practice of faith. I am glad to be part of Pilgrim Uniting Church which from its beginning has been involved in seeking justice and working for the community good. This congregation has for many years actively supported refugees and asylum seekers, with regular visitors to detention centres, sponsoring family reunions, providing practical support and care, and building ongoing relationships. I am proud to say that the Uniting Church nationally has been involved in speaking out for the welfare of asylum seekers, and for children in detention, and challenging government policies that are cruel and harsh towards vulnerable people.

 

My action to bring attention to the plight of children in detention, was, in part, motivated by frustration with the degree of secrecy maintained in relation to those in detention, and the apparent unwillingness of government to work with the community on alternatives to children in detention and the punitive policies in place. A peaceful action – to highlight the dire situation of children in detention – seems a reasonable thing to do. Not to speak, and not to act, is to collude with what I believe is fundamentally a cruel policy in relation to children and their families in detention.
Such an action was not out of the blue. I am not an accidental activist, but rather someone who has carefully considered ways to raise awareness about this important issue that affects the very character and soul of our nation. Who are we becoming as a nation if we simply turn a blind eye to the welfare of children in detention centres? How can this be allowed to continue? Not in my name.

 

I worked as a teacher in schools for 20 years, mainly with primary school aged children. We all know that these are critically formative years, when a child’s sense of worth and well-being is shaped, and when they are making sense of the world. For a child, these early years are the foundation which will inform their adult life, and when core values and attitudes are shaped. How can we expect children to develop into generous, kind, compassionate, and confident adults when they are struggling to survive in the midst of difficult living conditions? How can we expect children to be strong, joyful, robust, and resilient, when freedom has been denied, when they face indefinite detention through no fault of their own. How can we expect children to make sense of the world and grow into maturity when education is spasmodic, when they are denied a stable home environment, emotional security, and confidence for the future.

 

The actions undertaken by those who decided to sit in Jamie Briggs’ office was prompted by the one question, when will the children be released from detention? It is a reasonable question – with precedent. The Human Rights Commission report released in 2004 found mandatory immigration detention of children was inconsistent with Australia’s international human rights obligations and that detention for long periods created a high risk of serious mental harm. Subsequently, the then Prime Minister John Howard released all children and their families from detention.

 

I am grateful to the staff in Jamie Briggs’ office who allowed the group to sit together in the office foyer. They were respectful and did not at any time ask us to leave, until the office was due to be closed when we were asked if we planned to leave. When the police were called, they were also respectful in the way they related to the group, and did their job professionally. None of the group I was with had been in such a situation before, so it was a new experience to find myself in handcuffs, being driven to the police station in a police car, and going through a somewhat alien process of fingerprinting, DNA swabs, photos, frisking, questions, and so on. It seemed to me that I had a tiny glimpse into the world of asylum seekers who undergo a screening process determined by Australian authorities. With language difficulties and limited access to legal representation, it is much harder for asylum seekers and the policy of indefinite detention is breaking people’s spirits. The children in detention long for freedom, to be children who can enjoy life with unbridled joy.

 

I welcome the announcement this month that 150 children under 10 in detention in mainland detention centres will be released into the community over the next 5 months – but the 331 children living in camps on Nauru and Christmas Island, and more than 400 aged over 10 on the mainland, will remain in detention. It is my hope that change can and must happen, that decisions can be made based on compassion and justice. It is not illegal for people to seek asylum, regardless of how they arrive.
Your Honour, thank you for the opportunity to share my story.

Bring our boys home

Today I had the privilege of spending my lunch break at Woodville High School. The principal had invited me to attend the school during the lunch break while students held a silent non-violent action to draw attention to students from their school taken back into detention.

A handful of students gathered to tape their mouths for the action and sit together in silence. Written on the tape was the first 3 letters of the boat ID numbers of the students who were taken from their community followed by 3 numbers representing the school ID.

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I was there to support and join them in solidarity so I taped my mouth and sat with them. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw next. Students who were onlookers began approaching the table with the tape, taping their own mouths and joining us. Then the teachers started coming. They taped their mouths and stood among the group. The CPSW (chaplain) and Principal joined the action standing alongside the students. This was solidarity and community support at its best. Students leading students, students leading teachers, to stand up for something they passionately believe in.

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This is the message: two good students taken out of our school community and re detained because their community detention was deemed ‘no longer in the public interest’ is two too many. ‘Bring our boys home’ is the ask and these students are not giving up on their friends anytime soon. In facts it seems they have only just started.

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The group that started as about a dozen students quickly grew to 40 then 60, then 100 as together in the middle of the school yard they encouraged one another with their silence and their presence to persist with the message that children like them do not belong in immigration detention centres.

Then the tear jerker. Towards the end of the lunch break a PA system which had been set up began to play this:

I first observed Kyle and Jakub perform this song from ‘backstage’ while I was MC for the two too many rally on parliament steps last month. It’s such a powerful song and I’m so encouraged by these young people

I applaud the commitment of the students and particularly those among them who have been providing leadership for 2 months now since their 2 friends we’re taken from their community. The principal, teachers and CPSW (chaplain) have my utmost respect and are truly inspiring as they have come alongside these students and offered their encouragement and support.

Thankyou to the students at Adelaide Secondary School of English for sharing in solidarity with the Woodville students at the same time.01a83c95aac3d4985ce8191aec539efe399f8fd590

Let us all keep the message at the forefront of our conversations with those we have the ability to influence. Detention centres is no place for any child at all. Every single one needs to be released as soon as possible. Let us not relent in asking for this humane request to be granted by our government.

Shalom

Mark

 

LMAW testimonies – Rev Jennifer Hughes

Rev Jennifer Hughes is a Uniting Church minister at Brougham Place Uniting Church in North Adelaide. This is her testimony as read to the Magistrate in court on August 13th 2014.

 

Your honour, I wish to submit character references from an

Associate Minister from my congregation, Rev. Bernard

Clarke, the Moderator of the Uniting Church in South

Australia, Dr Deidre Palmer, the President of the Uniting

Church in Australia, Rev Dr Andrew Dutney and the Chair of

the Human Research Ethics Committee on which I serve, Dr

Michael James.

I have prepared a statement that I would like to read.

On June 23rd, I chose to participate in a prayerful and peaceful

sit-in at the office of Jamie Briggs, MP. I believe this was

undertaken with utmost respect for his staff. Nine faith

leaders sat and quietly prayed, sang, read Scripture, studied

together and shared in conversation. We requested a response

to the question “When will the 983 children, currently held in

detention, be released?” We did not receive an answer to this

question. At no point during the day did the staff ask the

group to leave. However, soon after closing time the police

arrived and at that point the staff formally asked us to leave

the property. I chose to stay aware of the potential

ramifications of my actions. I believe I acted with integrity

and I was respectful to the police responsible for me and was

polite and courteous to them. Similarly, they treated me with

respect and were courteous at all times. They were responsive

and kind when I was in the holding cell in the Adelaide

Watch house and at no time did I feel threatened or in danger.

I am thankful for a justice and legal system that acts in such a

manner. However, I realize that this is in complete contrast

and incongruent with the way others are treated when they

arrive in Australia. This is one of the reasons why I chose to

act in the way I did that day. It is so incomprehensible to me

that a civilized country such as ours needs to treat people so

inhumanely. Many people in Australia believe that people

seeking asylum have committed a crime and are somehow

“illegal”. However, this is simply not the case. It is their right

to seek asylum under international law and the numerous

conventions and treaties to which Australia is a signatory.

How is it that Australia is able to treat its own citizens with

respect, tout a culture of “a fair go”, be on the side of the

“battler” or underdog and yet not extend this to others who

are in desperate need of sanctuary and safety, simply because

of their country of birth? How is it that we are unable to

recognize our own hypocrisy and bigotry given the vast

numbers of us who came to this land seeking the same

things?

Today as I share with you, I would like to explain how

my own life brought me to a point of taking this action out of

frustration with the lack of response from politicians,

increasingly harsh policies and our nation’s lack of

compassion. There are 5 parts of my life and identity that I

wish to share with you that informed my decision.

First, I declare myself to be a Christian – to believe in a

God of love and justice, to follow Christ who stood alongside

the vulnerable, and to listen to the stirrings of the Spirit. For

me taking such an action was aligning my own faith with

how I live. Integral to Christian faith is welcoming the

stranger among us. This has been gifted to us through the

Hebrew Scriptures and is a repeated message of Jesus’

ministry. His ministry was built on the declaration that he

came to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the

captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the

oppressed go free. Jesus said let the little children come to me

and opened his arms to the most vulnerable in his midst who

in his time and place were cast aside. Constantly, the care of

the outcast, stranger and vulnerable is reiterated throughout

Scripture but also through Christian tradition. We have

heroes of our faith such as Dietrich Bonheoffer, Bishop Oscar

Romero, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, William Wilberforce,

Brother Roger of the Taizé community to name just a few who

have stood against issues of injustice. They have led the way,

prompting Christians to take a stand with the vulnerable in

whatever way possible. How is it that so many of our political

leaders can in one breath claim Christian faith and in the next

uphold abhorrent policies that encourage hatred, fear and

bigotry. This is not the Christian faith I know, love and

espouse. As a Christian I chose to act.

Second, I am a minister in the Uniting Church. This has

shaped my life and encouraged me to take this action. In our

tradition, when we become ordained as a minister in the

Uniting Church we are charged with a number of

responsibilities. This includes the charge to “stand alongside

those who suffer, and work for justice and peace in the

world.” I see my actions to be entirely congruent with my

ministry and what the Uniting Church, and indeed God, calls

me to do. How can one preach with integrity on a Sunday and

not act congruently on a Monday. My actions, although not

taken on behalf of my congregation, nor the Uniting Church, I

do see as congruent with this role. The Uniting Church in fact

makes provision for such acts in the Code of Ethics allowing

for “instances of political resistance or civil disobedience.”

This is a freedom for which I am grateful.

However, the protests in support of asylum seekers have

fallen on deaf ears. The Uniting Church has lobbied the

government for many years on this issue, including on the

specific issue of children being held in detention. In June this

year, the week before my arrest, the Uniting Church made a

submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission

Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention. It states:

“The ever-increasing hostility towards asylum seekers

extends to the most vulnerable, all under the guise of

deterrence and “stopping the boats”. In blatant disregard

of the international human rights treaties to which

Australia is a signatory, the Minister for Immigration and

Border Protection Scott Morrison has emphasised that all

asylum seekers – including children – are to be subjected

to the Government’s policy of indefinite offshore

detention:”

Minister Scott Morrison said: “It doesn’t matter whether

you’re a child, it doesn’t matter whether you’re pregnant,

it doesn’t matter whether you’re a woman, it doesn’t

matter whether you’re an unaccompanied minor, it

doesn’t matter if you have a health condition. If you’re fit

enough to get on a boat, then you can expect you’re fit

enough to end up in offshore processing.”

The submission by UnitingJustice Australia firmly stated and

outlined that the indefinite and mandatory detention of

children is a gross violation of international human rights

laws. It stands alongside all of the most vulnerable, who our

government are determined to treat harshly and inhumanely.

I am proud to be a minister of the Uniting Church that

recognizes the injustice, inhumanity and illegality of our

government’s actions. As a minister in the Uniting Church I

chose to act.

Third, my educational experiences have shaped me in

such a way to lead to my decision to take part in this peaceful

sit-in. My undergraduate degree is a Bachelor of Science,

majoring in Genetics and Psychology. I also obtained honours

in Psychology and worked for a psychologist in Adelaide. In

2004 I was offered a generous international student

scholarship to undertake my Masters in Church Ministry in

the United States at Southern Methodist University. When an

internship became available with the Centre for Survivors of

Torture this seemed like a natural fit given my background in

Psychology. This internship involved working with people

who were asylum seekers, asylees, refugees, and victims of

human trafficking all suffering with Post-Traumatic Stress

Disorder (or PTSD). This was an eye-opening experience as I

journeyed with people who had suffered unimaginable

atrocities. What was remarkable was not their suffering but

their capacity for healing. I met women who had been

repeatedly beaten, raped, had their children and families

murdered and yet here they were building a new life. Step by

step they found a new way to live. I remember one woman, as

she walked through the door on her first day, she shuffled

with the gait of someone with Parkinson’s; she never lifted

her head, not even to speak to someone, she spoke virtually in

a whisper. Her wounds were extensive from the torture she

had endured and her psychological scars ran deep. In a few

months, she was able to sit at a table and hold a conversation.

A few more months and she was able to smile. A little longer

and she was looking for work.

There was another man who had come seeking asylum

with his teenage son. He was highly educated and loved to

speak with me about theology and philosophy. One day he

came rushing in really distressed. He had burned down their

kitchen in their new apartment. What he was most upset

about was the thought that he put his son in danger. He wept

at the thought that he might have lost his son now that he was

finally in a land of safety. People seeking asylum are not

putting their children at risk. They don’t somehow love their

children less. They are longing for safety and refuge. They are

longing for an opportunity to rebuild and live make a better

life with the families.

It is horrifying to me that people come to our country and

instead of helping them heal from the traumatic events of

their past, Australia instead adds to their mental distress.

In a 2011 report, the Australian Children’s Commissioners

and Guardians highlighted the lack of access for children in

detention to social and recreational activities which

contributed to stress and anxiety, the limited access to mental

health services with specialist expertise, the lack of any child

protection framework placing them at significant risk of

sexual abuse. In a report from the Australian Human Rights

Commission from July this year, paediatrician Professor

Elizabeth Elliott reported: “We have seen children who have

become sad, they are crying all the time,” Dr Elliott said.

“They have developed bed wetting and poor sleeping. Some

are refusing to eat. We saw several children, which is quite

distressing, who had developed severe speech impediments.

They were having flashbacks and nightmares.

As someone who has seen the scars of PTSD and knows

the hope that is possible I chose to act.

Fourth, I am a member of a Human Research Ethics

Committee. Every committee is required by law to have

someone with pastoral care experience in the community. I

frequently have to consider the needs of people who are

vulnerable: people who are very sick or unable to provide

their own consent, people with cognitive impairment,

intellectual disability, mental illness, and also children. We

come across all kinds of research – studies on cancer,

Alzheimer’s, depression, knee replacement – research

including people who are very ill seeking a miracle cure,

children who are vulnerable due to illness or simply due to

the power differential between medical staff, parents and

them. These children have very specific rights – the right to

refuse treatment, the right to have a parent or guardian

present with them, the right to understand the research and

what is going to happen. When it comes to our treatment of

asylum seekers no such rights are extended. At a meeting

with the Principals who have students attending their schools

who are unaccompanied minors, it became evident that a

student can be interviewed and attend age determination

testing without any advocate present. We do not extend even

the most simple of rights to these children – rights which we

expect to be provided to our own children.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRoC)

asserts that any action must prioritise the child’s best

interests. Indefinite detention of children is never in the best

interest of a child. We are putting the most vulnerable at

further risk, refusing them the rights that we would expect for

our own children. Children deserve a childhood, they deserve

to be protected by adults who are around them and they

deserve to have advocates standing alongside of them in the

scariest of times.

As a member of an ethics committee, I chose to act.

Finally, I am a mother. This shaped me in such a way to

lead to my decision to take part in this peaceful sit-in. My son,

Jack, is two and half years old and I am expecting our next

child, due in February. Recently, Jack has captured the idea of

emotions. The other day while I was making his lunch, he

wrapped his arms around the back of my legs and said, “I

happy, Mummy. Are you happy, Mummy?” “Yes!” I said as I

gave him a giant hug. He does what he calls a “happy dance”

at the dinner table and a happy wiggle when he gets his

favourite foods. He is a happy child. I too had a happy

childhood – filled with wonderful memories of being valued

and loved. Every child deserves the opportunity to have a

childhood. Our government is removing any opportunity for

asylum seeking children to experience a childhood and most

certainly impacting their opportunity to have a happy

I decided to act for Jack and our next child. For me, this is

not an issue of right versus left but rather right versus wrong

and we as Australians are on the wrong side of history.

Children do not belong in detention and when history judges

us I want to be able to tell Jack, his brother or sister and all the

children among us that I stood up for children in detention

and said “Not in my name”. I want to be able to say that I was

part of giving these children a childhood and helping them

experience freedom.

As a mother I chose to act.

These are just some of the reasons I chose to take part in

the peaceful and prayerful sit-in. I take seriously the

consequences of my actions and yet in comparison to

innocent children suffering in indefinite detention they seem

small. My prayer is that these children may know that they

have a future filled with hope and that one-day they may live

in freedom.

Thank you, Your Honour.