Politics


As a young teen living in Perth in 1981, the plight of refugees fleeing from Vietnam, or anywhere else for that matter, was not on my radar. But I had grown up in a loving church community called the Wembley Downs Church of Christ, it was here, and in my family, that I am sure the seeds of compassion for those in need were first planted. I know the people in the story below personally. I’ve eaten with them and (not for a while now) spent quality time with them. My passion for seeing desperate people be given a chance in this great country, no doubt, was borne in the following story;

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(Google Images)

In 1968, two years after qualifying to become a high school maths teacher, Kiem Do was conscripted at the age of 21. He successfully passed an exam that qualified him to join the Air-force and he quickly rose through the ranks to become the Chief Air Terminal Controller in Danang airbase with the rank of Lieutenant.  During this time the war between Vietnam and the United States (depending on who you ask) was raging and continued for 20 years.

Kiem was in the Airforce from 1968-1974 and during this time, in 1973 he met Ky-Anh who was a school teacher, they got married in the same year (it was love at first sight)! They welcomed their first child, Do Dinh Dang Khoa, the following year.

 

In 1974, when North Vietnam took over South Vietnam many allies were captured and placed in “re-education” camps – these camps were really prisoner of war camps (enduring extremely harsh physical and mental conditions).  The minimum sentence for all Prisoners of War (POW) was 3 years and the higher the rank the greater the solider would be held, some cases up to 15 years.

 

One of the things the prisoners were required to do was to write down details of their involvement in the war every month. If a prisoner’s story changed from month to month, their term of stay would be increased. Imagine the mental state of the prisoners required to divulge details of their “disloyalty” regularly.

WAR & CONFLICT BOOK ERA:  KOREAN WAR/PRISONERS

(Google Images)

Due to Kiem’s high ranking position in the South Vietnamese Army, Kiem was treated very poorly in the camp – his living conditions were horrific.  With little to eat and forced to do continual hard labour under harsh conditions, Kiem lost a considerable amount of weight. By way of example, POWs were forced to clear forests for farming and harvest lumber for furniture making. Sadly, quite a number of POWs died from illness, starvation, exhaustion and purpose to live. These POW camps were designed to strip their prisoners of dignity and their will to live – their biggest torture method was to slowly diminish their prisoner’s hopes. During his time in the camp, Kiem found it hard to imagine that there could ever be a bright future for him and his family.

 asddd (Google Images)

Ky-Anh and Khoa during this time were refuged back in Saigon at Ky-Anh’s family home where all her nine siblings and their families lived under one roof.  With food, resources and money being scarce, you can imagine the family squabbles Ky-Anh would have had to deal with. Saigon during this time sustained a great deal of destruction and loss. Ky-Anh lived in fear and saw terrible effects of the war first hand, including human casualty.

 

After three long years, Kiem’s name was called out for release. While detained at POW camp, prisoners wanted to hear their names called out on two occasions. The first is to announce the prisoner’s release, and the second was to clean the pots that the rice was cooked in because it meant that the prisoner could eat the burnt rice stuck to the bottom of the pot. Kiem was never told why he was released and he certainly did not want to hang around to ask!

 

Kiem slowly made his way back to Saigon, walking majority of the way.  Kiem was met with yet another hurdle. All districts of Saigon were controlled by the North Vietnamese Communist Party. The Communist authorities still considered Kiem as a POW and did not permit him to reside in the city. Unable to live in the city, Kiem continued to be separated from Ky-Anh and his son Khoa.

 

He was forced to live on the outskirts of the city and was only allowed to hold menial jobs. As a POW, Kiem was constantly told that his children would not be allowed to attend any form of higher education and there would be no opportunities for them. He and his children would be barred from holding any job with any social high standing of influence.

 

Ky-Anh and Khoa’s living conditions were getting desperate as their living arrangements had not improved and Ky-Anh’s siblings had begun to quarrel. Imagine living with 9 adults and 4 kids, all needing to be fed and clothed with little resources to do so.  Her family were on food rations and she was unable to significantly contribute to the household as she had no means of earning money, she had a young child to look after and a husband who was considered a pariah by authorities. And to make matters worse, Ky-Anh was being ostracised.

 

Kiem managed to secure a job at a pineapple plantation on the outskirts of Saigon. Desperate to see Ky-Anh and Khoa, Kiem would often sneak into the city, walking all the way from the plantation.

 

After working on the planation for 1.5 years, Kiem met a man of Chinese and Vietnamese decent who asked if he knew how to use a compass and read a map. Fortunately due to Kiem’s training in the Airforce, he had acquired the skills of using a compass and reading maps.  However, during this time owning a compass or even talking about a compass would put one’s life in danger. Luckily Kiem had a friend who he knew would be willing to sell this man a compass. This set things in motion and they agreed to work together to escape Vietnam.

 

Escaping Vietnam was not something for the faint hearted. The Communist Party thoroughly patrolled the waterways and kept a close watch on residents living in regions surrounding the waterways closely for suspicious activity – mainly the shipyards where boats were constructed. Even moving Ky-Anh and Khoa from the city into the region to prepare for the escape was extremely dangerous in itself.

 

Kiem, Ky-Anh and Khoa attempted to escape Vietnam 7 times. But each time they were about to attempt their escape, a whistle blower would raise the alarm and they would not get very far. On their 8th attempt, with a new crew and a 11 meter boat installed with a repurposed engine from a wheat grinder, they successfully fled Vietnam.

 

The details of the escape was delicately planned and kept a secret. Kiem himself did not know when the family would be travelling until a core member of the crew informed him a week out from the day. The family had less than a week to prepare for the potentially life ending journey. The fact that Kiem, Ky-Anh and Khoa could not disclose to their extended family members of their plans to leave, made it even excruciatingly more difficult.

 

In the darkness of night, the family sadly left their home and made their way down to the Mekong region to the town of Tra Vinh, to meet up with the organisers. People travelling out of Saigon were required to have documentation issued from the Government outlining their travel. Kiem, Ky-Anh and Khoa had no such documentation, so every bus and ferry ride was extremely stressful.

 

Anyone who was found to be travelling to the Mekong region for the purpose or suspicion of escaping Vietnam were imprisoned, regardless of gender or age. During the family’s travel to the Mekong region they had a few close encounters with the authorities. However, luckily for the family there was usually a large movement of people in this region so the Communist patrols could not check everyone in the region. The family stayed in Tra Vinh at a acquaintance’s house while they awaited for favourable weather condition to travel.

 

Once they received the signal, the plan was to load thirty adults and ten children onto the eleven meter boat, docked halfway downstream at the mouth of the river. This area was usually well patrolled by the authorities especially during calm nights, so the plan was to move small groups of 5-6 people at a time, by rowing small boats to the main boat docked downstream. This operation was extremely risky as these waters were well patrolled, not only by the Communist authorities but also desperate locals seeking to claim reward money if they notified the authorities of escapees. The most difficult part was ensuring that the children were kept extremely quiet during the transfer.

 

Once everyone was transferred into the main boat, Kiem and the crew slowly navigated the boat out towards the open sea. The noise of the engine was smothered by sandbags and channelled into the water. About 100 meters into the journey a patrol boat headed up stream towards their boat. The crew agreed that if they were spotted that they would make a dash for freedom, even though they all understood the potential risk and consequences of getting shot at. They all knew that it was suicidal because their repurposed engine was not going to be able to out run the patrol boat, they had no choice at this point. As the crew held their breath, the patrol boat brushed passed them with no more than 5 meters between them. It was truly amazing that they were not intercepted, shot down or captured during this close encounter.

 

Once out of the river into the open seas, they headed in the direction of Malaysia.  March was the most favourable time of the year to escape Vietnam as the waters were much calmer. This was particularly important given that the boat they were travelling on wasn’t built to withstand poor weather conditions.

 

They travelled for 5 days and 5 nights. What an ordeal for Khoa, a little boy just 6 years of age! They had to survive on small portions of rice, but with a combination of the cramped conditions, anxiety, fear and sea-sickness no one ate.

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(Google Images)

On the 5th evening, Kiem noticed a light beaming from a light house off the coast of Malaysia. Uncertain about the depth of the water and whether there were large rocks at the base of sea, Kiem directed the crew to anchor the boat in a little cove. They watched the path taken by fisherman in hopes that they could lead them safely to shore, but Kiem knew that the fishing boats were too fast for them to follow.

 

The following morning, the crew got long bamboo sticks to probe the water to estimate the seabed depth whilst looking out for protruding jagged rocks. The crew navigated the boat as close to shore as possible. When it was safe enough, the crew and passengers jumped into the water and walked to shore. A local Malaysian from the island stood at shore and welcomed them. Everyone was exhausted, relieved and overwhelmed with so many mixed emotions. Some of joy and others of fear, but one thing they all knew was that they now had freedom. At this point, Kiem, Ky-Anh and Khoa finally saw a future for themselves as a unified family which they had been deprived of for so long.

 

The Immigration Department of Malaysia had predicted that Vietnamese refugees would be arriving from the east coast. The Malaysian government were happy to welcome Vietnamese refugees and agreed to process the refugees’ documentation.

 

All the crew and passengers were transferred by bus to their refugee processing camp in Malaysia. The camp was very basic, but everyone recalled it to be a place filled with positive energy. People had found a renewed sense of hope and aspiration for brighter futures. Meaningful traditional Vietnamese music was played over the camp speakers every day during sunset, whilst it sadly reminded everyone of home and loved ones they left behind, everyone knew how blessed they were to be given the opportunity to wake up each day with the knowledge that they had a sense of control over their destiny. This was a privilege that so many others have sought and lost their lives trying to pursue and for others will never have the opportunity to know freedom.

 

The camp was built with a few small temporary classrooms for the kids and adults to study basic conversational English. Whilst awaiting for processing both Ky-Anh and Khoa attended the school. Having worked with American soldiers during the war, Kiem knew basic conversational English. Instead Kiem assisted in the wood workshop which a Vietnamese refugee had established as he had been at the camp for a very long time. The local camp workers supplied thin plywood and small hand saws for the workshop. The workshop produced plywood pictures (before the likes of 3D printing and laser cutters) and ornaments, including timber replica model boats, which were sold to the local markets in return for small amounts of money.

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Given Kiem’s service in the Airforce with the United States allies, him and his family was given priority to migrate to the United States. However, Kiem felt that United States always seemed to be involved in conflict (he’s not wrong there) and he did not wish to see his family go through anymore wars, so he waited to see if other countries would offer his family the opportunity to resettle.

 

As side note, Kiem recalls an interview he saw on television in Vietnam during the war. He remembers watching Henry Kissinger the then Secretary of the United States under the President Richard Nixon. In this interview he said that if he could live anywhere in the world he would live in Australia. From this point, Kiem knew he wanted to raise his family in Australia because for a prominent diplomat like Kissinger who was well travelled, highly educated and informed, to publically announce that Australia was the best place in world was something significant. Australia was no doubt in Kiem’s mind and heart a place of peace and hope.

 

Kevin Sharp (who, the Do Family, now endearingly refer to him as Uncle Kevin) – was a member of the Wembley Downs Church of Christ. He had read and seen something about boat loads of refugees escaping war torn Vietnam and heading to the east coast of Malaysia and was disturbed by what he saw.  It was in 1981 when he was moved to do something about this tragedy.

 

Kevin presented his case to the Church and suggested we rescue a family and bring them to Australia from the Refugee Camp in Malaysia. He wanted to give a sponsor a family to give them the opportunity to start a new life, a life that we all at some point take for granted.

 

The Australian Immigration Department (under Malcolm Frazer’s Prime Ministership) was involved in sponsorship process. They selected 3 family profiles who were residing in the Malaysian refugee camp to the Church – the Church was to choose 1 family to sponsor. The Church was faced with a hard task and made their decision purely on the photographs that they were provided. The Church chose a family comprising of a well-educated man, along with his wife and son who were in desperate need of a new beginning in a country that could offer many opportunities and possibilities. The Do family had been selected.

 

It took 3 months for the Wembley Downs Church to get the Do’s house in Scarborough organised.

On the 11th of July 1982, the Do family were notified that all was prepared in Perth and they were to leave Malaysia and head to their new life in the land of hopes, dreams and freedom, Australia.

 

Three days later on the 14th of July, the Do family arrived in Perth. Kevin and Fay, [my Aunty], nervously waited at the airport to meet the family that they had sponsored. The flight was filled with refugees who had been successfully sponsored by different churches and organisations.

 

Kevin and Fay distinctly remember seeing a little family coming towards them with all their worldly possessions in a small torn suitcase and under Kiem’s arm was a timber boat, a handmade replica of the boat that they left Vietnam in, which he presented to Kevin as a small token of his gratitude.

 

Perth welcomed the family with one of its coldest winter nights! Coming from humid Malaysia, they were not adequately prepared for such cold weather. Warm clothing was given to the family as they were bundled into a bus with the other refugees and was transferred to Graylands Immigration Centre to start their new life in Australia. At that time, Graylands was used as a holding place for quarantining newly arrived refugees. Here the refugees were involved in an orientation and assimilation program covering language and culture for a period of 6 weeks – this was supposed to be a soft-introduction to living in Perth, WA. After the 6 weeks, the Do family were free to take up residence in the home the Church prepared for them on Scarborough Beach road. When they were transported to their new home, their first reaction was of astonishment and disbelieve that this little flat was so gracefully and generously provided for them.  And it was from that moment this family the Do’s become part of my family.

Over the years I came to see this family as just another family connected to my family, but beautifully different;

  • We had fun with the language barriers.
  • My Mum drove Ky-Anh to the hospital when she was in labour.
  • Ky-Anh learnt to swim in our pool.
  • Khoa went off to school, not being able to speak a word of English.
  • He played basketball in our church team with Dad as the coach.
  • We had fun eating delicious authentic Vietnamese food before there was any of these authentic Vietnamese Restaurants in Perth.
  • We had fun watching their three children grow up, awarded university degrees, getting married, having children, receiving professional recognitions and national education awards.

 

Our little Church with a big heart gave a family a new start in life.

Khoa is now married with three kids: Zachary (10), Amelia (8) and Elysha (2). He currently holds the position of Associate Professor at Curtin University within the School of Built Environment and Design.

 

The middle daughter born in Australia, Gina is married with one daughter, Emily (6) and is currently residing and working in Geraldton. She is the Deputy Headmaster in Nagel Catholic College High School.

 

Christina, the youngest daughter also born in Australia is married and recently had a baby boy Noah only 8 months ago. She is a qualified lawyer and Lecturer in the Curtin Law School. She is due to commence her Doctorate at the University of Western Australia next year.

 

It has been a truly amazing journey to date for the Do family and those who have been involved in the whole process. It is a story of how a little kindness goes such a long way, if we only dare to care.

 

There is an old Chinese proverb that: “When the winds of change blow, some people build walls, others build windmills”. The Do family would like to publicly thank the Wembley Downs Church of Christ and all our church family for their unconditional generosity, kindness and love. Kiem says;

Thank you for building windmills and not walls. Your kindness gave a little refugee family hope and a future where there was none. We are forever grateful that you chose us and we found you!

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Ky-Anh and Kiem Do in October 2016.

 

*Postscript – At the time of publication there are 1233 people in Australia’s off shore detention centres Nauru and Manus who have been told there is no hope of ever placing their feet on our great land. I wonder if there are families with stories like our friends – The Do family, amongst them? I’m sure there are. I wonder if there are any churches and community groups in Australia who will ‘carry’ refugees (no matter how they get here) through the tough years of settlement in a new land? I KNOW there are!

Mission Australia has today welcomed the Government’s budget announcement that it will invest $331 million in a new Youth Employment Strategy to assist young people to make a successful transition from school to work, but cautioned that children from low income families could lose out from the new families package and the government has done little to address the dire state of housing affordability.

“We’re glad that the Government has finally acknowledged that we have to invest in young people to ensure the future prosperity of Australia. Young people are the workers of tomorrow, they are the innovators of tomorrow and they are the tax payers of tomorrow. Their success is our success,” Mission Australia CEO Catherine Yeomans said.

“With a youth unemployment rate of 13.6%, more than double the national rate, we should be ensuring young people have the skills and experience to take on the jobs of tomorrow when our economy picks up.”

“We’re particularly heartened by the additional intensive support for vulnerable job seekers to improve their participation. Unfortunately however, the investment comes just 12 months after the government wound down the successful Youth Connections program, leaving young people adrift for 12 months with no support, waiting for government to fill the gap.”

“We could have made a seamless transition from Youth Connections to a new program rather than losing staff through redundancies, and losing skills and expertise from the sector. But at least the government has recognised its mistake.”

“This is another example of how the community sector frequently gets messed around with short term changes to programs, limited extensions to funding and program withdrawals with little notice. These short term changes come at a cost to the sector, which in turn means that we can deliver fewer services to our clients, and runs counter to the government’s rhetoric about reducing complexity and red tape.”

Ms Yeomans said that punitive reductions in income support for young people announced in the last budget have also been wound back or delayed.

“We are pleased that the government has withdrawn the requirement that people under 30 go without income support for six months of the year. However, we are concerned that some young people under 25 will still need to wait four weeks.”

“There is no good rationale for preventing young people from accessing income support when they need it, particularly when there are five job seekers for every position. Not every young person has access to a stable secure home where they can live with their parents and you can’t pay the rent with thin air.”

“We are also concerned that measures from the last budget to increase the age for Newstart eligibility from 22 to 25 years of age remains, but has been delayed by a year. This means that these young people will have to subsist on almost $100 a fortnight less than if they were receiving Newstart.”

The investment in the first steps towards broader welfare reform were also welcomed, with an allocation of $20 million over four years to fund an actuarial analysis of groups at risk becoming welfare dependent in the long term.

“We need to take a methodical, well thought-out approach to welfare reform that ensures people have adequate support to meet their basic needs, but also provides the right workforce participation incentives,” Ms Yeomans said.

“Conducting the actuarial analysis is the right first step, and it must be followed by targeted investment in improving outcomes for people at risk of welfare dependency.”

However, Ms Yeomans said that in other elements of the budget, such as the families package, the government has missed an opportunity to invest in children in order to reduce their risk of long term welfare dependency.

“While we welcome the extension of the National Partnership on Universal Access, the single means-tested rebate and the new Safety Net, the Activities Test could exclude children who will benefit enormously from participating in early education and care,” Ms Yeomans said.

The government has halved the number of hours of early learning that children can access before their parents will have to pass an activity test, from 24 hours to 12.

“Some children are being penalised for their parent’s unemployment. We need to focus on what’s good for children, not just on participation of their parents.”

“While the increase in the childcare subsidy up to 85% for low income earners is a very welcome development, it’s meaningless if children can’t get the early learning they need because one or other of their parents can’t get enough hours of work.”

“Children need two days of early learning to get the educational benefit and connect properly with their carers. We would urge the government to make this adjustment to the package”

The confirmation of two further years of funding for the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness has provided a lifeline to 180 homeless services around the country, but without indexation or a long-term Commonwealth/State agreement, the future of housing and homelessness policy is still unclear.

“We need a national housing and homelessness policy that addresses the acute shortage of social and affordable housing. This is the missing piece in the budget puzzle.”

“Housing is the biggest cost of living issues affecting low income earners in Australia and we need national leadership to deliver greater supply of social and affordable housing, an increase in rent assistance, a tax system provides incentive for private investment in affordable housing rather than pushing up prices and long-term commitment to homeless service funding.”

“Whilst additional investment in awareness campaign to reduce domestic and family violence is a good start, we’ve got a long way to go to reducing domestic and family violence, which we know is a leading cause of homelessness for women and children.”

Mission Australia added that while the changes the Fringe Benefits Tax which will cap the amount that can be salary sacrificed at $5000 for meal and entertainment expenses will affect staff in the not-for-profit sector, that this was a reasonable savings measure.

#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]

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