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Holding on to hope, in an era of Medevac politics

A controversial crossbench senator rises to address their fellow senators. The weeks of being lobbied by their major parties has clearly taken a toll on their nerves. The burden of their decision weighs heavily on their shoulders.

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Voice shaking, they inform their colleagues they will be voting with Scott Morrison and the government and begin to give their reasons.

Yes, it will restrict asylum seekers’ movements between Australia and its offshore detention centres. Yes, it gives more power to the government.

“Coming to a decision on this bill has been, without a doubt, one of the hardest decisions I have had to face – a choice between a bad option and a worse option,” the explanation goes.

“It is a decision that involves human beings: children, mothers, fathers. It involves the lives of people who have had to endure unthinkable hardship, people pushed to the point where they go to any lengths to seek asylum.”

“I am forced into a corner to decide between a bad decision or a worse decision – a position which I do not wish on my worst enemies.”

“Coming to a decision on this bill has been, without a doubt, one of the hardest decisions I have had to face – a choice between a bad option and a worse option,” the explanation goes.

This is a senator who is a no-frills, say-it-straight type. Nobody doubts they are trying to do what is best for the actual people involved. Clearly a deal has been done that has led to them to conclude siding with the government is the most ethical option available.

Someone alleges Scott Morrison himself had detention centre staff on Nauru call the senator.

The senator explains: “I have also spoken with people who have worked closely with detainees … They told me that this bill is not completely fair, but that the detainees are tired. They told me that the detainees have had enough and that they want out. They are desperate. She told me that they have watched the news and they know it is down to one vote, and that vote is mine.”

“While I was speaking to these people and they were informing me, they started to break down and cry as they were speaking about children who have been in detention since they were born who are two years old. They speak about the word ‘out’. To them ‘out’ means going to church on occasion, and that is it. When they hear the word ‘out’, they cannot begin to associate it with freedom.

“The crossbench should not have been put in this position, but it has.”

But wait, some Eternity readers are thinking, when did Jacqui Lambie say this during the Medevac repeal? I thought she didn’t give details? What is this – an alternate ending for disappointed fans?

No. The date is Thursday, 4 December, 2014 – and the senator is Ricky Muir.

And on that day, I am a fledgling communications director working in the Not-For-Profit sector for the first time. I’m crafting a brand for a start-up that will attempt to unite Christians across denominations to make a stand for issues of justice.

The legislation being debated is the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill and Senator Muir will vote for it, as will other crossbenchers.

The legislation gives the (then) Immigration Minister Scott Morrison expanded powers.

The changed legislation means he can push any asylum seeker boat back into the sea; block asylum seekers from ever making a protection claim on the ill-defined grounds of “character” or “national interest”, without giving reasons; detain people without charge and deport them to any chosen country.

It removes access to the Refugee Review Tribunal for boat arrivals and classes them as “fast track applicants”, giving those excluded no recourse to an in-person appeal but only a paper review.

“#notPentecostal #notHuman” – Tanya Riches

A leopard never changes its spots, I thought yesterday as I watched a similar scene play out when Senator Jacqui Lambie voted with the government to repeal Medevac laws.

But Jacqui Lambie is no Ricky Muir. She’s done the hard work of earning her place of respect in Australian politics. And if anyone can have successfully pulled off a deal with the Morrison government that secures New Zealand resettlement for asylum seekers (as is strongly rumoured to be the case), it could well be her.

But I’m a Christian who has been hoping this particular leopard would change his spots for five years now.

Back in 2014, when faced with the disappointment of the Migration Act amendments, my idealistic start-up colleagues and I were determined to respond with hope.

We were a small team of just three people consisting of a National Director who was seconded from another organisation, a part-time Operations Director and me, a freelance writer as Communications Director.

But we hustled to bring forward our launch date. We pulled in the seed funding from those who’d promised it and wrote web copy. In between Christmas parties and end of year functions, we debated edits to the launch video that would introduce us and our message of hope to Aussie Christians. We asked prominent Christians to write endorsements to testify we were legit.

And then we sent our message of common grace and hope out into the world, convinced it was not only needed but had every chance of changing Australia.

Five years on from that launch and, if I’m honest, my hope is waning. Not my hope in Jesus, of course. But in our ability as Christians to influence our political leaders – even those who proclaim to follow him, like Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The leopard whose spots I long to see change.

“Of all the things a government could be doing, cancelling medevac? Really, we do that?” – Michael Jensen

Scrolling through Facebook, it seems other Christians also feel their hope drain away in the wake of Medevac’s repeal.

“Of all the things a government could be doing, cancelling medevac? Really, we do that?” posts public Christian and Sydney Anglican Minister Michael Jensen.

Down the comment thread, he adds “I write this as a conservative-leaning voter, btw. And not wanting just to seem pc.”

One of the founders of nonviolent direct action group Love Makes a Way, Justin Whelan, comments on the post: “Scott Morrison specifically dedicated this decision to those who voted Liberal in May. I imagine quite a lot of people here did vote Liberal, for a range of reasons. If so, I’d encourage and implore you to drop a line to your MP and say something to the effect of ‘I voted for you but this is appalling.'”

“Done,” responds Jensen.

Baptist missiologist and lecturer Michael Frost posts an image of the 12 asylum seekers that died in offshore detention before Medevac laws were introduced, asking, “No one has died since Medevac. No one. Why was it repealed???”

Christian commentator and Presbyterian minister Nathan Campbell shares a piece he’s written – thoughtful as always.

Theologian, journal editor and podcast host Megan Powell du Toit pens a poem in response.

Hillsong lecturer and Pentecostal theologian Tanya Riches expresses her dismay and hashtags her post #notPentecostal #notHuman.

Their disappointment is palpable and striking, when juxtaposed with other Christian voices speaking up about Israel Folau’s settlement with Rugby Australia and whether the Australian Christian Lobby will refund contributions made to his legal campaign. (ACL will be, by the way).

But I’m holding on to the hope of real resettlement options for people on Manus and Nauru that aren’t yet announced by Mr Morrison.

Not that such an announcement could justify his push for Medevac’s repeal (because, nothing but politics can), but that this story might have a different ending to the one starring Ricky Muir in 2014. A story which promised kids would be out of detention ASAP but saw us still all fighting for #KidsOffNauru as we ended 2017.

Yes, like many Australian Christians, I am holding on to hope – for Jacquie Lambie’s sake, sure, but much more for the people seeking asylum kept on Manus and Nauru.

But, Mr Morrison, this time, we’re really going to need to see those spots of yours change.

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