Politics


#LoveMakesAWay

Protest

For many years I have half joked about the fact that on my bucket list was this; that I would be arrested for doing something righteous, Christ-like, aka – not drunk and disorderly conduct!

I guess in some ways that motivation makes this ‘all about me’. Other than the fact that my desire was for it to be for something Christ-like, aka – ‘all about others’ :-)  Following?

We could stop and have a long discussion about what percentage of my motivation was ‘ego’ (all about me) and what percentage of my motivation was ‘all about others’, but I am thinking that this is hard to measure, and is not my purpose here, I will make some related comments later, but first – some history.

I have been disturbed for some years on Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. Even more so with Abbott’s “Stop The Boats” and “No Way” campaigns. But in 2004 the challenge to the Government from the Human Rights Commissioner was to release children from detention, see this amazing challenge from them here. And what has disturbed me is that, today, there are more kids in detention (1138 kids in detention) than in 2004.

This issue of kids in detention seems a bigger issue than the more general and much ‘hotter’ topic of stopping boats, detaining asylum seekers or off shore processing. It seems a no-brainer that kids don’t belong in detention, the results are horrific; (from the 2004 report)

There is a 14 year old boy still in detention in the Port Augusta residential housing project. Between April 2002 and July 2002, the boy (then detained at Woomera) attempted to hang himself four times, climbed into the razor wire four times, slashed his arms twice and went on hunger strike twice. This boy’s mother was hospitalised due to her own mental illness during this whole period.

Then there is the case of a 13 year old child who has been seriously mentally ill since May 2002. This boy has regularly self-harmed. In February 2003 a psychiatrist examining the boy wrote: ‘When I asked if there was anything I could do to help him, he told me that I could bring a razor or knife so that he could cut himself more effectively than with the plastic knives that are available.‘ Mental health professionals have made more than 20 recommendations that this child be released from detention with his family. But he is still there. 

Human Rights Commissioner Dr Sev Ozdowski, OAM. Published in the Courier Mail and the Newcastle Herald, 10 June 2004

When I saw that some Christians had approached the Minister for Immigration’s office in March of this year (2014) demanding an answer as to when kids would be released and were arrested for their actions, I was excited. Not only was someone screaming loudly about this issue but it was a group of fellow believers including a mate of mine, Jarrod McKenna.

When the opportunity came to be involved in a similar event here in Perth at the Subiaco office of Julie Bishop (Deputy PM and Minister for Foreign Affairs), I didn’t have to pray and contemplate for very long at all.

2 training sessions took place prior to the event and articles were shared with regards to the philosophy and theology behind such an action as was being planned. The historical basis for this type of thing goes back a-way…We could go back to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the book of Daniel in the Hebrew scriptures who refused to obey the laws of the land as they served a higher law – God’s law, they were willing to suffer whatever consequences. We could jump forward to Jesus whose life was one political protest after another, whose teachings were subversive and his final punishment a result of his refusal to obey the laws and shut up about his insistence that he was God. Jesus resisted in a non-violent manner, he refused verbal or physical abuse or acts of violence towards his fellow humans…although if you were a table in the temple in those days you were in trouble :-)

ArrestHistory has been filled with people who have followed in like manner, look at Gandhi and look at Martin Luther King Jnr.

In fact it was King’s model that was referred to in much of the training in the lead up to this event. We were encouraged to read the letter King posted to christian leaders who were critical of his actions in being repeatedly arrested for his stance against segregation.

He encourages 4 steps, all of which have been followed in our recent case;

1.  Collection of the facts, is this really happening?

2. Negotiation. This has been happening for a decade with no response as to when kids will be released.

3. Purification, times of prayer and preparation for those committing to the action, particularly around committing to non-violence and peace.

4. Direct Action. This took place last Monday in Julie Bishops office

In his letter Kings writes;

“You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.”

One of the questions many have asked me, even challenged me on since the event, was around the ‘showing off’ of the event on social media. Every newspaper clipping posted on someone’s site, every mention of it splashed around the Twittersphere – were they not just another way of saying “look at me, I got arrested”? Were they not just a form of ego massage?

For me? YES!! and NO!!

I would be a liar of I denied that there was ANY sense of self back patting in this past week. I would be a liar if I hadn’t felt the ego swell when yet another text or Facebook message came in.

BUT – as a team, from the very beginning we named this, we held each other accountable, keeping our celebrations in check and focused on the issue, and more than once a text or call has been shared at an accountability level since the event.

BUT -

This was a drama and we were the ‘lead actors’! This was meant to gain maximum media coverage and attention. The bigger it was the better it was. This was not about 11 people being arrested, this was about WHY 11 people were arrested, WHY 11 people trespassed on Federal Government land – This is still about 1138 Children in detention centres!

We did not come in a spirit of self-righteousness or condemnation. We do not judge the Minister or her staff. In fact, we pray for our Foreign Minister in her difficult role. The friendly police officers were just doing their job, so we did not resist arrest. (quoted from here)

Some more questions I’ve been asked;
Does not Paul’s letter to Rome tell us to obey the laws of the land?
M.L. King puts it best when he wrote from the Birmingham jail -
One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.” Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.
Did You Know The Minister Would Not Be There?
Yes, we knew she was in Mexico, and that the chance of ever finding her in her Perth office was slim. But this is her office, her representation, they advocate for her. She and her wider staff and junior ministers are in constant contact with this site. Remember this is about dramatizing the cause. In some senses, if we had got an answer from her or through her office regarding a date for a release of kids in detention, or even a “no” we wont release them, we may have been very shocked! The question has been asked since kids have been sent to detention here in Australia and never been answered, the courts and the Human Rights Commission are still asking the question we asked.  Underlying our question was a desire to highlight that very question to Australia (and now the world as people such as Claybourne and Campolo are posting about this and the action in Sydney at Morrison’s office on their sites in the USA).  So her not being there was almost beside the point, obviously if she was present it would have been a bonus but I wonder if we would have even got near the reception due to security.
Was this not just a waste of tax payers money?
And the 5 billion dollars we spend on keeping people detained each year is not a waste? I don’t know what the cost our actions would have been to the public Monday. There were more than 20 police and support staff involved, so yes, there would have been a cost. But the truth is that if every person in detention today was released into the Australian community and claimed Centrelink for a year, (unlikely as many would jump in and start working and begin to pay tax), but if they all did, the cost of their living in our communities would be about $500M ! We would be saving $4.5B  a year. I think our action and the publicity it gained was money well spent.
Why non-violent, could you not have shouted a bit and thrown a few punches? :-)
M.L. King refers to a double victory.
1) That we achieve a primary goal, for us a) That we get an answer on how long kids will remain in detention, or b) we get arrested for asking (this we did) and;
2) That we remained calm, at peace, and built relationships with the police and staff who we interacted with in our action. This we did. In fact some of us continue to be in contact with those who were called to remove us. They said, “You are the nicest people we have ever arrested”, “If I wasn’t in this uniform, I’d be there on the floor with you guys” and in all truth, these police, both federal and state were brilliant. They were warm, friendly men and women, they were respectful of our actions and they definitely did everything in their power to avoid arresting us! I asked if their insistence that we don’t push through to arrest was due to the amount of paper work they would have to do. They agreed that there was a bit of that, but they just said that the afternoon would be a long drawn out episode for us and would require a further court case and they felt for us having to go through all this. (I’d say there was lot of paper work though :-)  )

Did you have to take it to the point of arrest, why not just get kicked out?

One of the police officers asked me this after we were offered the chance to get out and chat with the press via a “move on notice”.  I responded by saying that if we were there protesting bad recycling practices in our local suburb or some other such lesser issue we may take the offer. But this issue – kids in detention – was too big for a move on notice, it required an arrest and we would stay until removed by arrest. It is interesting to note that the officer agreed with me. We were arrested. We were taken to Northbridge lockup for the afternoon. Processed (finger prints etc) and released on $0 bail with an order to not approach Ministers of Government until our court appearance on May 2.

Outside Office

Are there not legal avenues to get these kids out?

In July 2002, the Family Court of Australia ordered the release of five Afghan children from Baxter Immigration detention centre. The children were being held there with their mother (and later their father was also detained). The children were released into community care, separate from their parents who remained in detention.

[But] the Minister appealed this case on the grounds that the Family Court had no jurisdiction in this area. This was upheld by the High Court in 2004 (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs v B and B [2004] HCA 20). The children’s ongoing detention was deemed lawful under the Migration Act. It was found that sections 189 and 196 of the Migration Act make no distinction between unlawful non-citizens who are under or over the age of 18 and such matters were not relevant to the Family Courts.

In October 2004, without having to address any areas of Family Court jurisdiction, the High Court again found that it was lawful to keep children in continued immigration detention in the case of Woolley (Woolley; Ex parte Applicant M276/2003 (by their next friend GS) [2004] HCA 49).

After mounting pressure, a report by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (A Last Resort, 2004) [referred to above] and numerous medical experts providing evidence of the detrimental impacts of detention on children – legislative change was made. The Migration Act was amended in 2005 (Migration Amendments (Detention Arrangements) Act 2005) and section 4AA now states:

  1. The Parliament affirms as a principle that a minor shall only be detained as a measure of last resort.

In February 2011 there were 990 children held in immigration detention. (as of March 2014 – 1138) The Immigration Minister announced in October 2010 that ‘the majority of children would be out of detention by June 2011’. Despite section 4AA of the Migration Act there are no measures in place today for the arrival of children seeking asylum by boat other than to detain them as a first course of action.  (Source – State Library of  NSW)

 What Would Happen to These Kids If They Were Released?

A great question that must be asked, and one of the most often asked questions to me since the event last Monday.

As we wrote in our media explanation of why we did this;

The Uniting Church in Australia has offered to care for all the children currently in detention on Christmas Island.

The Baptist Churches in NSW have offered hospitality to over 80 people being transferred from Villawood.

The reality is that churches in Australia have more than sufficient resources to facilitate community-based care for all the children currently behind bars.

Our elected leaders only need to respond to our invitation. Australian people of all faiths and none will respond with creativity and compassion.

It is my understanding from precedent, that Children with parents are released with at least one parent into what is referred to a as APOD (Alternate places of detention) or community detention. Here are some further details for you, some further children are reportedly in detention taking totals to what we have been told are 1138;

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) latest statistics are dated 28 February 2014 and were released around 18 March 2014. These show;
  • 1106 children locked in Australia’s secure immigration detention facilities, 
  • 356 of these children are detained on Christmas Island 
  • 177 of the children are detained in Nauru

 

  • 1579 are detained in the community under residence determinations.
  • 1816 children are living in the community on Bridging Visas which mean their parents have no work rights and very limited access to any Government support (this is an increase of around 100 in one month, indicating moves out of locked detention or out of community detention) (Italics mine, indicating something positive in all this…maybe?)

The statistics do not give a breakdown of how many children are unaccompanied vs how many are with adult family members.

In conclusion

You may be troubled by our actions. But ask yourself which is more troubling – the peaceful tradition of Christian civil disobedience, or the 1138 children  who are in prison indefinitely?

If you are as troubled as we are about how we are ignoring these children, we invite you to do one thing. We invite you to start a conversation. Talk with people at home, at work, at the football club or on Facebook. You may be surprised just how many people are troubled too. Let’s make sure that children in our detention centres can no longer be ignored. Will you join us? (Taken from WA Today Op Ed piece)

There will be another gathering, a show of support for the 11 arrested as they appear in court, but most importantly a stand against our Government’s decision to keep 1138 children in detention centres.

We will gather outside the court on May 2 at 7.45am. 501 Hay St Perth. I recommend a half day training event on Thursday 29th April 9.30am – 12 at Westcity Church Wembley.

newspaper article protest
We are -
The Reverend Chris Bedding (Darlington Anglican), Pastor Jarrod McKenna (Westcity Church) and Pastor Peter Barney (Riverview), Pastor Phil Stevenson (Westcity Church), Simone Stuart, Paul Montague (Uniting Church in WA), Julia Devereux (Lake Joondalup Baptist Church), Scott Vawser (Chaplain, Mission Australia), Miik Green, Kris Kingswell, Alex Holmes-Brown, Laura May, Michael Devereux (Lake Joondalup Baptist Church)

A letter from Simon Moyle via Jarod Mc Kenna

Defense Minister Stephen Smith recently took a trip to Afghanistan, with a range of reasons cited in the Defense Department media release. What wasn’t mentioned there – or anywhere else by the Gillard government – was the finalising of a draft Australian/Afghan Strategic Agreement for post 2014, due to be signed in just five weeks. That I discovered in a tweet from TOLOnews, an Afghan news organisation. It appears the Gillard government is keeping this agreement under wraps, hoping no one will notice.
The good news is that thanks to an email to some journos the story ran in the Age today. There are also a couple of us trying to get the attention of other media outlets. I’ve also talked to Adam Bandt’s PA so the Greens can ask some sticky questions.
If you can all post the Age article to social media, and tell everyone you know that this is happening, we have about a month to cause a ruckus that might bring some transparency, and then accountability.
I’m also thinking of putting together an email/social media appeal for people to contact their MPs, etc. so that there’s at least some wider knowledge and a modicum of accountability.
Just so people are aware of the significance of this:
1. In these kinds of agreements there’s always a “status of forces agreement”, which details how that particular military will be permitted to relate to the country post withdrawal. There is a good possibility that Australian SAS will continue to operate in Afghanistan post 2014. In particular it has already been said that while the mentoring task force (those training Afghan troops) are likely to drawdown and leave before the 2014 deadline, SAS will still be conducting capture and kill raids up to that deadline. Remember that just last November Gillard insisted that Australia will have a presence in Afghanistan “until the end of the decade at least”. It would be quite a turnaround in six months to bring that date forward so dramatically. So one question is: will SAS stay doing capture and kill raids for whatever criminal syndicate is in central government by 2014? (Karzai is already considering breaking his own election rules by seeking a third term, and to give himself the best chance is looking at bringing the election forward from the scheduled 2014 date to 2013)
2. The other big factor is aid, and in particular military aid. We already know that the force that we’re supposed to be training will likely cost around $6 billion a year, in a country which has a GDP of $1.6 billion, meaning the force we’re training will rely on massive ongoing military aid for the foreseeable future. Either that, or if the amount drops (and you can bet it will post withdrawal, particularly given financial crises and such) Afghanistan ends up with thousands of armed and trained men with no job. This is the disaster-in-waiting we’ve created.
3. The Australian agreement sits alongside (and no doubt works in with) the US/NATO Strategic Partnership Declaration, which some Afghans are describing as “slavery” and consigning them to “permanent terrorism”. It essentially allows for permanent US bases.
So, I think we have an opportunity, over the next five weeks, to let the government know that we know about this agreement, and call for accountability.
Please contact your MP and ask them what the Australian Afghan Strategic Agreement contains.

The Federal Government are reviewing the funding of Chaplaincy in schools around Australia. Mission Australia chaplains were asked to comment on the white paper. My comments were sent in via an email, but not included in our final submission, I didn’t get feedback, maybe they were not in line with the overall MA feedback.  But my comments were similar to this article I read recently from an ABC website by Scott Stephens.

No government funds, please: we’re

Christians!

There is no surer way of bringing the simmering debate about the role of religion in Australia to a full boil than by invoking the money and tax concessions given by government to fund certain religious activities. In no time, what already tends to be a fairly uncivil argument devolves into bitter invective against the supposedly theocratic designs of the churches from one side, and dismissive assertions of a kind of historically legitimate Christian “exceptionalism” from the other.

I believe that both extremes in this debate are wrong: the “secularists” because they assume that once religion is removed from public-political life, and consigned to interiority (where they assume it belongs, if anywhere), the secular space that is left will be neutral, benign and inherently just; and the Christian “exceptionalists” because they think that God’s providential care of the world can be mediated through political coercion, and because they do not believe that being on the payroll of the State is hazardous to the soul of Christianity itself… [read full article here]

I heard that Uganda took in 6 million refugees recently…we have 14 or 15 wanting to come in on a boat and it makes national news…we need to get over ourselves ! Here are some stats -

They [boat people] make up less than four per cent of people who come to Australia seeking asylum, yet never fail to generate an astonishing political and media storm.

So here are some facts: more than 96 per cent of asylum seekers arriving in Australia step off planes, not boats. Furthermore, the vast majority of boat arrivals are typically found to be genuine refugees – those fleeing for their lives and safety, not simply seeking better lives in wealthier nations. Far from being “illegal immigrants” they are exercising the right to seek asylum under international law.

Yet right now our Government is actually considering paying Indonesia, a country which has not signed the UN Convention on Refugees, to swoop in on people desperately seeking refuge in Australia before we’ve even had a chance to hear their claims.

In Indonesia, this group of asylum seekers, including a pregnant woman and several children, will be placed in immigration detention until they are processed by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Despite financial assistance from the Australian Government and the International Organisation for Migration, Indonesian detention centres are over-crowded and under-resourced.

Asylum seekers in Indonesia face arbitrary and indefinite detention until the UNHCR processes their claims. Amnesty International is concerned that the UNHCR has limited capacity in Indonesia and asylum seekers may be forced to spend extended periods in detention while waiting to apply for refugee status.

Refugees in Indonesia do not have the right to work, send their children to school and have no recourse to a more permanent status. Their only hope of a durable solution is to be selected for resettlement to a third country through the UNHCR, a process that can take more than six years.
[Source]

God’s Politics Jesus and Justice Always Kiss: A Plea to Youth Pastors Making Out with Empire

by Jarrod McKenna 02-11-2009

That U.S. megaphone of amazing grace, Shane Claiborne, was recently moved to tears after witnessing a youth gathering in Australia. As he wrote: Can you imagine if our North American Christian conferences had a witness on the streets like that [inspiring peaceful public direct action drawing attention to militarism and world poverty]? In the middle of it all, I had one person come up to me and say – “if this is what Christianity is, then sign me up.” In this notoriously non-Christian country, I was proud to be part of a witness that showed folks a Christianity worth believing in, good news they could see and touch and feel. I wonder if it’s because of our context of witness in a (as brother Shane put it), “notoriously non-Christian country,” that Australian Christians might be better positioned to see the necessity of ‘Jesus and justice kissing.’ This necessity is not simply for the ends of ‘effective evangelism.’ The necessity lies in biblical imperative that evangelism must never be divorced from discipleship. That we share Jesus by inviting others to join a community learning the practicalities of walking in God’s new world. Or as the early Anabaptists put it, “walking in the resurrection.” In this “non-Christian [or post Christendom] country” many of us have become very aware that the means of outreach directly correspond to how young people understand the content of our faith. Many find themselves asking if ‘Jesus and justice’ aren’t kissing in our ministry, is it the Jesus of the gospels we are preaching? If Jesus and justice aren’t kissing in our ministry, are we (and a generation of young people) missing out on the fullness of the good news of the kingdom breaking in through Jesus? [Read the full article and comments here]

I had a meeting yesterday with some friends about a potential connection between a remote community in the North West and their church in Perth. One of the questions asked was ‘Why?”

I think it needs to be asked.

One of my passions is this very idea of communities connecting with other communities for a reciprocal benefit. A kind of partnership if you like. Most of white Australia’s history with the ‘First Australians’ has been pretty one sided, even recent history – think ‘N.T. intervention’! My passion would be to build relationship between communities for mutual benefit.

What benefit is there for me in having a relationship with some remote community in the Kimberley or a Noongar community right here in Perth? More than there is for them I would suggest! I actually think white man has gone into Aboriginal communities throughout our history with our own agenda of sorts. Mostly a one sided agenda – be it to teach, tell, take or … take over! Very few times do I hear stories of white man going into relationship with an indigenous Aussie or community to listen, learn, and love. I think one of the key reasons I have been rather apathetic in my own relationships and interactions with our first Australians has been largely due to fear of offense (due to my ignorance) rather than any form of racism, although I am not claiming innocence here! Why do people walk across to the other side of the road if they see a dark aboriginal man walking towards them? Racism? Maybe, but my guess is that these days there are many who would not count themselves as racist, they wept when the apology was spoken, they were appalled when the army stormed the N.T. remote communities without due consultation. But these same people when confronted with an aboriginal just don’t quite know what to do. They don’t want to offend culture, they don’t want to embarrass themselves, they are just stuck in ignorance so they walk away.

I know a few aboriginal people, in fact I am related to one. And I would suggest on the whole these great people might want to offer white Australians a gift. A gift of education and relationship. If us white fellas took time and effort to know a bit more about culture, about country about language, history, story and song – if we just knew a bit more we would be less ignorant and therefor less fearful and more willing to engage.

My passion would be to link willing aboriginal people and communities with willing non-indigenous Aussies and communities and humbly ask the indigenous people, “Are you willing to teach us about your people, your culture, your country, your history”, and where appropriate, “your dreaming, your songs?”  I used the word “Mission” in my meeting yesterday and one of the people froze up and became a little agitated. “Let me explain” I said. I suggested that traditionally “mission” has been about proselytism, primarily about “evangelizing the heathen”. I suggested my opinion was that mission was as much about us as it was “them” (whoever the “them” may be). That our mission as believers was primarily about seeing where God was already at work among people and all of creation, then once identified, going and joining Him in His work. This to me is about Kingdom. Seeing opportunities for peace, reconciliation, restoration and relationship – the things of the Kingdom – and working with the Spirit in these things.

I asked my cousin about some of these things and she said for a start I should watch some movies and read some books. Here is a list of some of her recommendations, added to them are some others I have read or had recommended ;

Movies and Documentaries-

10 Canoes

The First Australians SBS Series.

Yolngu Boy

Coolbaroo Club

Ranyini

Bran Nue Day

Why Me? Stories of The Stolen Genneration

Liyarn Ngarn

Books

Two Men Dreaming

An Aboriginal Mother Tells of The Old and The New – Labumore

The Tall Man – Chloe Hooper

Voices of Aboriginal Australia – Moores

The World of The First Australians – Berndt

The lamb enters the dreaming: Nathaniel Pepper and the ruptured world – Kenny

Blood, spirit and bones: Aboriginal Christianity in an East-Kimberley town

I guess aprt from reading books and watching movies, what has helped more than anything else has been sitting with people who are Australian Aboriginal and asking questions and listening… and listening…

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