As a result of the recent political turmoil in our country, it is perhaps an opportune time to raise an issue that has been on my heart for a while, but I have not been able to articulate adequately.
We have had a significant change in leadership in the country, albeit frustrating and confusing at times, but maybe this is the time for a new political landscape.
It is time for our Prime Minister, reportedly a deeply religious man of the Christian faith, to get families off Nauru.
Six years after the Australian government began sending people seeking asylum to Nauru, there are still around 900 people left on the island, including an estimated 109 children. All of them will have been there for over four years.
Asylum seekers in Indonesia say they will no longer attempt to reach Australia by boat because the federal government turn-back policy has been so effective (SMH 25 August 2018).
The representatives of asylum seekers say this would not change even if refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island were resettled.
The boat turn-back strategy – a crucial part of the Abbott government’s policy “Operation Sovereign Borders” and implemented by then immigration minister Scott Morrison – is repeatedly cited as the reason why Australia is no longer considered a viable destination.
Asylum seekers say the message that Australia ‘‘is closed’’ has also been successfully reinforced by an extensive advertising campaign. And no one is prepared to spend the thousands of dollars to buy passage on a dangerous boat when it will be turned back.
Yet, the children still remain and there are many who are suffering long term psychological damage as a result of their continued incarceration. These cases below are on the parliamentary record and had the federal court intervene to allow medical procedures to happen:
- A 14 year old girl doused herself with petrol and set herself alight
- A 17 year old boy suffered from psychosis
- An adolescent girl suffered major depression and traumatic withdrawal syndrome
- A 17 year old girl refused food and fluid diagnosed with resignation syndrome
- A 12 year old girl attempted suicide several times
- A 14 year old boy suffered major depressive disorder and severe muscle wastage after not getting out of bed for four months.
Australian Medical Association president, Tony Bartone, recently wrote to PM Morrision to seek the removal of families from a situation he characterised as an “humanitarian emergency requiring urgent intervention.”
Bartone told Morrison he made the decision to write because of “a recent groundswell of concern and agitation across the AMA membership and the medical profession about conditions on Nauru, and the escalation in reports of catastrophic mental and physical health conditions being experienced by the asylum seekers, especially children.”
“There are now too many credible reports concerning the effects of long-term detention and uncertainty on the physical and mental health of asylum seekers,” Bartone said in the letter to Morrison. “It is within the power of the government to move on this issue and play its part in allowing traumatised people to begin rebuilding their lives.”
Whose side is our Prime Minister on?
It is time to challenge our PM on these matters and how he sees them relating to his faith. I am happy to be labelled along with him as a “happy clappee!” I am happy to say I have listened to Hillsong music, read and listened to Brian Houston and his opinions. I have been to many churches similar to the church that PM Morrison now attends.
Mr Morrison has always been unapologetic about his commitment to the Pentecostal faith that has shaped his politics. Mr Morrison has even quoted one of the United States’ greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln, in parliament when he said, “Our task is not to claim whether God is on our side but to pray earnestly that we are on his.”
This is not the time for a religious, theological or doctrinal war. This is a time where Morrison’s faith should be challenged and whether he really does believe what he espouses.
Whose side is he on?
When Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Do I, does Mr Morrison, really believe this? Surely the families on Nauru are “the least of these” Jesus was talking about.
Which scripture is our Prime Minister reading?
The solution is simple
- Churches and people of faith need to find their voice in the community on an issue where the life and death of individuals is at stake. I believe the sanctity of life from womb to tomb is an overriding principle foundation to our faith. If family values are so important to many Christians, then the immediate relocation of these families is crucial and should be attended to immediately.
- We need PM Morrison’s government to be transparent about the situation on Nauru. We need to call for access to and accountability for the facilities where families are being detained.
For all Christians in Australia, we will continue to be judged about how we view the “least of these.” Many have stood up and courted different sides of the political spectrum for little gain in the promotion of “family values.” History will judge us on how we have treated the “least of these.” Immigrants within our country, and those being detained on off shore processing centres is a test of our faith for which we will all be accountable for and will shape the meaning of our faith to those in the community.
It is time for all people of faith, from the Prime Minister right down to the pew warmer, to act – and to start getting the families off Nauru.
Russell Modlin teaches English and Physical Education at a Christian School on the Sunshine Coast. He is married to Belinda and they have three children.