Today I went to a discussion hosted by the Anglican activist pastor, Father Rod Bower. If you follow Australian politics you might have seen one of his church signs questioning the wisdom of our elected politicians as they are regularly shared on social media. With him were Julian Burnside QC, well known as a human rights advocate and thorn-in-the-side of successive asylum-seeker-mistreating Australian governments and Professor Patrick McGorry, psychiatrist and mental health advocate and the grandfather of Australia's wonderful 'headspace' program which helps teenagers with mental health issues.
|Salar Hs (left) performs with Gosford musicians|
The afternoon also included cross cultural music (Iranian/Australian) written for the event by Iranian violinist Salar Hs and Caitlin Yeo. (They got a standing ovation.)
The discussion was billed as being about the impact of past, present and future border protection policies on the well being of asylum seekers seeking protection in Australia. Australia has an abysmal record in dealing with asylum seekers and I would have thought it obvious that ill treatment would have a very negative effect on them but I went because I have wondered at the strength and tenacity of Julian Burnside for some time and was interested to see him in the flesh.
The church was overflowing. More chairs were brought in and still more, but there were still people standing. Despite it's activist pastor, Gosford as an area is not known for being particularly progressive and seeing the church so full of people wanting to hear about this difficult subject was heart warming. If there are so many concerned people here in the boonies, then there is perhaps hope yet for Australia.
How the young men (and women and children) on Nauru and Manus are going to fare is hard to imagine. The worst of it is that the Government is torturing these people deliberately, as a sign to others not to try to get to Australia. McGorry said he had been in the UK recently for the world cup between NZ and Australia and was startled to discover that every one of the neutral observers he met were backing New Zealand. Such is international distaste for Australia nowadays. As several people said, our reputation is being trashed for a great deal of money and at the cost of people we should be protecting.
Julian Burnside, a man who has agitated for asylum seekers for years is an inspiring and passionate speaker. When people asked afterwards what one should do, he said "don't vote for either of the major parties". (The Greens Party is the only major party with a humane asylum seeker policy.)
I had thought that the discussion might have been an exercise in preaching to the converted but afterwards my seat neighbour turned to me and said with a horrified look on her face, "My eyes have been opened. I can hardly believe what I have heard."
It seems that this issue is one that will have to be won person by person because what it needs is a change of heart from that mythical silent majority we all hear about. The media is caught between a rock and a hard place as our government refuses to answer questions about asylum seekers, but perhaps a tipping point is being reached. (Burnside said he will be delighted to represent any doctor who breaks the most recent law past by the government which makes it illegal for doctors (or anyone else) to disclose abuse to children they may observe on Manus or Nauru.)
The discussion was filmed, I understand for the ABC TV Compass program, so hopefully many more Australians will hear the arguments of these inspiring people.