Asylum seekers – Tony Abbott and I share a Jesuit education. John O’Mara

Like many Australians, I look on the way the Abbott government is handling the matter of asylum seekers with ever increasing dismay. Tony Abbott’s mantra “stop the boats”, is unprincipled, contrary to signed UN agreements and impractical. It is hard to erase the pre-election memory of the Western Sydney interviewee..”I’m going to vote for Abbott, because he’ll stop the boats “.

What dismays me most is that Tony and I shared an educational experience at the hands of the Jesuits and then a friendship that reaches back almost 40 years.

Like Tony, I’m very grateful for my time at a Jesuit school. In our day a substantial number of our teachers were Jesuits and we had the benefit of their highly trained minds, sharp moral sensitivities and educational method that always emphasized evidence over rhetoric. Even though the Jesuits were strong on presentation skills in argument, the argument had to have substance.

Their clarity of thought and pursuit of learning for its own sake sets them apart from all other educators especially those I encountered at Sydney University. Their ability to look at all sides of an argument prior to coming to a conclusion was both stunningly simple, and at the same time extremely thought provoking.

Surprisingly, our religious education in latter years included a look at many religions…Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, Protestantism and others. We were shown the merits of these religions and taught an all encompassing view of life and peoples.

We were taught quite simply that the major requisites of Catholicism were: love, inclusion, and protecting or looking after those more needy…of any denomination. Fr Gerald Drumm went further, stating that as we were boys starting life from a privileged position in a Jesuit School, we owed it to our God, the Jesuits and ourselves to put our teachings in to practical effect if we were ever in a position to do so. It was as black and white as that!

Tony and I were, from our earliest days taught people had an inherent dignity and to use them as a means to an end is the antithesis of anything the Jesuits taught us.

Tony and I were both members of the SRC and had many battles with “the lefties”, both verbal and physical. We both enjoyed playing Rugby for Sydney Uni, if not for Australia. It was a time of great frivolity and for forging life-long friendships. But those playful undergraduate days are long gone. And now in government, the play is for real.

Instrumentalizing desperate human beings for political advantage is absolutely unacceptable. As I said to Tony a couple of years ago over dinner…”Mate, you and I would be the first in a boat with our families were we to encounter the atrocities they have had to face“.

The solution is again very simple. We must embrace these poor desperate souls, get them in to our communities and enrich our lives, and theirs. Give them the dignity to live without fear, give them the dignity to work and pay tax. Let us take the lead in a regional resettlement program to accommodate these people. No more detention centres, political bottom feeding, refugee camps or queues. Let’s get the Australian psyche back to where it should be.

As Tony should know, playing to the xenophobes in Australia just flies in the face of well known facts about people movement and its cause in our region.

Asylum seekers ARE NOT ‘ILLEGALS” they are our brothers and sisters.

Tony’s and my Jesuit teachers are turning in the graves for the lack of logic, human sympathy and compassion let alone any reflection of what Jesus had to say about welcoming the stranger and going the extra mile. Bad luck for the Good Samaritan. He was a mug and would never get endorsement as a Coalition candidate.

John O’Mara is Managing Director of Big Image Sydney Pty Ltd


John Laurence Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

This entry was posted in Education, Human Rights, Politics, Refugees, Immigration, Religion and Faith and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Asylum seekers – Tony Abbott and I share a Jesuit education. John O’Mara

  1. Avatar Andrew (Andy) Alcock says:

    Dear John

    I like your article and admire your great humanitarian approach towards asylum seekers which accords with my own.

    In 1970, I happened to be a teacher at St Ignatius College, Riverview, via Lane Cove and taught Tony science and social studies. Many think that the Jesuit education in all the educational facilities it administered were uniform, but I suspect this was not the case. Most of the Jesuits at Riverview when I taught there were rather reactionary in their politics.

    The big moral issue of the day was Australian involvement in the American War in Vietnam. As a person concerned about the morality of that war, I wore a Vietnam Moratorium badge almost every day I was there. The Jesuits there gave much higher priority to talking about rugby, cricket and playing games about the parsing of sentences. I knew that there were other Jesuits who were involved in the peace and social justice movements in Australia, the US, the Philippines and more particularly in Latin America. The fact is that the Jesuits like other political groupings are divided politically. Father Jerry Golden, a Jesuit priest I knew at Adelaide University who was the Catholic chaplain and was a wonderfully humane, compassionate and progressive man.was forced out by conservative Catholic parents (probably of an NCC background) because their children were involving themselves in the peace movement because of his influence. He was sent to the North Sydney Parish which was administered by the Jesuits. Jerry was given a very hard time by his fellow Jesuits there.

    A young Adelaide man who was very influenced by the DLP/NCC had a brother who was a draft dodger and who was being sheltered in the student house in which I was living in 1969. He told me he was voting for the DLP in the 1969 federal elections. The next year he went to the Jesuit training college in Melbourne. Quite by chance, I met him in a Sydney street a few months later and he told me he could only remain a priest if the church allowed him to retain the radical politics that he had developed in just a few months. Liberation theology was obviously big on the Jesuit training agenda at the time.

    A scholastic I knew at Riverview told me that he appreciated me for wearing my Vietnam Moratorium badge. I told him that he was probably the only one. He said that the members of his order were “reactionary old bastards”! My response was that I thought that they were his brothers in Christ. He agreed that they were, but said that they were still “reactionary old bastards”!

    Many people blame me for Tony Abbott’s politics because I taught him.
    My mitigating argument is that I tried to inculcate in him the concepts of compassion and human rights, but even though he was bright enough to become a Rhodes’Scholar, he has been able to understand these concepts. It must be remembered that he had a strong grounding in the National Civic Council and this is basically fascism. Its founder, BA Santamaria, was Tony’s mentor and told him to join the Liberal Party.

    In the lead up to WW2, Santamaria was a forthright supporter of Franco and Mussolini, the fascist leaders of Spain and Italy respectively. He also supported the unnecessary and immoral invasions of Vietnam and East Timor. This man had a strong influence on a number of key people in the right of the ALP as well. Is it any wonder that Australian leaders have become so right wing, intolerant, inhumane and devoid of compassion? Now we are in an era of taking from the poor and giving to the rich.

    many Australians seem to accept without question that the “Liberal” Party in Australia is truly liberal. The fact is that it is a very harsh and callous right wing party. The British Liberal Party was a truly liberal party which supported programs for the poor, the formation of trade unions, chartism etc These things are an anathema to the current leaders of the “Liberal”Party in Australia. Even Malcolm Fraser, who sent many of our young people to Vietnam has had a change of heart and has become more humane and caring than what he was when he was PM. He has also resigned from the “Liberal”Party. The current “Liberals” loathe him for taking the stand that he has.

    I came from a Methodist background and this church was also very divided along political lines. The leadership opposed Australia’s involvement in Vietnam, but some of the right wing members were very much in favour.

    There is a need for all who want peace, fairness, social justice and equality for all. to struggle for these values against those who support exploitation of the environment and the people in it.

    A La Lucha Continua!

  2. Avatar Mark Porter says:


  3. Avatar Vacy Vlazna says:

    Seriously.? There are so few Jesuit voices at microphones, on the radio, TV, letters to the editor, the pulpit and feet on the ground at rallies standing up for asylum seekers. Just a handful of religious dare or bother.

  4. As a friend, maybe you could have another word in Mr. A’s ear. It would be appreciated as he does not seem to listen to many.

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