Political Point-Scoring on Vulnerable People

20 April 2009

The Uniting Church has today called on Australia's political leaders to stop using asylum seekers as political footballs.

Uniting Church President, Rev. Gregor Henderson, said that it was entirely unacceptable to suggest to anyone seeking protection on Australia's shores that we don't want them.

"When Malcolm Turnbull declared this morning on ABC radio that 'we don't want them,' he demeaned and dehumanised those who are among the most vulnerable in our world. Such language only serves to divide people from each other," Rev. Henderson said.

"Almost all asylum seekers who have come to Australia by boat in recent years have been granted refugee status. It should not be a surprise to anyone that someone who chooses to take such desperate measures has a good reason for doing so."

National Director of UnitingJustice Australia, Rev. Elenie Poulos, expressed outrage over comments made by both the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader. "When the Prime Minister declared people smugglers to be 'the vilest form of human life,' he achieved nothing of any value. Such language helps no-one, offers no solace to those who have suffered and only serves to make an extremely complex set of circumstances seem simple," said Rev. Poulos.

"People smuggling is a horrendous practice. It is one part of a massive global problem. It is vitally important that the Australian Government continues to work with the Indonesian Government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to ensure that those needing protection are cared for before they are driven to risk their lives in the hands of people smugglers.

"We must remember that in remote war-torn places, such as Afghanistan, it is not possible to book flights much less obtain a visa; people are fleeing persecution in harsh and desperate circumstances and from the very forces to which Australia has sent troops to overcome.

"Asylum seekers do not come to Australia because they know anything about our policies. They come because they are desperate for a safe place," Rev. Poulos said.

Rev. Henderson said, "Australian politicians have once again failed to display any compassion, empathy and generosity. In the face of tragedy and hardship our political leaders can only fall back on an old, tired rhetoric designed to appeal to our fear and turn the hardships of people's lives into political pointscoring tools."

"Just one week out from Easter and already we have lost the spirit of sacrificial and inclusive love. "It is time to find a generous, compassionate heart and look for solutions to the persecution, violence and abuse that people are suffering. The Uniting Church in Australia calls on Mr Rudd and Mr Turnbull to shift their gazes to those whose lives are most at stake — those who'd risk their lives for safety."