​Asylum seekers arriving by boat are not illegal, and we need to stop using the term, the 800-strong Synod of the Anglican Church of Melbourne heard during its concluding debate on 19 October in St Paul’s Cathedral.

In seconding a motion, unanimously passed with minor amendment by the Synod, calling on the Federal Government for a more compassionate response to asylum seekers forced to flee their homeland because of persecution, Canon Dr Stephen Ames questioned the term ‘illegal’ to describe asylum seekers arriving by boat.

“[We] need to stop saying they are illegal… What law have they broken? They have not broken any law. They are not illegal,” Dr Ames said.
The motion calls on the Federal Government for a more generous refugee settlement than the current 20,000 per year, and also to give asylum seekers already in Australia access to education and the right to seek paid work while their claims to refugee status are being assessed.

In proposing the motion, Bishop Philip Huggins, Chair of the Melbourne Anglican Social Responsibilities Committee, said that the banner ‘Let’s fully welcome refugees’ hanging from one of St Paul’s cathedral towers facing Federation Square, had given comfort to many refugees in Melbourne.

“A Catholic Sister told me she recently brought a group of Iranian refugees to Federation Square just to look at the sign. They found it enormously comforting,” he said.

He called on the Federal Government to grant three dignities: “Dignity for people on-shore. There are 32,500 asylum seekers who need access to education and employment rights; dignity for people off-shore in detention on Nauru and Manus Island, who suffer terrible anxiety about their indefinite detention. Give them mental health and legal services and clarity about their future; and dignity for Australia as a global citizen through increasing its humanitarian intake and overseas aid. Through overseas aid we can help prevent more people from leaving their countries of origin”.

During the debate a lay member of Synod said that while he supported the spirit of the motion, he could not accept that asylum seekers had a right to paid employment. He spoke of his personal anguish about his having been unemployed for two years – “I feel I have no right to paid employment” – and also his concern that asylum seekers live in areas where there is high unemployment. “There aren’t enough jobs to go around. [Young] unemployed are terrified that asylum seekers will take work from them”. He urged Archbishop Freier and TMA to speak out on the issue of unemployment. “The unemployed don’t have a voice”.

Other motions unanimously passed by Synod included a motion expressing concern about “the extension of gambling and the advertising of gambling into all areas of community life”, including social media, and its effects on children; “and the tragic link between problem gambling and family violence”. The motion urges the Federal Government “to ban advertising of gambling odds during sports broadcasts, mitigate the socialising of children for gambling through social media; require all on-line gambling operators in Australia to be licenced, with mandatory pre-commitment as a condition of licence; and establish a national gambling regulator to oversee gambling regulation and compliance”.

See the forthcoming November edition of TMA for a more detailed report of Synod.


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