Like many Australians, I look on the way the Abbott government is handling the matter of asylum seekers with ever-increasing dismay. Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s mantra of “stop the boats” is unprincipled, contrary to signed United Nations agreements and impractical. It is hard to erase the pre-election memory of the Western Sydney interviewee: “I’m going to vote for Abbott, because he’ll stop the boats.”
What dismays me most is that Tony and I shared an educational experience at the hands of the Jesuits and then a friendship that reaches back almost 40 years.
Like Tony, I’m very grateful for my time at a Jesuit school. In our day a substantial number of our teachers were Jesuits, and we had the benefit of their highly trained minds, sharp moral sensitivities and educational method that always emphasised evidence over rhetoric. Even though the Jesuits were strong on presentation skills in argument, the argument had to have substance.
Their clarity of thought and pursuit of learning for its own sake sets them apart from all other educators, especially those I encountered at Sydney University. Their ability to look at all sides of an argument before coming to a conclusion was both stunningly simple and at the same time extremely thought provoking.
Surprisingly, our religious education in latter years included a look at many religions: Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, Protestantism and others. We were shown the merits of these religions and taught an all-encompassing view of life and peoples.
We were taught quite simply that the major requisites of Catholicism were: love, inclusion, and protecting or looking after those more needy — of any denomination. Father Gerald Drumm went further, stating that as we were boys starting life from a privileged position in a Jesuit school, we owed it to our God, the Jesuits and ourselves to put our teachings in to practical effect if we were ever in a position to do so. It was as black and white as that!
Tony and I were, from our earliest days, taught that people had an inherent dignity, and to use them as a means to an end is the antithesis of anything the Jesuits taught us.
Tony and I were both members of the University of Sydney Students’ Representative Council and had many battles with “the Lefties”, both verbal and physical. We both enjoyed playing rugby for Sydney Uni, if not for Australia. It was a time of great frivolity and for forging life-long friendships. But those playful undergraduate days are long gone. And now in government, the play is for real.
Using desperate human beings for political advantage is absolutely unacceptable. As I said to Tony a couple of years ago over dinner, “Mate, you and I would be the first in a boat with our families were we to encounter the atrocities they have had to face.”
The solution is again very simple. We must embrace these poor, desperate souls, get them into our communities and enrich our lives, and theirs. Give them the dignity to live without fear, give them the dignity to work and pay tax. Let us take the lead in a regional resettlement program to accommodate these people. No more detention centres, political bottom-feeding, refugee camps or queues. Let’s get the Australian psyche back to where it should be.
As Tony should know, playing to the xenophobes in Australia just flies in the face of well-known facts about people movement and its cause in our region.
Asylum seekers are not “illegals” — they are our brothers and sisters.
Tony’s and my Jesuit teachers are turning in the graves for the lack of logic, human sympathy and compassion, let alone any reflection of what Jesus had to say about welcoming the stranger and going the extra mile. Bad luck for the Good Samaritan. He was a mug and would never get endorsement as a Coalition candidate.
*This article was originally published at John Menadue’s blog Pearls and Irritations