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.
Hope keeps us alive.
Take it away and the effects can be devastating.
We know this because we have seen that children on Nauru are suffering from “resignation syndrome.”
This is a condition where, after years of being stuck in immigration limbo and experiencing trauma, children gradually stop eating, drinking, walking and talking, before becoming catatonic.
In many cases, they do not respond to any stimulus and need to be tube-fed.
It is the physical manifestation of the loss of all hope.
In August, a 12-year-old Iranian boy on Nauru had to be flown to Australia for treatment where he is being kept alive by intravenous fluids.
But medical transfers like his aren’t easy to arrange. They require bureaucratic wrangling between Australian Border Force, the governments of Nauru and PNG, and the courts.
That’s what the bill brought before the Australian parliament on the last sitting day of the year was all about. It proposed a streamlined process that would allow a transfer to occur on the recommendation of two doctors.
The bill allowed the immigration minister to veto any decision if considered unnecessary, or if the person posed a security threat, as long as the minister intervened within 24 hours.
But government MPs argued that takes power away from the minister and gives it to unelected doctors. They also argued the 24-hour time frame is too short for a minister to get a full security analysis. Which might be a reasonable objection, worthy of debate and compromise, but the government was never going to allow the legislation to pass.
Our representative leaders, fearful of being the first government to lose a vote on legislation in the House of Representatives since 1929, came out swinging. With much emotion, Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared, “I will fight them on this. I will seek to stop them doing this.”
Knowing the parliament had the numbers for this crucial piece of legislation to pass, we saw a shameful subversion of the democratic process designed to delay the legislation at all stops. Walking slowly across the chamber, repeatedly asking for toilet breaks, demanding to challenge each sentence of the bill, all to make sure streamlined access to medical transfers would not pass before Christmas. We saw the hope of change systematically destroyed by those determined to maintain power, even at the cost of human lives.
The human cost of delaying and complicating medical transfers with politics has been well known for years. Twenty four year old Hamid Khazaei tragically died in 2014 after an urgent medical transfer sought by his treating doctors was delayed by politics. Terry Ryan, State Coroner, reporting on Hamid’s death said the death was preventable, found the Australian Government’s system of offshore processing a causative factor in his death, and stated that decisions about medical transfers should be based on medical decisions.
The political chaos that engulfed the parliament last week reveals how desperately we need some common grace.
This Christmas, by all means remember the angels and the shepherds and the magi and the little boy-child Jesus in his manger. But also remember the children of Nauru. And remember that the coming of the Christ was to set in train a revolution of love and justice that would eventually sweep away all tyrants, free all victims, and end all wars.
This Christmas, remember that the followers of the Christ are called not to side with empire, but to sit with the terrified, to comfort those who mourn, to join the meek and merciful and pure in heart. And to hunger and thirst for the righteousness only Jesus can bring.
While our leaders play the tough guy on border security, a 12-year-old boy subsists on feeding tubes, crying out to us through silent lips, saying that we can be better.
That we must be better.
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Michael Frost is a Common Grace supporter and the founder of the Tinsley Institute at Morling College. He has written extensively on a missional paradigm for the church in a post-Christian era and has pastoral experience in several Baptist churches across Sydney.