Shopping Cart


Australian Refugee Policy for Dummies - Part 1 - Disingenuous Rhetoric and the Excised Mainland

Tuesday, 6 August 2013  | Mark Glanville

Over the next couple of months, I will talk about Australian refugee policy, in order to explain how it works, and to offer scrutiny in light of scripture. These articles are prompted by the Rudd Government’s recent decision to remove all asylum seekers arriving on Australian shores by boat, to Papua New Guinea, and also to deny all of these people any chance of being settled in Australia.

I argue here that a number of the given motivations for the new policy announced on Friday, July 19th, are not genuine (then I will turn to scripture to conclude). Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has used fine humanitarian rhetoric: ‘The sight of asylum seekers being exploited by people smugglers is appalling.’ And: ‘The bottom line is that we have to protect lives by dealing robustly with people smugglers.’ And: ‘Australians have had enough of seeing asylum seekers dying in the waters… They have had enough of people smugglers profiting from death.’[1]

Yet there are good reasons to think that these stated motivations are not genuine. First, as Erin Wilson has recently pointed out, refugees arriving by boat are often fleeing life-threatening situations, and may make a decision that risking death on a boat trip to Australia is better than risking death by remaining in their country of origin.[2] True care for these people is to provide them with a home.

Second, Erin Wilson has pointed out that the Government has funded offshore detention centres with money originally earmarked as aid for developing nations—to the tune of three billion dollars over four years. This seems inconsistent with the Government’s stated goal to preserve human life.[3]

Third, all asylum seekers arriving by boat will be sent to PNG. Yet the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres has recently expressed seven serious reservations regarding the suitability of PNG as a place suitable for asylum seekers, in a letter to Chris Bowen, former Minister for Immigration. This includes concern over the level of human security in PNG, that PNG has not party to the UN convention against torture, that there is no legal framework concerning refugees, and that there are no immigration officers able to undertake status determination.[4]

Fourth, regional pathways to refugee status are very limited in the Asia-Pacific, and genuine efforts to care for refugees will prioritize collaboration between nations in order to provide reliable and consistent access to processing and settlement. A Government that genuinely desires to care for refugees will prioritize such constructive collaboration. Such efforts will of course reduce the number of people arriving by boats.[5]

And now to scripture: what are we to think of this disingenuous rhetoric? Across cultures, it is common for powerful people to cloak injustice with rhetoric of righteousness. Such ‘righteous’ rhetoric disarms critique—and vulnerable people may be left helpless. Yet the third commandment forbids this kind of dishonesty:

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain (Deuteronomy 5:11).

The third command extends beyond improper use of God’s name to improper use of God’s authority—and it includes pretending that unrighteousness actually has God’s approval.[6] The prophet Isaiah observes the elite in his time attempting to sanctify evil with ‘righteous’ rhetoric:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness (Isaiah 5:20).

Scripture roundly condemns the disingenuous rhetoric surrounding this new policy regarding asylum seekers.


Cyclone Ului over the Australian Coastline
The Rudd Government’s recent decision was to remove all asylum seekers arriving on Australian shores by boat to Papua New Guinea, and also to deny all of these people any chance of being settled in Australia.

This latest policy builds upon prior legislation, in particular a law passed in May 2013, to excise the entire Australian mainland from the migration zone. This step allows the Australian Government to circumvent their legal obligation to offer refuge to refugees seeking asylum within the country. The Refugee Convention, which Australia is a signatory to, requires signatory nations to offer refuge to those seeking asylum from persecution, within their borders, who satisfy certain criteria as a ‘refugee’. This legislation sidesteps that requirement by stipulating that, even though Australia is a signatory state, the Australian mainland doesn’t count—it is as if the refugees never arrived!

The step to excise the Australian mainland from the migration zone denies refugees their internationally recognised legal rights to seek asylum. Australia is the first signatory to the Refugee Convention to take such a step and if other countries followed there would be little protection left for vulnerable people fleeing persecution.

Old Testament law is relentlessly concerned with the protection of vulnerable people. In the biblical book of Deuteronomy this includes insistence upon just legal processes. Legal conniving leaves vulnerable people helpless and is expressly forbidden in Deuteronomy.

Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you (Deuteronomy 16:20).

‘Justice’, for Deuteronomy, must be defined carefully: justice does not only refer to ‘strict legal justice’, but also to the protection of the most vulnerable.[7] The preceding verse acknowledges the ever-present tendency of those in power to act for their own self-interest:

You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe… (Deuteronomy 16:19)

For Deuteronomy, laws and legal systems are for the protection of the most vulnerable and legal machinations that promote the interests of the wealthy at the expense of vulnerable people are an abomination to God. Thus this legislation that sidesteps its agreed responsibility toward asylum seekers represents legal conniving that is reprehensible in light of Deuteronomy’s ethics.



[1] Kevin Rudd, “Address to the Nation,” n.p. Online: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIapYIBRZIs.

[2] Erin Wilson, “That They May Have Life,” n.p. [cited July 17 2013]. Online: http://publicchristianity.org/library/that-they-may-have-life#.UejKGr_Ibs3.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Antonio Guterres, n.p. Online: http://unhcr.org.au/unhcr/images/121009%20response%20to%20minister%20on%20png.pdf.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Patrick D. Miller, The Ten Commandments (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 68-69.

[7] See Deuteronomy 10:17-18; 24:17-18.



Dean Powell
August 7, 2013, 12:18AM
Hi Mark, I agree with all you say. Thanks for framing it so clearly. Would more generous policies toward assylum seekers be self-defeating, that is, if the party promoting them can't win government? Do you have a feel for actual acceptance levels in the general community toward people arriving illegally by boat. Both major parties want us to believe levels are very low. Is this true? In future blogs will you be sharing your thoughts on alternative policies that address the people smuggler issue? On biblical principles we should be employing them (legally) to facilitate safe assylum travel, but that would never win votes!
Jacob Sarkodee
August 7, 2013, 7:48AM
Great piece Mark. Simply explained and straight to the point. Really enjoyed how you read in behind the statements from Kevin Rudd as disingenuous. Also, the emphasis of what the legacy of excising Australian mainland does to those genuinely fleeing persecution. It denies justice!
Les scarborough
August 7, 2013, 6:49PM
Hi Mark, This is an excellent article ..highlighting the base political reasons for Kevin Rudd's decision. this completely contradicts what he said four years ago on this policy. It has appalled me and many others...Thankyou for concisely dissecting his speech and false reasons. he has lost my confidence but where do I go on this issue..who has a policy that respects humanity.
Alasdair Livingston
August 8, 2013, 1:06PM
Yes, Mark, you make some good points. But what if, as Greg Shanahan has stated, some or many of the asylum-seekers are not genuine refugees but quite well-off people who arrive without documents, so that their past actions cannot be investigated, and who have been carefully schooled by the smugglers on what stories to tell to the assessors? "They will change Australia in ways we do not want", he remarked. I suspect he has in mind the effects of the open-door policies of European countries, in some of which, including Britain, there are Islamic ghettoes where non-Muslims dare not go, and where special privileges are being claimed for Muslims. And it is already happening here. We may all be eating (without knowing it) halal meat from animals that have been slaughtered by the cruel method of exsanguination. I am not attempting to defend the present policies, but we need to think very carefully about what we are doing. As for justice, it will be extinguished if the declared intention of a growing section of Islam (vide the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt) of uniting the whole world in an Islamic caliphate comes about.

Got something to add?

  • Your Comment


Online Resources

subscribe to engage.mail

follow us

Latest Articles