I was a stranger and you welcomed me

I have been a little dismayed in the last 24 hours listening to the angry words of Woodside residents in South Australia reacting to the Federal Government’s announcement that disused military accomodation in the Adelaide Hills will be used as an on-shore assylum seeker detention and processing centre. I have been listening to the radio news, and haven’t found a lot of it in the print media, but you could see here, here and here for more information.

I can understand the Woodsiders’ frustration at lack of consultation. Apparently Julia Gillard was in Woodside recently, and entirely failed to mention any plans for the establishment of the centre. I can understand parents concerns that the children of the assylum seekers will be sent to the local schools. This isn’t an issue of racism, but an issue about a school system already overstretched. The local community is entitled to ask about extra funding and expansion of the schools to take an additional 200 students with very special needs. And I can also understand members of the community being angry about the fact that 10 million dollars will be spent on the centre, including 24/7 medical and dental services – when similar services for the locals exist only in their dreams.

All this I can understand, and all this reflects badly on the Federal government. But I have been deeply saddened to hear, in much of the rhetoric eminating from the public meeting at Woodside, such ugly words directed against the assylum seekers themselves. I had not thought that the “stop the boats” slogans had been quite so effective. I hope that the Christian community of Woodside and their pastors will be able to lead the community in general into a more welcoming embrace of the stranger.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “I was a stranger and you welcomed me

  1. Tony

    There’s a bit of irony here, David. As we know, many of these small communities are dying and are the first to whinge when government services are withdrawn.

    In effect this could be a shot in the arm for the whole district and may help to sustain a viable community that was looking down the barrel of decline.

    I’d also be cautious about the kind of coverage it is getting. The media are pre-disposed to look for the controversial angle and that can only be negative.

    I think also that there’s other reasons for country people to be angry — witness the meetings about the Murray-Darling basin — which add fuel to the fire.

    Notwithstanding that, I’m sure people of goodwill still have genuine concerns and, hopefully, it is those people who will help iron them out.

    The church’s, especially, Dale West (from CenterCare) and Mons Cappo have made positive noises from the get-go.

    My experience, for what it’s worth, is that the refugees themselves will overwhelm the locals with their gratitude, their willingness to learn and their enthusiasm. Some will be traumatized of course, but I’m continually humbled by people who have had the toughest of lives on the one hand but who are generous, open, loving and hospitable, on the other.

    • In effect this could be a shot in the arm for the whole district and may help to sustain a viable community that was looking down the barrel of decline.

      Properly managed, I would agree, absolutely. I think so would the people of Woodside.

      The problem is that this doesn’t seem to have been managed well at all. There was no consultation before the announcement, for a start. There was no promise of direct resourcing of the local community, so that they would be confident to handle this influx of residents and also see that they have much to gain in terms of their well being.

      I am sure the reaction would have been very different had the Government come to them and said: we are going to give your local community and infrastructure a huge increase in resources, because we need your help in this important project.

  2. Paul G

    Hi David,
    as perhaps a link between your posts on saints and refugees, I’m off to see Ben Hur at the ANZ (Olympic) stadium tomorrow (while praying for no rain).
    There was a story on ABC TV
    ( http://tinyurl.com/2dc6xwo )

    about a Sudanese refugee who is performing in Ben Hur. He arrived as a refugee 8 years ago and is raising money to build a new school for girls in the Sudan, to be called Mary MacKillop College. ANZ stadium has donated $10,000 and is allowing fundraising at the event.
    I know it is rare, but sometimes we can manage good news stories.

    • Paul G

      PS, I’m interested to see how they handle Ben Hur as a sort of circus performance. The original movie was controversial because it had an actor playing Christ, I wonder what will be done tomorrow?

  3. Lack of consultation seems to be a feature of Ms Gillard’s leadership, all the way back to the East Timor processing centre debacle (whatever happened to that, btw?). No wonder then, that the voters are losing confidence in her – according to the latest poll this morning Labor would have lost a general election if held over the weekend. Also, I do wonder if, in this particular case, this decision and the way it was announced doesn’t reflect typical leftist disregard for ordinary folk? And just think, it could all be avoided if the government accepted Nauru’s offer to re-commission their exisitng facility – but that would be to admit that the Howard govt’s solution worked. Ah, politics!

    Anyway, back to your post: I believe Pr David Preuss, just up the road from Woodside, was featured on Adelaide TV talking about how local churches would try to build bridges between the locals and the asylum seekers.

    Oh, yes, sorry to be pedantic, but you have a couple of spelling mistakes in this post David : asylum seekers (not assylum) and emanating (not eminating). I only point them out so you can correct them if you wish.

  4. Tony

    Lack of consultation seems to be a feature of Ms Gillard’s leadership, all the way back to the East Timor processing centre debacle (whatever happened to that, btw?).

    It’s ‘ongoing’.

    While I agree that more consultation would have been better, there is the question of what level of consultation was necessary. The houses are empty and are owned by the Federal Government. They’d be perfectly within their rights not to consult at all. One wonders too, if the houses were made available to white, middle class Australians if the need for ‘consultation’ would be so great.

    Also, I do wonder if, in this particular case, this decision and the way it was announced doesn’t reflect typical leftist disregard for ordinary folk?

    Ordinary folk? Do the people of Nauru qualify as ‘ordinary folk’? Were they ‘consulted’? Are refugees ‘ordinary folk’? Were they ‘consulted’? Do the people of Port Augusta qualify? Were they consulted about the detention centre (code for razor-wired surrounded prison out in the middle of nowhere) in their midst?

    And just think, it could all be avoided if the government accepted Nauru’s offer to re-commission their exisitng facility – but that would be to admit that the Howard govt’s solution worked. Ah, politics!

    Worked? What does that mean? Out of site and out of mind for a while then all but a handful accepted as refugees onto the mainland? Not sure how the Timor Leste solution could be worse than that.

    (BTW, the link to your blog doesn’t work. There’s a comma where a dot should be.)

  5. “Worked” in the sense of stopping the boats, Tony. Just look at the stats. Surely, you’re not in favour of families risking their lives to traverse oceans in these unseaworthy vessels?

    Consultation with the locals would have just been the polite thing to do, smooth the path and all that. Now it’s having to be done post facto, with emotions heightened. Not smart.

    And yes, I believe the people of Nauru were consulted originally, and are willing to have the facility re-opened. So, why not? Politics. Discussion over.

  6. Tony

    “Worked” in the sense of stopping the boats, Tony. Just look at the stats.

    There are push factors and pull factors that influence the movement of refugees in the world. As far as I can recall I’ve seen no substantive evidence that ‘pull’ factors are significant.

    People leave their country of origin because conditions are intolerable. While there are wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, people are going to leave. Overwhelmingly they go to countries far less able to cope with the numbers.

    My measure of what ‘works’ is not ‘stopping the boats’ but the one David alluded to at the beginning, ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’.

    Surely, you’re not in favour of families risking their lives to traverse oceans in these unseaworthy vessels?

    Gawd, another straw man!

    Consultation with the locals would have just been the polite thing to do, smooth the path and all that. Now it’s having to be done post facto, with emotions heightened. Not smart.

    I agree! I also agree with the general proposition that this government could improve on consultation.

    On the other hand they also get it the neck for too much consulation and not enough making of decisions.

    And yes, I believe the people of Nauru were consulted originally, and are willing to have the facility re-opened.

    Really? Public meetings of the type you think are necessary here?

    So, why not? Politics.

    I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s simple geography. Nauru is thousands of kilometres east of where the refugees come from. It makes sense to have a processing centre closer to where the action is.

    It also makes sense to have a processing centre that is, to whatever extent possible, ‘owned’ as a regional solution, not an Australian ‘out of sight, out of mind’, solution thousands of kilometres away.

    Discussion over.

    I doubt it. The discussion is just beginning, albeit later than it should.