Tag Archives: asylum seekers

Cold and broken, but no hallelujah

2 Jul

Maybe there’s a God above

But all I’ve ever learned from love

Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you

It’s not a cry you can hear at night

Its somebody who has seen the light

It’s a cold and its a broken Hallelujah

The haunting, beautiful words of Leonard Cohen’s famous song never cease to move me. I think Jeff Buckley’s version is on every single playlist in my iTunes account.

I was doing a bit of work on the computer this morning, reading up on a few articles about the whole asylum seeker debate here in Australia and my music was playing in the background. At around the same time as Hallelujah came on I played this video of an interview between Fairfax journalist Chris Hammer and WA Labor MP Alannah MacTiernan. In it, MacTiernan shares what she believed was happening with a of 153 Tamil that was near Christmas Island on Friday night. One of the things she says was that she understood the boat had made it quite close to Christmas Island itself.

It was at about that time that she said that in the interview, the line Its a cold and its a broken Hallelujah came on. Continue reading

Whose fault is it anyway?

17 Jun

Boat Crash, December 2010Its been an interesting day. It started with the ABC reporting that a legal case was being mounted against the Commonwealth Government. The applicants are a group of family members of those who lost their lives in December 2010 in the famous ‘boat crash’. I started getting phone calls from journalists asking for comment quite early in the day.

The thing is, Scott Morrison, the Immigration Minister had already responded, making my job a lot easier. Continue reading

Servant leadership, button pushing and getting out there

11 May

Queensland Servant Leadership Forum

I was recently invited to give a talk at the Queensland Servant Leadership Forum (qslf.org.au) which is associated with the National Student Leadership Forum, an event where young people (18-26 years old) come together to explore questions such as ‘how do my faith and values influence my thinking on ideas such as servant leadership’. The young people involved are typically the ‘cream of the crop’, reflecting all that the word ‘potential’ encompasses.

When I was invited, and having had a strong interest in the issue of Servant Leadership for some time now, I asked if I could be a little more involved than just as one of the speakers – I wanted to come to the whole thing.

The forum program involved a number of speakers – from the former CEO of The Coffee Club and Gloria Jeans to the speaker of the Queensland Parliament to a Buddhist nun to a GP who specialises in integrated treatment for people who have suffered abuse and trauma. After each speaker, there was an opportunity for delegates, in small groups, to reflect on the message of the speaker in the context of faith, values and leadership.

My small group was made up of a hugely diverse group of people. We had university students, registered nurses, managers, parents and care workers.  All of them impressed me again and again with their capacity to reflect, discuss and digest.

Over the course of the four days, my group began accusing me of being someone who likes to ‘push buttons’. To be perfectly honest, they had me pegged as someone who askes the harder questions. And I hope they were right… Continue reading

Is it safe in Australia’s offshore detention centres?

27 Apr

Today, the ABC will air a program (on 4 Corners) looking at the Manus Island riots which tragically claimed the life of a young asylum seeker, Reza Berati.

Following Reza’s death, people took to the streets in cities and towns around Australia to protest the Government’s treatment of asylum seekers, but especially to express concern about the terrible offshore processing policy.

In my view, this protest, unlike any other, marked a shift in public opinion on the issue of how to handle asylum seekers who arrive by boat. Reza’s death, while tragic, was also the death we needed to have. It helped to convince a group of people who were previously on the fence that we need to question whether we really are comfortable with this policy. Some of those people will ultimately decide they’re not. It didn’t convert any existing protesters, but it did create a new group of opponents.

The ABC interviewed Immigration Minister Scott Morrison for the 4 Corners program and the news this morning included a story about how he had changed his language. They said that previously he had given a guarantee that asylum seekers in offshore processing centres would be safe if they didn’t get involved in violent riots. Now, he was no longer giving that guarantee, but rather stating that that safety was only an ‘aspiration’.

I think the story is a little unfair on Scott Morrison. Far be it from me to defend this government, but let’s be practical for a second… Continue reading

Non-violent civil disobedience

22 Mar

Some people who I have a lot of respect for recently staged a sit-in, prayer vigil in Immigration minister Scott Morrison’s office. They prayed for Scott Morrison and the government for around 2 hours before the police came and asked them to move on. They refused and, ultimately, five of the party were arrested (still without violence).

Less than 48 hours earlier, one of them had asked me about whether non-violent civil disobedience was appropriate both as a Christian and in relation to the issue d the Australian government’s policy on handling asylum seekers.

My answer, which I stand by, went something along the lines of ‘I think there are times when it is appropriate for individuals to be involved in this kind if action, but it is very rare. Also, if you are considering this kind of thing, it is worth taking time out to think about both the impact that you may (or may not) have – I.e will it actually achieve anything! – and whether the implications of being arrested may close doors in the future which you may actually want to stay open. But if, having considered those things, you still feel it’s the right thing to do, go for it! I may not join you myself, but I may still agree with what you’re doing.’

What these guys did at Scott Morrison’s office gave them a chance to say some really helpful things. (The media article with the most comprehensive quotes is here:http://www.biblesociety.org.au/news/christians-hold-prayer-vigil-inside-office-immigration-minister-five-arrested)

What I like about this action, as opposed to some of the actions taken by others who claim to be advocating for refugees and asylum seekers, is that it didn’t cause any harm to asylum seekers themselves (as encouraging lip sewing and hunger striking does) and it raised the issue without violence.

imageFurther, their actions served to encourage a more positive response in the Minister, highlighting the truth of the Christian faith (that it calls us to care for the vulnerable) and how that gospel message can be brought to bear on this area of public policy.

The danger of the action would be that it would be taken by the general public as evidence of a schism in the church. However, even though it highlights an important divide in the politics and thinking of the church, it didn’t come across as an adversarial action or argument, but rather a respectful invitation by some believers to some others to join in prayer for the issue.

I have to be honest, a part of me wishes I had gotten involved. I don’t often feel this way about advocacy action, but in this case, it just seemed so right.

Thanks to those friends of mine who had the courage, grace and intelligence to conduct themselves so well.

Information flows

22 Sep


The newly elected Australian Government have come under fire recently about their decision not to release information about new boat arrivals. From what I can tell, they plan to stop the publication of regular data about the numbers, nationalities and family breakdowns of the boats that arrive.

The newly ousted former government (now opposition), the media, and many commentators and advocates are up in arms about it.

I’m not.

Before you get upset at me, don’t worry, I’m not a fan of any of the new governments asylum seeker policies. They’re a tragedy!! But the decision not to publish this info doesn’t have me all that concerned…. And here’s why…

Continue reading

A story of tragic experiences…

11 Sep


The image of that boat crashing against the rocks will never leave me. Neither will the memory of that phone call from the hospital asking whether we had any body bags because they had run out.

In the few weeks leading up to the crash, I had been heading into the office very early in the morning, sometimes before 4.30am. Christmas Island was four hours behind Canberra time (because of daylight savings), so I would go and get as much done while Canberra were at their desks. That way, I could be ready and available to help my staff when they arrived in the office at North West Point.

For the previous few mornings, the summer swells had been really big. There had even been community bulletins put out for the Kampong area (opposite the jetty at Flying Fish Cove) warning against freak waves that could swamp the ground-floor apartments.  All the offload operations and first day processing had been put on hold until the weather died down. We had a couple of Customs and Border Protection boats (including Navy boats) out on the water with asylum seekers on board, waiting to disembark once it was safe. (They had all been transferred off their own vessels because of the dangerous conditions.)  Each morning, I’d head down to the jetty to have a look at the conditions, trying to work out if the offload was likely.

On the morning of the 15 December, I did just that – drove past the jetty (at about 5.45am, a bit later than usual) and then went on to the office.  The swells was enormous and I knew, as soon as I saw the cove, that we wouldn’t be doing an offload operation that day. It was simply too dangerous.

Almost as soon as I parked my car and walked into the detention centre front gate, my phone rang to say that an unexpected boat had arrived – unintercepted by the Navy (as sometimes happened) – and was dangerously close to the shoreline down in Settlement (one of the main residential areas on the island). The boat crashed against the rocks shortly after 7am and we had a disaster on our hands… Continue reading


Tonight’s episode of the ABCs 7.30 Report – link

23 Jul

Tonight’s episode of the ABCs 7.30 Report


In it, I talk about the fact that lessons haven’t been learnea from precious tensions and riots and that I’m not surprised that the Nauru riots happened.

What I also said that didn’t get much coverage was that riot gear and other equipment is as important to protecting those people (asylum seekers) not involved in the incident as anything…

The RRA… Good samaritan or eye for an eye?

21 Jul

kevin_rudd_400_aap_black_18uhoao-18uhoatThe last few days of the media in Australia have been dominated by a discussion of the shifting politics between Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and opposition leader Tony Abbott. With Rudd’s announcement of a signed Refugee Resettlement Agreement (RRA) with the PNG Government, the talk of the town was that he had now done everything there was to do before an election except announce a date. The polls saw him gain a healthy bump and, as a result, the pressure started mounting on Tony Abbott (and his staff) to explain how they had managed to lose an election-winning lead in the space of just two weeks.

In amongst all that, some people have been analysing the details of this RRA (at least, analysing the details that have been made public) and asking some questions. Many would agree (myself included) that this was as much a political solution as a policy one – Rudd needed to change the Labor party’s fortunes on the issue – and it seems to have worked. But what does it all really mean.

I’ve already posted on what I think of the RRA, but I wanted to share a further thought after a friend of mine asked me whether the deal wasn’t a little bit like the story of the good samaritan… Continue reading

Is there a queue?

15 Jul

seminar on QueueAre boat people queue jumpers? Most people have never really stopped to ask themselves the question. We just assume they are. After all, we know that there are lots of people in the world who sit in refugee camps for decades, even generations. Why are the ones who can afford to get on a board more deserving of a new life in our country than the wholes who can’t?

As with most aspects of the issue of asylum seekers, the truth is not so simple. And, of course, the more complex an issue is, the harder it is to sell to the voters and the more quickly the public stop listening… Continue reading


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