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Jan 14, 2014

Abbott's asylum seeker policy an affront to our Jesuit education

John O’Mara, a businessman and friend of Tony Abbott, says the government's asylum seeker policy is unChristian -- and Abbott should know better.


Christmas Island

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


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44 thoughts on “Abbott’s asylum seeker policy an affront to our Jesuit education

  1. Don

    you don’t have top be a ‘Christian’ to know and believe this, but, by his actions, not just in this matter, but about every matter he opines about or does anything about, Abbott is as far from a ‘Christian’ as it possioble to be in a supposedly ‘democratic society.

    His words and actions over past four years (in particular) are a flagrant & shameless disgrace, and have, probably permanently, inflicted major trauma and damage to Australian polity, society, our national and individual morality & ethos, and to individual Australians.

  2. leon knight

    Agreed entirely Don, and those that hoped his personality might improve once he achieved his long-cherished goal must be sorely disappointed.
    It is hard to quantify just how much damage he has done to the faith people have in our political system – anecdotally quite severe though, especially to the younger generations. And now his damaged ego prevents him from trying to make amends in any way at all….
    Gladly the cross-eyed Bear wrote an illuminating essay on her blog called “the windmills of Tony Abbott’s mind” which I recommend to anyone trying to fathom the forces at work inside his brain.

  3. Don

    btw i am a somewhat imperfect practicing Pentacostal Christian, and these puffed-up corrupt & immoral politicians (not only, but especially Abbott & Morrision), trading on their so-called ‘Christianity’ while committing appalling acts of immorality and inhumanity (and illegality) is an affront, not just to the many genuine and sincere Christians, but all non-Christians too.

  4. Hamis Hill

    Is Abbott “Un-Christian”?
    The scriptural guide to finding the answer to this fundamental question of fake Christianity is “By their actions shall ye know them”.
    But certain sectarians are not into scripture very much, with the recently canonised traitor Thomas More gleefully burning at the stake those who in his time sought to bring the Bible to the English people in their own language.
    Some Saint.
    Un-Christian sectarians tackling Abbott for being un- Christian?
    There’s your credibility problem, right there.

  5. michael crook

    Thank you John, it appears that Abbott and Morrison are founding members of the group “Christians who Hate”.

  6. drmick

    Thats what happens when you think you are God, and you are really a dog. If he cant eat it or mount it, he lifts his leg on it, says um ahh, and runs away. Another samaritan with a wet leg.

  7. SusieQ

    A lovely article that bought a tear to my eye. Its so simple, isn’t it?

  8. AR

    Wot you mean “our” Paleface/Crowclad?

  9. Michael James

    Apparently a ”friend’ of Tony Abbott eh?

    I doubt it, real friends don’t smear friends on the pages of Crikey. unlike Mr O’Mara here.

    I also note that this first appeared on Menadue’s site, now there’s one man who’s no friend of Tony Abbott or the conservatives of the right of politics.

    More likely someone who shared a school with Abbott and is now using that coincidence to stand on a soapbox, claiming a friendship that’s not really there.

  10. Don

    “friend”? i think it would be impossible for any moral & ethical person to be – or remain – a friend of the ‘no morality zone’ abbott

  11. CML

    John – A wonderful tale about the damage done by Tony Abbott to the Australian community. However, it doesn’t seem to have occured to you that he has done more damage to Catholicism in particular. I was raised a Catholic, but am now an atheist, simply because I couldn’t hack the gross hypocrisy of people like Abbott, who hide behind their religion while practising the exact opposite of its teachings. And the church allows that to continue.
    In the latter half of my long life, the Catholic church has completely changed its views on politics. Now if you are Catholic, you vote conservative (mostly). When I was a child in the 1940-50’s, almost everyone who was Catholic voted Labor. So what has happened here, is that those who joined the Conservative bandwagon, adopted their very questionable values, and you end up with policies like those on asylum seekers. Policies which the majority of voters want, incidently. But you are correct – there is NO connection between those conservative policies and what any Christian church preaches. Example: Morrison, a happy-clappy Christian, so called.
    A pox on all religion, I say. Causes more trouble on this planet than it is worth. And they don’t pay taxes either!!

  12. David Hand

    It must be so personally gratifying, sitting up there on the moral high ground next to Jesus, where the view is great and the lack of oxygen is not much of a problem because your brain is not really used.

    Not used for noticing how you are urinating from a great height on western Sydney voters, for example. Sneering down your nose at most of Australia obviously didn’t come up as morally problematic at Jesuit school with their, how did you put it? “sharp moral sensitivities and educational method that always emphasised evidence over rhetoric”

    Here’s a question for your “sharply trained mind”. How did enacting a policy that the vast majority of voters want become “playing to the xenophobes in Australia?

    Oh that’s right. There’s not very many of you up there in the rarefied atmosphere of inner urban elite moral certainty, is there.

  13. Stevo the Working Twistie

    Umm, let me take my shoes and socks off to do the math. It is a xenophobic policy, therefore if it is supported by the majority of voters as you say then the majority of voters are xenophobes. I’d like to think that wasn’t true, but every day it gets harder to hope.

  14. graybul

    Much appreciated your courage John. Not because your subject is Tony Abbott, rather that you took a stand based upon personal values and sound teachings. Thank you. Bye the by, be not further disillusioned by the toxic opinions of a David Hand . . rather wear them with pride. For we will not retreat into to silence, nor quit the field . . .

  15. Spot

    Fully agree with the position regarding our moral obligations to the asylum seekers. Regardless of religious allegiances the current policy is morally bankrupt, plain wrong and inhumane. I find it incomprehensible that we as a nation can accept the appalling abuse that is off-shore indefinite detention of fellow human beings. One day we will be called to account for our criminal selfish myopia.

  16. David Hand

    Hey guys. it’s fine to hold a strong view in favour of letting asylum seekers in detention into the community.

    I want to be clear that my reaction is about the elitist dismissal of those who hold different views. It’s why the inner urban elites are so out of touch. They are not that far from believing that the majority of people are to stupid, too xenophobic and too selfish to be trusted with anything as important as a vote.

    Stevo’s contribution is a good worked example of what I am talking about.

  17. Andybob

    You don’t have to be Christian to be appalled at asylum seeker policy, just human.

  18. CML

    @ David Hand – John has just been confronted with Conservative policies up close and personal.
    Ugly, very ugly, they are too.
    You, on the other hand, don’t seem to have any sense of morality, so of course all that cr+p from Abbott and his motley crew, appeals to you and your friends.
    IMHO, Abbott was not “playing to the xenophobes in Australia”. HE CREATED THEM, with a lot of help from Morrison et al. Christians all!!

  19. David Hand

    You are clearly in need of that clear-headed Jesuit methodology. In your headlong rush to give Tony Abbott credit for creating xenophobia in Australia you’ve forgotten John Howard.

    Yes, tony Abbott’s cr+p does appeal to me. And some of my friends. And millions and millions of voters. Just not in the telephone box you share with John up there at the summit of that hill of moral superiority.

  20. Don

    @davidhand. boy, what an ill-informed and totally misdirected rant.

    the most glaring error is the statement “the policy the vast majority of votors want”. That is simply not true.

    next, i pick up on CML point about how these “xenophobes” so tgermed, were CREATED but not by just Abbott, but much earlier politicians, the most obvious being Hansen and Howard (at least Hansen had stupidity & ignorance as an excuse),and their crony commentators. you could even go back to Calwell’s famous quote.

    if politicians, and really the rot started with ‘weak as wwater’ Beasley, had shown, not just some backbone and principle, but also had led and educated the electorate 1. regarding the circumstances and reasons for refugees (eg push vd pull), 2. the employment and economic benefits created by such refugees, incl all the knock-on multiplier effects, 3. the relatively quite miniscule numbers and comparision with other countries who don’t have oceans to ‘protect’ their borders, 4. the clear fact that most ‘illegal’ mnigrants are not refugees (leaving aside the questioin of the term ‘illegal’) by boat or any other means, but visitors who arrive by air every day and deliberately overstay their visas, and/or who work contrary to their tourist visa conditions, and who are definitely illegal.

    the simple fact remains that when these matters are explained to people, and questions asked objectively with appropriate choice, then, contrary to Mr Hand’s opinion, the overwhelming majority of Australians do NOT support the current policies of the current OR previous Govts, and revert instead to the long Australian tradition of a ‘fair go’ and helping people when they are ‘down on their luck’. and these refugess couldn’t be more down.

    apart from the horrific needless additional human suffering, you would have to think that this long term treatment will actually CREATE terrorists with unstable psychotic mental disorders.

    way to go if you want to create a generation of people who really DO have reason to hate us for the inhumane treatment of them and their families and children.

    it is simply not human, and simply not what being Australian used to stand for. it makes me deeply ashamed.

  21. Don

    human > humane and other typos

  22. zut alors

    If there are such things as the pearly gates it would be a treat to be a fly on the fence post to witness St Peter’s assessment of Abbott’s & Morrison’s CVs.

    Chances of entry? Buckley’s at best.

  23. Malcolm Street

    Michael James – RTFA. He says he was at school with Abbott, a fellow right-winger on the Sydney Uni SRC and on the Sydney Uni football team with him.

  24. The Pav

    Quote”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.

    Would tend to confirm the wall punching accusation

    Why is bloke surprised at Abbotts lack of character. After all he left a girl in trouble to be a Rhodes Scholar.

    Abbott has only been truthful twice

    Once when he admitted what he said could not be rtelied upon and when he said he would do anything say anything to gain power.

    abbott has no moral character what so ever

  25. JohnB

    I despair, sometimes.

    That sending desperate arrivees to malaria-ridden tropical islands without hope or a future is somehow acceptable in a so-called civilised society is beyond me.

    David Hand does his cause no good by irrationally and immorally slapping away arguments as though they were as valueless as airborne turds… whatever that cause may be.

    John, the author, will presumably pay a price for his honesty and ethics, for extracting retribution seems to be acceptable these days.

    What price am I prepared to pay? And are you??

    I really don’t know any more. I once did know the difference between good and bad, right and wrong, but it is not simple any more.

    Right and Good, these days, come at a price which is far above that of Greed and Selfishness, both of which go uncriticised, even lauded.

  26. David Hand

    Don’t despair too much JohnB
    According to Greg Sheridan’s article in Monday’s Australian, we haven’t had a boat arrive for 4 weeks now.

    So the Abbott government’s policies are succeeding in saving people from going into detention.

  27. CML

    Wrong again, David Hand. I can’t stand Howard, Abbott, the Catholic church or people like you. You obviously didn’t read my previous comment – I’m an atheist. That doesn’t stop me from pointing out the sheer hypocrisy of that ‘good’ Catholic, Abbott and his friends.
    You don’t have to be a religious nutcase to have some morals and ethics in your thinking. In fact, it is a considerable advantage NOT to be.
    We do, however, agree on one thing. If the majority of Australians ‘like’ Abbott’s policies on asylum seekers, then so be it. That is democracy in action, however much the bleeding hearts wish it were otherwise. Still doesn’t make me happy that this is what Australia has become.
    Nasty, very nasty people, which seems to include you and your friends!

  28. David Hand

    Don’t worry CML,
    You have the Abbott government there to make the tough decisions required to preserve the nice comfortable lifestyle you enjoy.

  29. Sophie Benjamin

    Sophie Benjamin here, Crikey website producer.

    There is some robust debate in this thread but can I please ask people to move the tone of the discussion to something less personal. At Crikey we endorse the technique “play the ball and not the person.” In other words, please don’t attack each other. Please keep this in mind and consult our moderation guidelines for more info.

  30. Slinkycatsmutha

    Right on Sophie……cant wait for Mr Dog on the Moon to get back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  31. Hamis Hill

    Abbott makes a good scapegoat for the sins of the institution which raised him.
    Sorry, but he still a scapegoat, and the sins of the institution which raised him still persist.
    The author does seem to be playing the person somewhat.

  32. Snowy in Oz

    I’m trying to see both sides, but it seems the 2 sides of the debate I’m hearing are:

    stopping the boats (in order to preserve our lifestyle?) and in doing so stop a humanitarian disaster


    be humane and let them (refugees) in, possibly encouraging more dangerous attempts to cross the seas to get here.

    I guess the number of boat arrivals are kind of small (compared to other visa violators), and also, people that come by boat tend to be in more desperate situations, so at the moment I favour quick (and quiet) processing over clearly punitive/detention (expensive) measures.

    It’s this lack of practicality that makes it seem this continues to be a politicised issue, and regardless of whether most Australians think detention is a good idea or not, it’s still worthwhile for everyone to think about whether it’s a moral thing to do, rather than dismissively defer difficult decisions to the government of the day.

    Perhaps it’s indifference that is plaguing Australians everywhere? (“it seems wrong, but we don’t care”)

  33. Victor

    It is not often I read something that expresses so well everything I have been thinking for a long time on a particular matter.

    We have taken a great opportunity to practice enlightened self-interest on the high moral ground, and turned it into a diabolical political problem. We are not only doing our damnedest to destroy the lives of these people who have been desperate enough to trust our signature on the Refugee Convention. We are poisoning the well of our own politics, damaging our image worldwide, and sowing a wind from which we will inevitably reap a whirlwind.

    A comparison with the Nazi’s “final solution” of a problem that existed only in their own malign imaginations would be a bit over the top. However, a comparison with South Africa’s adoption of apartheid would not.

    A comparison

  34. Aton

    “always emphasised evidence over rhetoric”
    If religious people valued evidence, there would be no religious people.

  35. Robyn White

    This article ever so slightly restores my long held belief that those privileged enough to receive a Jesuit Education, display just that.

    I do wish Mr. Abbott would read this article, and maybe act as he should, not as he does.

  36. Don

    @anton et al

    1. religion Christianity.
    Roman Catholic Christianity either.

    2. regarding ‘evidence’, it has long bemused me that proclaimed ‘athiests’ (sic?) and sim (as was i once) fail to understand that ‘science’ is a faith-based concept, little different in basis to Christianity (and other religions).

    indeed, much of science’s most precious precepts are so unproven and contrary that they call for even greater faith.

    we all pretty much were taught and accerpted ‘evolution’ at school, yet on any fact-based examination, it doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense, and equally does not accord with the facts in evidence. yet people, in faith, continue to blindly accept it as ‘gospel’ (pun intended).

    (and as sidebar, i point out that Charles came up with a theory on ‘survival of the fittest’, a completely completely different and logical concept to so-called ‘evolution’)

    and just a couple of basic quaestions scientiests (and atheists)simply ignore.

    1. big bang theory or anything else does not preclude God and a devine inexplicable creation. if not, how then was there any ‘matter’ exist all. any non-God based theory takes as a basis that there was pre-existing matter. where therefore did that matter come from? nowhere? how then it it come to be’?

    2. taking the big bang theory and others, how were organic life forms of any nature at all created from completely inorganic matter?

    additionally …

    3. mutations as part of the theory of evolution is a scientific nonesense – genuine mutations are inevitably a less functional form of the original. note that moths changing colour to suit a environment covered with coal dust are NOT a mutation but an example of ‘survival of the fittest’, just as giraffes with longer necks would be.

    4. and really, give me a break, a flower (of the countless hundreds of thousands) evolved originally from the same organic matter as say an elephant??? talk about faith. 🙂

  37. Don

    it deleted my ‘not equal’ sign at beginning of post

  38. David Hand

    The underlying sides of the asylum seeker debate are in my view as follows.

    One group believes that Australia has a responsibility under the refugee convention to open our heart and our country to those fleeing persecution. They look to the example post Vietnam war as a model to show what can be done. They believe that almost everybody who comes by boat is a genuine refugee fleeing persecution. They point to the fact that about 95% of boat people are found to be refugees.

    The other group believes there has arisen a mass movement across the world of people from poorer countries migrating to the first world using the refugee convention as cover. They point to the absence of any identification documents, making verification of the person’s story difficult, the fact that they can afford to pay twice as much as an air ticket to people smugglers, that they would not get a visa if they applied through the normal channels and that they are not fleeing directly from their home country but have travelled across a number of countries as evidence that they are not genuine refugees but are using a visa-free channel into Australia with a 95% success rate. In considering this scenario, the potential influx is in the millions if it becomes a successful way of entering Australia.

    The fundamental points of policy difference on this matter depend on one’s view about these alternatives. The government believes the latter. So did the previous government after it lost control of Australia’s borders. Bob Carr went on the record to say that the vast majority of boat people are economic migrants.

    Most voters believe boat people are almost entirely economic migrants. The previous government changed its policy when it worked out it faced electoral annihilation at the September election if it did not try to rescue something from this policy disaster.

  39. David Hand

    Sophie asked us to improve the tone of the discussion.

    Apart from the time honoured principle that the first person to mention Hitler is losing the argument, mentioning the holocaust and apartheid in your post is going in the wrong direction.

  40. Don

    mate i won’t even try to argue with your statemants and claim that you dress up as facts. i just wish you end up in Afghanistan or Ski Lanka or Uganda or Syria or Libya or Sudan, in the circumstances these people were in.

  41. Chris Hartwell


    1. You’ve touched on an interesting concept currently being considered – that this iteration of the universe is only some hundred billion years old.

    2. Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe (barring stupidity) and, along with carbon, form the basis of organic chemistry. So, not quite an inorganic basis.

    3. Those mutations you describe, when passed to successive generations, confer an advantage. If they did not, the mutated creature would not survive to reproduce. Colouration and neck length between generations are not choices – therefore their alteration over subsequent generations points to genomic modification. That sir, is evolution.

    4. An infinitely implausible natural reason is still infinitely more plausible than a magical reason.

  42. Don

    well we are getting off subject i know so will merely say -go outside day or night, and observe what is around you, small and large, and then you tell me that all of what you observe just ‘evolved’ from a single organic organism and never had any intelligent (and more) creator?

    BTW, i would regard mutation as an adjunct to chaos theory which dictates that things will degenerate from systems w order to increasingly chaotic systems. gee, that sounds about right now. 🙂

  43. Hamis Hill

    Chris, when it comes to arguing facts on “evolution” with “Don” it may a case of “Is Don, is no good arguing”.
    Such people can have their “faith” or “God” which they insist is the explanation for everything, when clearly it need not be so at all.
    Faith the size of a mustard seed, according to one “Authority”.

  44. Chris Hartwell

    Yes Don, I do. That makes it all the more amazing and beautiful.

    Hamis, yeah … I know better next time 🙂

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