Offering Sanctuary – Let Them Stay

This is the speech I delivered at the Let Them Stay Rally organised by GetUp! at Sydney Town Hall on Monday 8 February. There were about 4000 people there all calling on the Government to change our harsh, punitive and abusive treatment of people seeking asylum.

Australian churches believe that offshore processing is wrong. The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce has been working to end it since we formed in 2012. And my church, the Uniting Church, has been calling for an end to the offshore detention prisons since they were first opened.

Offshore processing is bad policy. It shatters people’s hopes and dreams and it destroys their health.

Both major political parties have decided that punishing one group of people in order to send a message to another is an acceptable thing for a civil democratic state to do. But it’s not acceptable. It’s immoral. And it’s time for it to end.

The law in Australia relating to people who come seeking freedom and safety from persecution by boat has been so twisted by successive governments that it now provides no protection to the people who need it most. Perversely, it even allows for babies born in Australia to be denied Australian citizenship and classified as ‘unauthorised maritime arrivals’.

Now, because we’ve tried everything else, Uniting Church congregations around the country have joined with Anglicans, Catholics, Quakers, Baptists, the Salvation Army and our Muslim sisters and brothers, to offer sanctuary to 267 people – men, women, children and Australian-born babies. Many of these people have already been severely traumatised; some have been raped, some have cancer and terminal illnesses. They must be allowed to stay. The torture must end.

The Government says they’ve stopped the boats. We know they are turning boats back. Today we heard that the Border Force Commissioner has said that people smugglers are “struggling to find… customers.” It’s a warped and scary logic that says that these 267 people have to be returned to the hellhole that’s Nauru to keep the boats at bay.

Australians are now waking up to the lifelong damage we’re doing to a group of brave and resilient people and saying ‘enough is enough’.

Church people around the country offering sanctuary are willing to engage in acts of civil disobedience, putting themselves on the line in order to say ‘enough is enough’.

Mr Turnbull – listen to us. Do the right thing. Let them stay.

Decent, moral leadership has come from church people, from doctors, lawyers, artists and writers, from the thousands of families who attended candlelight vigils for Reza Barati who died in the violence on Manus island, from people who have, for years, faithfully attended rallies calling for more humane policies. And over the last few days we’re finally starting to see State and Territory leaders step up and say ‘enough is enough’.

Mr Turnbull – listen to us. Do the right thing. Let them stay.

For the sake of our nation’s future as a decent and civilised country: Mr Turnbull, do the right thing. Let them stay.

And most of all, for the sake of those whose lives we have already damaged: Mr Turnbull, do the right thing. Let them stay.

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