Like thousands of Australians, we are dismayed that people fleeing persecution and looking for a better life will be sent to remote locations where their mental health will be further eroded. We’re heartbroken that the game being played with the lives of real people has led to this moment – a moment where we are not only telling the world’s most vulnerable people that they are not welcome here but that they risk further harm if they test that message.
We’ve signed up to a joint open letter with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Amnesty Australia and many others united in opposition to many of the legislative changes.
To give voice to your disappointment, you can sign Amnesty’s petition to the Prime Minister and Opposition leader here, or send a letter to your local Member via GetUp!’s website here.
As we reflect on what got us to this point, what we must recognise is that it is public opinion that empowers such legislation to be enacted. This “solution” has been found because a decade of fear-mongering, lies and vilification has led us to a point where prejudice and cruelty are rewarded by the electorate. Years of negativity and ugly debate, partnered with the ongoing intentional dehumanisation of people seeking refuge in our country, has led to us to today. This leglisation is a reflection of a political reality that we have all created together. As our Prime Minister said, everyone is “over it”. And so we have legislation that breaks the political deadlock and – the strategy is – allows the issue to go away. Asylum seekers themselves will suffer the result of their plight for political gain for many years now. This is not a partisan statement – this is about an inability of anyone to effectively change the conversation, to re-frame the debate, to free asylum seekers from their role in electoral strategy. It is the result of the dramatic politicisation of a what is, according to the UN, a “small humanitarian issue”.
We have, as a nation, played politics with human life. And with the media gleefully reporting each battle, we the public have cheered on the combatants while choosing to measure victory in harsh words, protectionism and xenophobia. The legislation of this week has truly been enacted in our collective name, and we collectively own its ramifcations.
But Welcome to Australia, and many of our partner organisations, exists because we believe there is hope. We believe that there will be a tipping point. There will be a day when it will not just be “the left”, “refugee activists” and “human rights advocates” who are saying “not in my name!” to our leaders. There will be a day when prejudice is unpopular, when compassion is celebrated, when it will not be the harshest voice or the most ardent protectionist that finds the Australian people on their side.
We believe there will be a tipping point. When the people of Australia look at the harm being done to innocent people and say “no more”. There will be a day when diversity is celebrated, when fear of our neighbour is no longer successful as a means by which to divide us, when the politics of envy no longer holds us in thrall.
There will be a day when the asylum seeker and refugee has been re-humanised in our sight and we recognise that a noble nation does not fight its political battles at the expense of the world’s most vulnerable people.
There will be a time when leaders of courage begin to call out the best in the Australian people and a message of compassion, generosity and fairness begins to resonate with the Australian values – the human values – that unite us.
There will be a tipping point.
It’s what we exist for, it’s why we continute to provide a way for compassionate people to engage in practical acts of welcome towards asylum seekers, refugees and other new Australians. It’s why we’ll continue to look for people of hope, who know that this is not the Australia that we want to live in, to raise our children in – and who believe that there is a better day ahead.
The tipping point will not come when there’s a logical and perfect act of legislation that all political parties can agree to. It will come when our leaders look to their electorate and see that the currency of negativity, fear and prejudice no longer buys political support. It will come when our leaders listen to those who vote them into power and hear a steady invitation into welcome, inclusion and compassion that is matched by lives reflecting these values.
There will be a tipping point – a point where families languishing on remote islands after fleeing war and oppression is so at odds with public opinion that it will no longer be tolerated. A point where the kind of debate – the lies, fear, vitriol and shrillness – will clash with the culture of the electorate that those who engage in it will find themselves without electoral support.
There will be a day when our neighbourhoods and nation will be known as welcoming, kind, and humane, where all people are treated as equally deserving of life, peace and opportunity.
There will be a day when asylum seekers, refugees and other new arrivals will know they can truly belong in our nation and community.
Let’s work together to hasten its coming. It starts with you, with me, with welcoming homes, streets and suburbs. Together, we begin to change the conversation – not only with words and letters, but with contagious lifestyles that change the heart of nation by showing that a better way is possible.