As we move from Refugee Week to NAIDOC week, it’s fitting that we listen to Academics Mark Brett and Naomi Wolfe as they explore the roles of guest and host in the Australian context. This piece is an edited excerpt from a NAIITS Conference paper. The full paper will be published in the NAIITS Journal later in the year.
Over the last few weeks, thousands of Australians have emailed, made phone calls and marched for the rights of the men left behind on Manus. We spoke to self proclaimed human rights lawyer and Common Grace supporter Michelle* about how our small actions can make a big difference.
Michelle, when you learnt about what was happening in Manus what was your first response?
While I have sat in my safety and comfort in Australia, the guys on Manus have sat in fear and hunger; and me, as a self-proclaimed “human rights lawyer”, had no power or ability to actually do anything to help. The feeling of having no power to help is something I bet we have all felt these these last few weeks.
But today, actually, I was reminded that we do in fact hold power to do something. The guys on Manus need us to use our power; now.
How have you been responding since?
A couple of weeks ago I helped the lead pastor of my local church to write to our local member of parliament on behalf of our church. I helped a number of other members at my church to do the same thing. I have also been in contact with the same member of parliament personally and I know of other church members who have been calling him, too.
Although you said you felt helpless at first, has using your voice resulted in any change?
In the last few days I was made aware that our local member of parliament has done at least two televised interviews in which he condemned the Government for their failure to provide protection for the refugees on Manus. He called on the Government to treat the men on Manus with the respect and humanity they deserve.
So our emails and phone calls really can make a difference?
Of course. These statements my local member has made may not change the Turnbull Government’s policies on their own, but with enough movement from Australians, which will result in movement from politicians, we do have power.
What about people who are still deciding whether to take action?
As a lawyer, people often think I am the one with the power to fight for human rights and they leave the “social justice battle” to me. I am telling you, in this fight, today, right now, you are the one with the power. You can do so by contacting your local member, or sitting with your church pastor to write a letter on behalf of your church as a member of the body of Christ? It is crucial that action is now, and you join the momentum across Australia. Can you imagine what might happen if every Christian in Australia, every church, right now, decided to contact their local member of parliament?
As a Christian, why does this issue matter so much to you?
God has given us good news in the Gospel. I have been overwhelming blessed by this good news and I want the Gospel’s good news to truly be good news for all; for the slave, the oppressed, the widow, the captive, the refugee. I do not think that Christians can effectively share the good news with all people without also loving all people. To me, loving the refugees on Manus necessitates fighting to overcome the injustices they face – especially in this situation, where we, Australian Christians (as voters in Australia) are people who hold the power to challenge this injustice.
Australians are very lucky in that we generally have rights, opportunities and freedoms and so we don’t often have to engage in political processes. However, it is immensely dangerous to disengage in politics to the point of not ever speaking up about the way our country is run. As a voter in a democratic nation this is our basic responsibility and then as a Christian voter I think that responsibility is even higher.
It is very easy for this issue to matter so much to me because I have spoken to the guys this is affecting; I have heard their cries and heard their pain. I thank God for the gift that He has given me in providing the opportunity to meet and speak with refugees and for how He has used these opportunities to convict me to take seriously the command to love my neighbour, which in turn deepens my relationship with Him.
If we’ve not written to our local member before, how do we know what to write?
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre has a great guide on contacting your local member about what is happening on Manus. You can also use these dot points as a guide when emailing or calling:
- I am a resident of your electorate.
- I am appalled and shocked and deeply frightened at what is this very minute happening in Manus Island.
- Please make a statement in the media and do whatever you can to intervene.
- Please acknowledge that refugees are people who need our help and thousands of Australians want political leadership on human rights.
- Please respect Australia’s multiculturalism and acknowledge that our country is built by refugees and migrants and end human rights abuses to refugees in offshore centres.
- I dearly request that you do everything you can to bring the men from Manus to Australia immediately.
- Find more information on calling MP’s about manus on ASRC’s website of online resources here.
And where do we find their phone number or email address?
Email addresses and phone numbers for local members of federal parliament are available on the Parliament of Australia website, you’ll just need to enter your postcode.
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*Given the sensitivity of Michelle’s work as a lawyer, her name has been changed to protect her privacy and the people she represents. This interview was conducted by Jan Amelink, a theological student and intern in our Justice for People Seeking Asylum team.