Elections and People Seeking Asylum

MAY 25 2016


By Andrew Hamilton SJ


Elections make a statement about society. It is in our interest that the statement be one about a national harmony that embraces difference. Sometimes, however, an election reveals the frayed threads in society.  And not infrequently politicians cut the threads for electoral gain.


What should we voters do when this happens?  It is not enough to shut our ears and eyes to bad political behaviour. It is better to encourage respect for people who are seen as different.  In hard times when the public mood is to exclude strangers and to punish outsiders, stridently defending the disrespected will not win them respect. Indeed there may be no effective electoral strategy for rescuing them.


In this forthcoming election that may be so for people who come to Australia to seek protection from persecution. A large majority of Australians is in favour of stopping the boats at any price, and for making men, women and children in detention in Nauru, Manus Island and Australia pay that price.  So simply denouncing the policy as lacking in respect may only harden hearts. But that is not the end of the matter.


There is much we can do. When politicians throw petrol at the fires of disrespect, we can write respectfully to them, asking whether they realise the divisive harm their words do.  We can also write enquiringly to our local representatives asking if they support this lack of respect for vulnerable people. In our conversations with friends and work we can stress the value of respect for persons, even if we differ on policies. And of course we can embody respect in our own actions.


These little things keep conversation open and point to a better way.