Tag Archives: asylum seekers

Dancing with Speeches #24 Princess Elizabeth

This weekend Australia celebrates the British monarch and her reign as sovereign is always disappointing to me who long for Australia to be a republic. Her first public speech was made when she was 14, over the radio and with her sister to give comfort to other young people and children who were being removed from their homes becoming refugees and offering good luck during their time of separation from their families.

The crackle of the crystals warming up before the voices of young women wishing well and reminding peers the future belongs to them, when peace comes, remember it will be for us, the children of today, to make the world of tomorrow a better and happier place. She invited all the children to bear their share too of the danger and sadness of war. So many children bear more than their share – their toll is greatest, their future taken away through the aftermath of conflict. The wars go on long after soldiers have left. Their fathers go home with post-traumatic stress and their mental health condition may well lead to more violence to self and their loved ones. The land is no longer fertile, harvesting only toxins in the soil left from the herbicides and residue of weapons and mines in the ground maybe lasting for aeons. DNA maybe damaged passing on genetic disorders to generation after generation. Locked in detention, robbed of their childhood, children bare more than their share of war.

The voice of the child so clear and powerful, the young princess Elizabeth was heard by her peers as well as adults. The power and place of public media the platform to be heard. More recently in our time that very same public media, the BBC found a way for another young woman’s voice to be heard, this time it was firstly anonymous and via a blog. A BBC journalist looked for a young person who could write safely about their life with the Taliban. A school and its teacher were approached and the child who first wrote under the pseudonym Gul Makai (means Cornflower, after a character from Pashtun folklore). Her first blog entry was published on 3 January 2009, it was from hand-write notes passed on to a reporter scanned and e-mailed – no doubt a series of crackles along the way to get them to publication. We all know her now as the Nobel Laureate Malala. The role of the BBC to bring a children’s voice to the masses is a triumph. The little voice is powerful in its vulnerability and unmediated honesty and desire for peace.

When the word isn’t possible, a visual image may well be even more powerful. Over three successive years, children’s art has come to the fore from detention centres where those seeking asylum have been placed by Australian authorities. More than a dozen of these pictures found their way into the Australian Human Rights Commission report released in 2015. They are evocative and compelling, and while in a publicly commissioned document, The Forgotten Children’s report’s drawings didn’t have wide spread coverage in public and commercial media – they were there but a wide audience wasn’t reached. The images too confronting and more powerful than words perhaps the reason for their modest presence in the public domain. By the middle of 2013, children seeking asylum in Australian detention centres nudged the 2,000 mark. This number has steadily declined since with the support of changing public policy, practice and tireless advocacy. The report commissioned and undertaken by the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs spearheaded the demand for the children to have their rights to seek asylum from persecution and was has been the Australian way in previous generations. Sadly children once from families given that privilege had not extended it to the next generation.

What would happen if we touched into our inner child, too feel and connect, as child to child, just as Elizabeth and her sister Margaret Rose did? Would that open our hearts a little wider, let a little more compassion seep out, embed a memory to build a future of peace and justice? Elizabeth celebrated her 90th birthday this year, she was able to hark back to her childhood in her Christmas message last year and brought the images of Syrian refugees and the reminder of her England as child together, reminding viewers of her Christian refugee story of Jesus and his family fleeing persecution and a certain death of the boy child if they did not escape the oppressors occupying their homeland.

Take a breath, in this dance of past and present. Remember yourself as a child, what would you want for yourself and for other children? A place to be safe, a place to play and a place to grow up in peace, free from persecution and war – would you refuse your inner child that right? Or the next generation’s their rights?



Dancing with Speeches #20 Wilberforce

4786054Williiam Wilberforce rose to his feet in 1789 to make his speech on 12 May on the abolition of slavery in the House of Commons to try and convince the rest of his parliamentary colleagues that the time had come to end the practice of transporation, in chains, across an ocean and to declare sympathy is the great source of humanity.

Perhaps you saw the movie Amazing Grace, it was the very last movie my father saw before he died. He loved the screen, and throughout my life,we saw a lot of movies together.  We didn’t actually see this one together, but we talked about it in one of the last long conversations we had. A story that captured all the great themes – redemption, tenacity, justice, power, fear, joy.  The making of a movement and the movement making leaders.  Quoting statistics and telling the personal stories of the oppressed and the oppressor, Wilberforce brought together the reality of how we are all enslaved by acts of barbarity, and without the end of trading in tyranny.

Slavery has not ended, and in our century and it is estimated 21 to 36 million are enslaved worldwide, generating $150 billion each year in illicit profits for traffickers.

Labor Slavery. About 78 percent toil in forced labor slavery in industries where manual labor is needed—such as farming, ranching, logging, mining, fishing, and brick making—and in service industries working as dish washers, janitors, gardeners, and maids.

Sex Slavery. About 22 percent are trapped in forced prostitution sex slavery.

Child Slavery. About 26 percent of today’s slaves are children.

Source: http://www.freetheslaves.net/about-slavery/slavery-today/

We are also trading in slavery when we join in the economy, get to know where your goods come from and you too can free yourself from the slave logistics chain (see www.freetheslaves.net/ for guidance).  In Wilberforce’s time sugar became a symbol of disconnecting from the slave trade and like all great symbols it helped to galvanise a movement and enabled people to participate in the campaign by politely refusing sugar in their tea and brought the conversation to the kitchen table.  All great movements have ways of bringing the big issues into the realm of the domestic.  I don’t like outsourcing my politics to politicians, the ideas and issues are too big for just the elites in the houses of parliaments, although it is crucial the legislators are there to turn the electorates views into law.  It is up to us who have issues of import to bring them to the kitchen tables and to find ways to take our moral, economic and social views to the masses. I have a sticker on my car, of an issue that is important to me (refugees), and I am handing out the stickers to friends, family, associates and others in my wake as one little piece of building this big conversation.  There is plenty of money to be made in this trade. Our government (Australia) is spending a fortune in this business. Detaining a single asylum seeker on Manus or Nauru costs $400,000 per year. Detention in Australia costs $239,000 per year.  I share  Wilberforce’s shudder. We now have 30,000 people in Australia unable to get visas after we promised them protection, and asylum seekers in Manus no longer detained, but unable to leave – effectively marooned. Just who are the pirates this time?

There is no business in abuse and Wilberforce invited us to benevolence – to do good. The opposite of benevolence is spite – intentional, ugly and designed to hurt. Isn’t it time to turn towards the light?

There is no accusation made against the gentlemen of the West India trade; but, by bringing forward the consideration of such a mighty object, we unite with the person of sensibility, that the measure is necessary, as founded in rectitude and universal benevolence.

William Wilberforce

Just as my Dad, found as his days got shorter there is an amazing grace to be found when you are no longer enslaved by the fear of the dark, so might we too find freedom in unlocking ourselves from what holds us back from saying no to a teaspoon of sugar, clothes made by children, or public policy that keeps those seeking asylum branded as illegal. It is hearts not boats that need to be turned around.

Dancing with Speeches #16 Ben Chifley

Ben Chifley’s Light on the Hill speech is so simple and really just says the success of the Labor Party on polling day is entirely on the party’s capacity to serve the people who work and a recognition that it is a political expression of the labour movement: “If the movement can make someone more comfortable, give to some father or mother a greater feeling of security for their children, a feeling that if a depression comes there will be work, that the government is striving its hardest to do its best, then the Labor movement will be completely justified.”

Labour movements around the world need to innovate and organize in new ways, as the economy changes and the capacity to work in new ways with no boundaries in time and space. Joining with other movements like environmental justice, peace, anti-nuclear, human rights, women; the labour movement walks in solidarity and at times fuses and brings strengths to create a single strand of human action for equity and justice. These movements join together on line and have the capacity to create a digital tsunami. The voices on line, matched with feet on the streets can make a difference and highlight what needs to be factored in when you go to the ballot box.

It is no longer enough to be concerned for those who have a job or want to have a job. The labour movement needs to speak up for both the light and the hill. The hill needs to be protected from mining magnates who disrespect traditional owners, the hill needs to be protected from shareholders who will vote in immoral wages for CEOs, the hill needs to be protected for future generations so they can enjoy the oxygen the trees not felled will provide and keep temperatures down. The light needs to be solar power, offered at an affordable price and use to connect to other energy sources. The light needs to shine in the cold and murky places and not just to be on the hill; to bring transparency, make invisible decisions visible and glow in the dark when fear and terror are being traded.

Chifley’s light on the hill has deep biblical roots and reminds me of the duty statement of the Christian to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. To change hearts and minds and behavior is to engage those who are comfortable to understand and therefore change their response to those needing comfort. We all know what it is like to feel uncomfortable. There is the restlessness and moving on and off our spot, a queasy feeling in the stomach, a look of embarrassment, a furrowed brow of anxiety – all signs we are not at peace with ourselves and there is some kind of adjustment needing to be made to become more aligned. Gnawing away at the spirit and values to be challenged to bring justice requires a consistent effort over time.   For instance, Wilberforce spent a lifetime as a legislator working to abolish slavery across the British Empire and lived three more days after legislation was finally passed. He campaigned and gradually dismantled the scaffold holding slavery in place, he created a movement and a partnership with a wide base of supporters. Those making their fortunes out of the slave trade were his enemies and they had friends in the parliaments. He had a great partner in his mission with Thomas Clarkson and together they were able to help the comfortable feel uncomfortable. In our time and place there are plenty of rights to be wronged, places where light needs to be shone for justice and also places where are best selves need to rise to the occasion so an entire movement can be a light on the hill for our nation. The plight of the 28,000 people here in Australia in limbo, having arrived seeking asylum and now waiting in no-mans land without any confirmation about their future – surely we could just offer an amnesty? We’ve done it before in our history (remember Tiananmen Square and the Chinese university students, remember the Vietnamese boat people?). To say nothing of the horror of what is being done in our name on Manus and Nauru!

Movements begin, like the light, with a spark and as we know it only takes a spark to get a bushfire going … let’s climb to the top of our hill and light the candle we need to light to bring justice and feelings of discomfort to open the hearts of those who can make Australia a sanctuary, a welcoming place and deliver ourselves as a light on the hill.