Tony Abbott, Christianity and “Boat People”

Tony Abbott said the following today (in the Australian, article titled: Abbott slams boatpeople as un-Christian*)

TONY Abbott yesterday claimed boatpeople were acting in an un-Christian manner by “coming through the back door” and should not be encouraged to “jump the queue” with people-smugglers.

Asked on ABC Perth radio why his attitude to asylum-seekers was unchristian, the Opposition Leader responded: “I don’t think it’s a very Christian thing to come in by the back door rather than the front door.

“And I’m all in favour of Australia having a healthy and compassionate refugee and humanitarian intake program.

“I think that’s a good thing. But I think the people we accept should be coming the right way and not the wrong way.

“If you pay a people-smuggler, if you jump the queue, if you take yourself and your family on a leaky boat, that’s doing the wrong thing, not the right thing, and we shouldn’t encourage it.”

I must say I appreciated the many responses on Twitter regarding this:

HAIL ANTS ‏@hailants

Abbott: “boat people un-Christian” Prov 29:7 “The righteous is concerned for rights of the poor; the wicked do not understand such concern”

zerogeewhiz ‏@zerogeewhiz

Ref 1: Mark 5:21-34 – woman pushes her way through the crowd, touches his cloak. She’s healed. No dramas. Not sent back to Indonesia.

zerogeewhiz ‏@zerogeewhiz

Ref 2: Luke 5:19 – man lowered in through the roof, Jesus heals him anyway. Does not send him to Nauru for processing.

Emily Manuel ‏@emiliawrites

@blue_bec @TonyAbbottMHR “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13)

Abbott today continued to perpetrate the myths that those who take the perilous journey by  boat to Australia, in order to flee persecution and find somewhere safe to live, are queue jumpers, and that this behaviour is “UnChristian”, apparently something that Abbott is a good judge of (I present case 1 to the contrary).

This is not the first time that Abbott has come out claiming some authority on judging what the bible and Jesus says about people who come to Australia seeking asylum, he did so previously in 2010 saying:

“Jesus didn’t say yes to everyone,” Mr Abbott said on ABC television’s Q&A program, according to the Herald Sun.

“Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it’s not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia.”

Mr Abbott was quizzed extensively on his criticisms of the Rudd Government’s softening of Australia’s border protection policies and how that criticism squared with his own strong Catholic faith.

Asked what Jesus would do on the issue of asylum-seekers, he replied: “Don’t forget, Jesus drove the traders from the temple as well.”

“This idea that Jesus would say to every person who wanted to come to Australia, ‘Fine, the door’s open’, I just don’t think is necessarily right,” Mr Abbott said.

“(But) let’s not verbal Jesus, he is not here to defend himself.”

I wrote about Abbott’s comments in 2010 here.

The AntiBogan has a great article breaking the myth of “queue jumping“:

In this paper, I want to examine whether asylum seekers have gained an unfair advantage over other migrants by arriving in Australia through illegal ‘queue jumping’. I will principally argue that given their circumstances, they have not gained an unfair advantage over others. Queue jumping will be shown to be neither illegal nor immoral in certain circumstances and the superior financial status of  some asylum seekers  over others is irrelevant in determining how they ought to be treated. Secondly,  though more briefly, I will argue that the claim that the harsh measures are justified because they discourage vast numbers of asylum seekers from ‘queue jumping’ in the same illegal way and so prevent a massive influx of migrants cannot be sustained. Thirdly, the argument that harsh treatment  is justified because it will make it difficult for people smugglers to ply their ‘queue jumping’ trade is simply dismissed as grossly unjust to asylum seekers. It is evident that the view that asylum seekers have used unjust means of reaching Australia and so harmed others who have been waiting patiently in line fails.

I do not intend to argue that asylum seekers are technically not illegal refugees, since under international law they are entitled to seek and enjoy freedom from persecution, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. [2] An asylum seeker is, after all, entitled to seek sanctuary in another country if he is being persecuted in his own country or conditions there are oppressive and he has good reason to believe that remaining in his present country is dangerous for him and his family. It is then up to the government of the country to which he is seeking entry to decide whether to give him sanctuary and the opportunity for a new life. In some cases, entry will be denied, but this does not mean that the asylum seeker has done anything illegal. The scandal of Australia’s present treatment of asylum seekers is that they are being treated as criminals. For the sake of argument, however, I will assume that they are illegal immigrants, which is to say that they are intending to enter Australia without going through the normal immigration processes. [3] Despite this illegality, I will argue that the queue jumping argument cannot be sustained and they ought not be incarcerated indefinitely in detention centres.

Queue jumpers cannot be condemned for their actions on the grounds that what they have done is immoral. There is a distinction between what is illegal and what is immoral, despite  a view in the minds of many that what is illegal is morally wrong and to be condemned. However, what is immoral may not be illegal and vice versa. For example, we regard adultery as morally wrong, but, at least in Western countries, it is not regarded as illegal. There are acts, such as murder which are both illegal and immoral. It is illegal for pedestrians to walk against a red light, but, assuming one does not compromise one’s safety in doing so, it is not immoral. Nor is it illegal for salespersons to play on the weaknesses of gullible customers to pressure them into buying goods which the salespersons know they cannot afford, but it would be immoral. Aquinas argues that it may be morally wrong for someone to keep wealth that she does not need, even though it has been justly acquired. [4] What Aquinas has in mind here is the poor, starving man who has nothing, but who could be helped by someone who has food in abundance. One could in Aquinas’s example replace the poor, starving man with an asylum seeker and it requires little imagination to substitute Australia for the person having abundance. Aquinas’s conclusion could then easily apply to Australia. This aside, it is clear that there is a tangled connection between what is illegal and what is immoral, with civil law generally based on the moral law, but the essential point is that they are not identical. [5]

Abbott needs to pick up his bible and re-read it thoroughly.  He needs to re-read the gospels and remember the true messages therein, particularly the Golden Rule:

One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself


* Articles on The Australian are paywalled.  To read the article do a Google search for the title of the article and click on the link for the Australia, this is a known bypass of the paywall.

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