In 1974 the Parliament passed the Trade Practices Act which, by section 52, decreed that a corporation should not “engage in conduct which is misleading or deceptive…”. But parliamentarians are not subject to similar restrictions. We accept without questioning that norms of conduct which parliamentarians sets for commerce do not apply to them.
Most people expect politicians to lie. But few politicians have shown the capacity for dishonesty and hypocrisy which Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton have displayed in connection with people seeking asylum.
Abbott, Morrison, Turnbull and Dutton claim to be Christians, along with most other members of the Australian Parliament. For fear of being misunderstood, I should declare that I was brought up in the Christian tradition, but I no longer adhere to any religion. But I do remember some of the fundamental tenets of Christian teaching: compassion for those in need; treat others as you would want to be treated…
These men lie to us, and they are hypocrites. They lie when they call boat people “illegal”, when it is not an offence to arrive in Australia, without a visa, seeking to be protected from persecution. And by their wilful mistreatment of people seeking asylum they betray the Christian values they pretend to hold.
Christ told the parable of the Good Samaritan. A Jewish traveller on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, has been stripped and beaten and left, helpless, beside the road. A priest and a Levite both pass him by and avoid engaging with him. A Samaritan sees him and helps him, even though Jews and Samaritans were traditional enemies.
Tony Abbott, who claims to be a devout Roman Catholic, once suggested that the parable of the Good Samaritan might have been different if a number of travellers had been found beside the road. It takes someone like Abbott to claim that he can reconstruct Christs’s teaching.
Abbott had earlier exposed his bankrupt version of Christianity when he gave the second Margaret Thatcher Lecture, in London on 27 October 2015. Among other things he said:
“Implicitly or explicitly, the imperative to “love your neighbour as you love yourself” is at the heart of every Western polity. It expresses itself in laws protecting workers, in strong social security safety nets, and in the readiness to take in refugees. It’s what makes us decent and humane countries as well as prosperous ones, but – right now – this wholesome instinct is leading much of Europe into catastrophic error.”
So, a wholesome instinct is sidelined because of its consequences.
In the same speech, Abbott said this:
“…no country or continent can open its borders to all comers without fundamentally weakening itself. This is the risk that the countries of Europe now run through misguided altruism.
On a somewhat smaller scale, Australia has faced the same predicament and overcome it. The first wave of so-called “illegal” arrivals to Australia peaked at 4000 people a year, back in 2001, before the Howard government first stopped the boats: by processing illegal arrivals offshore; by denying them permanent residency; and in a handful of cases, by turning illegal immigrant boats back to Indonesia.
The second wave of “illegal” boat people was running at the rate of 50,000 a year – and rising fast – by July 2013, when the Rudd government belatedly reversed its opposition to offshore processing; and then my government started turning boats around, even using orange lifeboats when people smugglers deliberately scuttled their vessels.”
(Incidentally, in addition to his lie about “illegal boat people”, his figures were false. The Australia Parliament House library shows that the largest number of boat people to come to Australia in a single year was just short of 25,000).
Malcolm Turnbull converted to Roman Catholicism . He has not tried to reinterpret Christ’s teaching, but he has embraced Abbott’s practical lessons in morality by embracing his policy of mistreating refugees.
By contrast, Pope Francis has taken a principled stand on the need for compassion for the plight of asylum seekers said:
“Biblical revelation urges us to welcome the stranger; it tells us that in so doing, we open our doors to God, and that in the faces of others we see the face of Christ himself.”
He was referring to a passage in the Bible (Matthew 25), where Christ says:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Sadly, neither Abbott nor Turnbull appear to have listened to the Pope or understood the Bible.
Scott Morrison’s maiden speech in Parliament placed great emphasis on his Christian values. Among other things he said:
“So what values do I derive from my faith? My answer comes from Jeremiah, chapter 9:24:
… I am the Lord who exercises loving-kindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things, declares the Lord.
From my faith I derive the values of loving-kindness, justice and righteousness, to act with compassion and kindness, acknowledging our common humanity and to consider the welfare of others; to fight for a fair go for everyone to fulfil their human potential and to remove whatever unjust obstacles stand in their way, including diminishing their personal responsibility for their own wellbeing; and to do what is right, to respect the rule of law, the sanctity of human life and the moral integrity of marriage and the family. We must recognise an unchanging and absolute standard of what is good and what is evil. Desmond Tutu put it this way:
… we expect Christians … to be those who stand up for the truth, to stand up for justice, to stand on the side of the poor and the hungry, the homeless and the naked, and when that happens, then Christians will be trustworthy believable witnesses.
These are my principles.”
If those are Scott Morrison’s principles, he is not a man of his principles. During his time as Immigration Minister, Morrison showed no trace of “loving kindness” or justice or compassion for refugees who came to Australia by boat looking for protection from persecution.
Peter Dutton claims to be Christian, but he boycotted Kevin Rudd’s Apology to the Stolen Generations in February 2008. Like other members of Coalition governments during the past 16 years, he refers to boat people as “illegal” and he administers a system of detention which shows astonishing cruelty.
This is not the place to give details of Australia’s mistreatment of refugees: the facts are well-enough known. Equally well-known is the Coalition message that a harsh refugee policy is essential to protect refugees from the risk of drowning.
But to suggest that they are worried about refugees drowning is a lie: a fig-leaf to make immoral mistreatment look compassionate. “Worried about people drowning”! So worried that, if they don’t drown, we punish them as if they were criminals, and call them “illegal” to make their punishment look vaguely respectable. We do it, explicitly, as a deterrent so that others will not try to find safety in Australia. And these dishonest politicians, pretending to be motivated by compassion, overlook altogether that if persecuted people stand their ground and are killed by their persecutors, they are still dead: just as if they drowned; if they die in an attempt to escape to some other country, they are still dead: just as if they drowned.
For politicians like Abbott, Turnbull, Morrison and Dutton to say they are worried about boat people drowning is a lie. For them to mistreat asylum seekers in the way they do is a betrayal of the Christian values they cherish.
They are dishonest hypocrites.