Students harshly criticize Jesuit alumni Abbott and others on refugee issue
20 AUG 2013. A group of Riverview students has written to opposition leader Tony Abbott and his fellow Jesuit-educated MPs ahead of the election labelling their support for the PNG solution a ‘horrifying moral bankruptcy’ and calling on them to return to their core Jesuit values of respect, decency and compassion.
The chair of the college’s AT Thomas Advocacy Group, Year 12 student Henry Gallagher , addressed students recently on the fraught refugee issue, which he says has been hijacked by the media and is driving the upcoming election. He said it was important to remind Jesuit alumni through the writing of this letter of their moral obligations when dealing with refugees and asylum seekers. Five Jesuit-educated MPs currently represent Labor and the Coalition in Parliament: Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, Bill Shorten, Christopher Pyne and Barnaby Joyce. If the Coalition wins the election, Riverview-educated Abbott will be Australia’s next Prime Minister.
‘We look for heroes among our alumni…. Instead we see only allegiances to parties that trade human lives for political expediency, that choose the lowest common denominator to woo the populace, and that speak of economic problems rather than the dignity of the human person, especially the most vulnerable’, Mr Gallagher writes in a letter to the men.
The MPs’ bi-partisan support of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s so-called PNG solution – in which asylum seekers who come to Australia will be stripped of resettlement rights and will be sent to Nauru and PNG’s Manus Island for processing, and mainland PNG for resettlement – represents a miscarriage of morality, Mr Gallgher told the gathering of students.
‘In Nauru for example, we are dumping our problems on a fundamentally unprepared population of a mere 9,000 people, inhabiting only 21 square kilometres’, he said.
‘In Papua New Guinea, not only does it have to support its own influxes of refugees from Irian Jaya, but it is a country producing refugees of its own: women and children who have been the subject of ingrained, systemic abuse which is scantily policed, and our government has deemed it appropriate to send women and children, who have already fled unspeakable evils, into such an environment. To suggest that this fulfills our obligation in any way to protect the refugees that we promised to take care of in the 1951 Refugee Convention is a reflection of a horrifying moral bankruptcy.’
Mr Gallagher appealed to the MPs to return to their core Jesuit values of respect, decency and compassion and to resist the temptation to toe the political line by supporting an ‘inhumane and unjust’ policy.
The AT Thomas Advocacy Group – established in memory of Jesuit AT Thomas who was murdered in Hazaribag – invited students to sign the letter before it was dispatched.
Full text of the letter from the AT Thomas Advocacy Group to Jesuit-alumni MPs:
Dear Messrs Abbott, Hockey, Joyce, Pyne and Shorten
As students in a Jesuit College standing within a near five century tradition of formation of head, heart and hands, we feel compelled to write to you, having shared this formation ahead of us, and now offering yourselves as future leaders of our nation.
An Ignatian education has always embraced and esteemed growth in competence, conscience and compassion. The mission of the Jesuits and all their ministries is 'the service of faith and the promotion of justice'. We share that with a passion. The currently proposed solutions to the so-called 'refugee problem' by both the Labor Party and Liberal-National Coalition are inhumane and unjust. They betray our national character of being large-hearted, of giving someone 'a fair go', and of 'helping the battler'. They lack moral courage and, in the light of our international obligations, may be illegal.
We feel compelled to express our disappointment that, as graduates of our Jesuit schools, you would allow those principles, cultivated in our common tradition, to be betrayed. We look for heroes among our alumni, for insignes (generous and influential people, as Ignatius styled them). Instead we see only allegiances to parties that trade human lives for political expediency, that choose the lowest common denominator to woo the populace, and that speak of economic problems rather than the dignity of the human person, especially the most vulnerable.
This is a very disheartening time for us. But your stance on this issue simply impels us to live out our Ignatian heritage in a more authentic way. It is time to send a strong message against this challenge of a generation. It is imperative that we show our support if we want to push for a more moral, and a more just Australia. Remember how Jesus said our lives would be judged: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’.
Henry Gallagher (Year 12)
13 August 2013