The following is a letter from Justice for Refugees SA
Last year twelve former Australians of the Year wrote a letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull calling on the government to act over the “human disaster” at the former refugee detention centre on Manus Island. This treatment does not represent who we are as Australians, or indeed as human beings.
This Australia Day many people are thinking about Indigenous dispossession. It’s also an opportunity to think about people who are imprisoned, yet have done nothing wrong, committed no crime, and who are even denied a trial, fair or otherwise. Especially consider the plight of refugees and people seeking asylum, people who, in earlier times, have contributed so much to make Australia great.
It is a good time to consider Australian values. Where is our Australia “fair”? What is happening to our Australian values? Whatever happened to the Fair Go for all? We are losing the right to transparent government, to habeus corpus, to fair trial, to nobody being above the law. We are being deliberately divided. The vulnerable members of our communities are being trampled on and manipulated as political playthings. Minorities are being scapegoated.
In history’s page let every stage advance Australia fair
The tune to those words we sing was written by Tommy Tycho, a Jewish refugee who came to Australia after experiencing, as a 15-year-old boy, the horrors of a forced labour camp during WWII. Australia gave him a chance to shine, to contribute.
For those who’ve come across the seas We’ve boundless plains to share.
In the lead up to Australia Day, Rural Australians for Refugees has launched a letter writing campaign. Justice4Refugees are supporting the campaign. It’s time to take a stance, for all good people to stand up and take action. So please consider writing to your MPs and Senators, and city and regional papers.
The letter cited above was signed by Australians of the Year
2015 Rosie Batty
2013 Ita Buttrose
2011 Simon McKeon
2010 Patrick McGorry
2009 Mick Dodson
2007 Tim Flannery
2005 Fiona Wood
2003 Fiona Stanley
2000 Gustav Nossal
1997 Peter Doherty
1996 John Yu
1983 Robert de Castella
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,” Jesus – quoting from the prophet Isaiah – Luke 4:18
President Stuart McMillan has expressed solidarity with Australia’s African community in the wake of recent negative political and media commentary.
“Fear and negativity are such a blight on our public life. I find it deeply regrettable and offensive that some of our political leaders and media have begun the New Year by demonising a group of young African men,” said Mr McMillan.
“This is no doubt hurtful to many Africans who have made Australia their home and do their level best to contribute to the Australian community whilst in many cases also supporting loved ones in their home nations.”
“Our politicians and media need only lift their eyes to the wonderful African communities of faith to find positive role models and affirmation.
“If, as I have, they attended a gathering of the Uniting Church’s South Sudanese National Conference, they would see a young, enthusiastic community, rising up from the difficult circumstances of settlement and growing young leaders.
“At two national gatherings in Brisbane in 2015 and at Hoppers Crossing in Melbourne in September 2017, I have marvelled at their faith and resilience.
“At Hoppers Crossing last year young people from the Nuer-speaking Faith Community in Brisbane led the opening worship.
“At the time I said: ‘Your community here in Australia shows us, the members of Uniting Church, how to be witnesses to Christ’s love by striving to be a fellowship of reconciliation.’
“There was much sharing on what it means to be the reconciling people of South Sudan living in Australia. Ideas were shared on practical ways to bring about greater unity among their communities. Young people under 30 also stepped up – taking up half of positions on the new executive for the South Sudanese National Conference.
“South Sudanese in Australia are taking their future into their own hands,” said Mr McMillan.
“I rejoiced last month when I read a Facebook post by the Rev. Amel Manyon from the Northern Suburbs Dinka-speaking Faith Community in Adelaide, celebrating her son’s 92.50 ATAR score.”
Rev. Manyon is the first South Sudanese woman to be ordained in the Uniting Church.
“I look forward with great anticipation to the contributions young African women and men will make in a diverse Australia,” said Mr McMillan.
“I refuse to let our miserable public discourse hold back these inspiring young people. Rather than engage with fear and negativity I will celebrate the achievements of my African friends and their children this year and at every opportunity.”
“I pray that you too will support and encourage African people who live in your community and those who may be members of your church.”
Mr McMillan referenced the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Church in Philippi, saying Paul would urge us today:
“Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
South Sudanese ministers speak out
Rev. Amel Manyon from Adelaide’s Dinka-speaking Faith Community says she finds the commentary disappointing.
“I don’t support crime being committed by our young people, but I want the public and the politicians to open their eyes also and see the other side,” said Rev. Manyon.
“They should not focus only on what is wrong. There are lots of good things happening in our South Sudanese community in particular with young people.”
“Nobody pays attention to those achievements and their contribution to the Australian community. In 2017 our community in Adelaide celebrated the academic achievements of our young people – Masters degrees, Bachelors degrees, and Year 12 graduations.
“We have lawyers and doctors in our community, as do South Sudanese communities in other states.”
“In the sporting arena, our young people are performing at high levels in basketball, soccer, football and wrestling. They are also involved in cultural activities and performance: singing, drums, dance, and so on – and they are involved in church leadership.
“I am not denying that some of young people are struggling with studies, some are brought up by parents who also struggle with settlement issues such as language and lifestyle.
“But that does not mean that all African Australians are what the Australian politicians and media think. We should not all be painted with the same brush.
“These children committing crimes are Australian like any other Australian who commits a crime here. I think there is racism and discrimination in the language being used.”
Pastor Moses Leth has led the Nuer faith community at St David’s Coopers Plains in south Brisbane for the last 15 years.
He says holistic ministry is required to address the challenges faced by young members of his community.
“Jesus responded to people’s physical and material needs, as well as spiritual needs. Christian workers should take care of the whole person as well.”
“We are looking to develop strategies that afford African Australian young adults opportunities to explore and develop to their full potential, as well as offer them protection from drugs and violence.
“We are trying to encourage young people by including them in discussions and decision-making concerning the church, and most importantly, listening to their ideas and views.
“We are also looking to sponsor young people for theological training.”
“We would like to provide more activities and resources to get young people involved,” said Pastor Leth. “Music and art equipment, employment support, training them and getting them involved in bible study can really encourage them to attend and take part in church community functions. The challenge for those of us working with African Australian young adults today is to explore how we can share our religious values that will allow them to bear fruit in the church of God forever. If we do that, they will better be able to engage in their communities with respect confidence and purpose.”
I enter this new year with hope.
Yes, there is reason to be discouraged.
Of course we wish for the overthrow
of evil, greed and violence.
But our hope is not wishing:
hope is confidence
that God’s future is already present.
The light shines in the darkness
and the darkness can’t overcome it.
The spirit of love can’t be snuffed out
by politicians and their hubris;
the life force can’t be stopped
by corporations and their kept legislators.
God is alive and at work in this world.
Smart, thoughtful, compassionate, courageous people
are rising up, finding their voice, taking their place.
We have seen tyranny and cruelty before,
but we will never see the darkness win out.
Love always has more to say.
God is creating, always creating, and if we look
we will see signs of it all around us,
and its light will fill us and we will be radiant,
ourselves signs of the very hope that sustains us.
Yes, I have hope – joy and delight, even –
for God is here, and God’s world is still becoming. (Source: Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light)