FRANK BRENNAN SJ. Will the refugee deal with the US come off?

IF United States President-elect Donald Trump decides not to honour an agreement to accept refugees from Nauru and Manus Island then they should be settled permanently in Australia, Jesuit theologian and lawyer Fr Frank Brennan says.

Fr Brennan made the assertion during a talk he gave in Brisbane on November 29 to mark the 45th anniversary of the Justice in the World statement from the Synod of Bishops of 1971.

Brisbane archdiocese’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission hosted the talk, supported by Brisbane Catholic Education and Theology in the City – Formation in the Christian Faith.

Fr Brennan, in his talk – Justice in the World: Challenges for the Church Today – said “since 1971 two of the really big justice questions for this nation have been the treatment of our indigenous Australians and, secondly, our treatment of refugees and asylum seekers”.

“We live in a world now which is very different from what it was in 1971,” he said.

“With the collapse of the Berlin Wall, with ongoing terrorism and with the extraordinary instability of the Middle East, we have to expect there will always be for the foreseeable future tens of millions of people who are displaced on our globe.

“And a challenge to us as Australians is what is our main response to those who are seeking asylum.

“In terms of what’s being debated at the moment, I was asked earlier this evening – what I thought about Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s deal with the Americans about people on Nauru and Manus Island.

“Now here I have to accept that I’m not on the same page as some of the refugee advocates.”

Fr Brennan said he was “pleased, in the circumstances, that this deal has been done”.

“With Mr Trump as President, do I think any of these people will end up in the United States? I don’t know; I have to say though that I don’t care all that much,” he said. “Now that might sound callous but let me explain.

“Mr Turnbull, by agreeing to this deal, is the first prime minister ever, whether Labor or Liberal, to now admit that these 1600 proven refugees on Nauru and Manus Island are our responsibility.

“That’s never been admitted before. They are our responsibility. They are not the responsibility of people or the Government of Nauru or Papua New Guinea.

“Second, he’s admitted that Cambodia is no solution. They may have spent $55 million on it but, until now, they’ve said Cambodia.”

But Fr Brennan said it now was not “a realistic possibility”.

“And, third and most significantly, (Mr Turnbull) has implicitly admitted that warehousing these people, including children, who are proven refugees, for over three years on Nauru is not a necessary pre-requisite for stopping boats,” he said. “That being the case, if Mr Trump doesn’t receive them, I say there’s no other credible option than to have them settle permanently in Australia.

“And the deep shame of this country is that even the Labor Party, when in Opposition, will not commit itself to resettling these people in Australia.

“And therefore there is work for us to be done as Church in continuing to be prophetic on this question.”

Fr Brennan described how such action arose from the words of the bishops in Justice in the World in which they said “they’ll listen ‘to the cry of those who suffer violence and are oppressed by unjust systems and structures’”.

“And so there was a suggestion for the first time to those of us who are believers that it’s not just enough to be engaged in our personal relationships saying that we act justly,” he said.

“It’s not just enough to accept the system as it is, but we are called prophetically to be ones who can stand up to the oppression of unjust systems and structures.

“And we do this because – in the words of (the document) – ‘justice and participation in the transformation of the world (are) … a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel’.”

This report of Frank Brennan’s speech was reported in the Catholic Leader on 9 December 2016. 

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