President of the Uniting Church, Rev. Alistair Macrae said, "The Uniting Church's strong belief that God calls on us to welcome strangers, care for those in need and treat everyone with the dignity they deserve as children of God, is the basis for our support for human rights. It is critical for the continued development of peace and justice in the world that countries like Australia set the highest standard when it comes to upholding the rights of vulnerable people.
"We are shocked at the amendments that have been proposed in order to circumvent the High Court decision on the Government's arrangement with Malaysia. Australia's reputation as a country which supports human rights and is always willing to help people in need is now under grave threat.
"Today we are writing to the Labor caucus urging them to reject these proposed amendments.
"Instead of a commitment to increasingly transparent and accountable government, we are witnessing a shift to less accountable government. No government minister should ever be able to make life and death decisions without being subject to the scrutiny of the parliament, the courts and the people of Australia," said Rev. Macrae.
National Director of UnitingJustice Australia, the Rev. Elenie Poulos said, "The Government claims that these amendments are necessary for the development of a regional protection framework. The key goal of any such framework, however, must be to improve the prospects for a decent life for displaced people in the region. We support a regional protection solution but we cannot support policy that that encourages warehousing of asylum seekers and refugees in impoverished neighbouring countries.
"The Government also claims that this is necessary to stop people smugglers. The Uniting Church abhors the continuing punishment of asylum seekers in order to 'send a message' to the smugglers.
"We are particularly shocked by the unfettered power this legislation will give to the Minister for Immigration to determine what is in the 'national interest' without reference to the needs of those who will be severely affected by the decision or our human rights obligations," said Rev. Poulos.
Rev. Macrae said, "As the Uniting Church has stated many times, we believe that the policy of offshore processing must cease. The treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia should be underpinned by compassion, respect and dignity for all.
"We see in the Bible that God has special concern for those who are excluded, exiled and alone. Christians are called to show the same compassion. Australians have it in them to welcome strangers into our communities but this legislation will do nothing more than damage all of us.
"We believe we can and must do better than this," said Rev. Macrae.