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Faith leaders on the frontline in former PM's seat

Candidates called to get kids off Nauru

Faith leaders are calling on all candidates in the Wentworth by-election to make a public commitment to support getting all refugee children off Nauru and reinstating the Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) for all people seeking asylum in Australia.

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In the lead-up to the October 20 by-election for the seat of former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, a coalition of Christian and Jewish leaders has sent a letter to all candidates inviting them to a public forum to discuss these issues and constituents’ concerns. The forum will take place on Sunday October 14 at Waverley College, a Catholic boys’ school in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

For Anglican rectors Geoff Broughton and Michael Jensen, the safety of families seeking asylum has been a long-time concern. In 2014 they led the Sydney Anglican Diocese to unanimously call for an end to children in detention on Nauru.

“We need to hear from all the candidates what they plan to do to ensure the safety of these kids and their families.”- Geoff Broughton

“It’s really a question that transcends party politics. It’s not about border control. It’s about the humane treatment of people who are our responsibility,” Rev Jensen told Eternity.

Rev Broughton said: “What shapes a faith-based response to kids of refugees on Nauru? Most of us are committed to pray regularly for refugees. Some of us have been compelled to do more than prayer. A few of us have been willing to protest. Mostly, we are overwhelmed with sadness. Many are left paralysed by the complexity of displaced peoples. But what makes us angry is the lack of political leadership to get the kids off Nauru. We need to hear from all the candidates what they plan to do to ensure the safety of these kids and their families.”

Their concerns were echoed by Jan Barnett, Josephite Justice Co-ordinator of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, who was among six protesters arrested for holding a prayer vigil in the office of then federal Treasurer Joe Hockey in Sydney in 2014 to highlight the plight of children in immigration detention.

“It seems impossible that we have come to this,” she told Eternity. “We continue to watch in distress as current members of parliament become more and more paralysed and resolute in their determination to continue the trauma and torture on Nauru and Manus [Island].”

She said such hardship was now exacerbated in Australia by the government’s “apparent purposeless cruelty” of removing income support through Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) for asylum-seekers, forcing many refugees into “destitution.”

“We believe it is imperative that candidates share with us their own values and proposed ways forward,” she said.

“The members of our community are deeply concerned about the situation facing refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia.” – Jeffrey Kamins

The Christian leaders are joined by Jewish leader Jeffrey Kamins, Senior Rabbi at Emanuel Synagogue, who said this was an issue of great importance to his community and he urged all the candidates to attend the forum on Sunday.

“The members of our community are deeply concerned about the situation facing refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia. They’re especially troubled by what doctors are referring to as a humanitarian emergency for children on Nauru and also the destitution of thousands of people seeking asylum in Australia due to government welfare cuts.

“This is a priority issue for our community, which is why they want to have the opportunity to talk to the candidates about this before the October 20th by-election.”

“We are seeing an increasing demand for Foodbank and homelessness support at our shelter in Kings Cross.” – Carolina Gottardo

Executive Director of the Asylum Seekers Centre in Sydney Frances Rush said: “Voters in the Wentworth electorate have such an opportunity to show the candidates and fellow Australians that the current way we treat refugees and those who seek asylum has to change and to change in a way that reflects the just and fair Australian spirit.”

Carolina Gottardo, Director, Jesuit Refugee Service Australia, said the cuts to the SSRS were “already having worrying effects on the people in our communities including Wentworth. We are seeing an increasing demand for Foodbank and homelessness support at our shelter in Kings Cross.”

“It shows that the public wants real action to be taken so these children can live a better life.” – Kelly Nicholls

A new poll by uCommunications has found that Wentworth constituents are likely to back candidates who heed the Australian Medical Association’s recommendation to bring refugee children in Nauru to Australia. The poll finds 65.4 per cent of the electorate believe the 95 children who have been detained offshore on Nauru for the past five years should be brought to Australia for medical assessment and treatment with only 11.9 per cent undecided. It also finds that the issue of children on Nauru is one of the top three issues for Wentworth constituents who are undecided on who they will vote for on October 20.

Refugee Council of Australia spokesperson Kelly Nicholls said it was encouraging to see strong support from the Wentworth electorate on refugee issues, saying “the results show that Australians care about what is currently happening in Nauru. It shows that the public wants real action to be taken so these children can live a better life.”

Regardless of the results in Wentworth’s by-election, faith and community leaders in the electorate are committed to seeing Australia embrace compassionate a humane response to people seeking asylum. For Rev Geoff Broughton, that means continuing to engage and inform Christians on the issue. His church, St George’s Anglican, located at Paddington’s Five Ways, will host an evening with Tim Costello on “Why Australia needs refugees” on November 20 – with dinner provided by refugee catering business Parliament on King.

 

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