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The moral compass on asylum policy

Posted on: November 4, 2013 2:38 PM
Archbishop Glenn Davies
Photo Credit: Diocese of Sydney
Related Categories: asylum, Australia

From SBS

Religious groups say it lacks compassion and runs counter to a multitude of religious teachings.

Darren Mara takes a look at what some of the biggest religious groups in the land have to say about Australia's asylum-seeker policies, and the political debate which underpins it.

Many of the world's major religious texts speak of treating the weary stranger with compassion.

In the Bible, Leviticus Chapter 19: 33-34 says the stranger should be treated as a "native among you".

In the Quran, Surat At-Tawbah 9, verse 6, says "if anyone of the disbelievers seeks your protection, then grant him protection".

Likewise, the Hindu Vedas and teachings in Buddhism preach compassion when those in trouble seek asylum in order to escape persecution.

But all of the major religions in Australia agree that compassion is the one thing missing from the way people seeking asylum in this country are treated.

The Catholic Bishop of Darwin, Eugene Hurley, says Australia's asylum debate has been largely shaped by ignorance.

Bishop Hurley says asylum-seekers are misunderstood, demonised and all too often labelled as queue-jumpers and terrorists.

And he describes policies such as mandatory and off-shore detention as simply unChristian.

"Not only is it unChristian, but when one begins to look at the various international covenants to which we are signatories, it seems to me that it's failing some of the tests that would be normally be applied there."

Bishop Hurley says Australians should expect a more morally forthright approach to the asylum debate from political leaders.

He says asylum-seekers have a legal right to seek refuge in Australia, disputing the new government description of asylum-seekers arriving by boat as "illegals".

Bishop Hurley says the immigration office of the Australian Bishops Conference regularly raises objections over government asylum policies.

"However, in general, they elect not to engage, or connect with us, or to discuss the matter. I personally wrote to the then-prime minister prior to the recent election and the then-leader of the opposition. I did have the courtesy of a phone call from the then-minister (Tony) Burke but had absolutely no acknowledgment of the letter from the then opposition."

Bishop Hurley says this approach makes it hard to engage with government on the asylum issue in a meaningful way.

And he holds out particular criticism of the weekly press briefings held by the new Coalition Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison.

"It was a very oft-quoted and alluded-to matter prior to the election. There didn't seem to be any difficulty about approaching those matters prior to the election. But it seems that since the election it's become a matter of concern for the government."

The Anglican Archbishop, Glenn Davies, shares the Catholic Bishop Hurley's views on the state of the asylum debate in Australia.

The full article can be found here