Australian Refugee Policy for Dummies #1: Disingenuous Rhetoric

Over the next couple of weeks I will blog regularly on Australian refugee policy, in order to explain how it works, and to offer scrutiny in light of scripture. These blogs 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.

Kevin Rudd announces new policy, July 19th

Kevin Rudd announces new policy, July 19th, 2013

In this first blog I address the disingenuous rhetoric surrounding this recent decision. (In future blogs I will explain and scrutinise the policy itself, yet untangling the rhetoric surrounding the decision is probably the most helpful place to start.)

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.

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Blogs and articles in this series (Australian asylum seeker policy, Aug-Sept, 2013):

Laws of Inclusion and Strategies of Exclusion: New Australian Asylum Seeker Policy Under the Scrutiny of Deuteronomy, published with CASE magazine.

Loving the Stranger, published with the Centre for Public Christianity.

The PNG solution and Biblical Ethics, published with Eternity Newspaper.

Australian Refugee Policy for Dummies#1: Disingenuous Rhetoric

Australian Refugee Policy for Dummies #2: Excise the Australian mainland from the migration zone

Australian Refugee Policy for Dummies #3: PNG is violent and dangerous—Rudd’s policy is harsh and selfish.

Australian Refugee Policy for Dummies #4: Australia is not pulling its weight in refugee settlement.

Australian Refugee Policy for Dummies #5: A positive policy solution


[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.

[5] Ibid.

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

About Mark Glanville

Mark Glanville is a pastor-scholar who ministers in a missional urban community, Grandview Church, Vancouver, and is Professor of Old Testament and congregational studies at the Missional Training Center, Phoenix (missionaltraining.org). Mark's research focusses upon the Pentateuch, biblical ethics, and mission. Mark has authored an introductory book on Exodus (Lexham, forthcoming), numerous refereed articles and chapters on the Pentateuch, mission, and refugee related issues, as well as numerous popular articles. Mark is presently co-authoring a book, "Providing Refuge: A Missional and Political Theology." Mark is regularly called upon to speak on in Canada, the U.S., and Australia. His previous career was as a jazz pianist in Sydney, Australia (Chick Corea and Wynton Kelly are his musical heroes).
This entry was posted in justice, miscellaneous, old testament, old testament ethics, politics, stranger/alien/outsider/refugee and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Australian Refugee Policy for Dummies #1: Disingenuous Rhetoric

  1. Rob says:

    PNG is the 6th fastest growing economy in the world. It is a country that needs people to maintain the predicted growth for mining and development. I feel that you have lost vision of the big picture and the actual best option for these people.

  2. davidgroenenboom says:

    Reblogged this on Dave's Journal and commented:
    Mark Glanville has been following the Australian Refugee debate closely over recent years. Mark addresses the issue from a standpoint of familiarity with the policy, and more importantly, a deep knowledge of and respect for God’s word in Scripture.
    Can I encourage you to subscribe to Mark’s blog to stay informed with a well informed Christian response to the issue of asylum seekers in Australia!
    Grace and peace, Dave

  3. Thank you, Mark.
    Much of what you have said here echoes my thoughts and responses to the latest asylum seeker policy in Australia,

    If memory serves me correctly, your father was one of my favourite teachers.
    Blessings,
    Dave’s sister, Jo

  4. nerdhub says:

    Why is this framed as a Christian issue? With an increase in non-Christian immigrants and attrition from the churches, Australia has fewer and fewer Christians. It won’t be Christian principles that drive increased immigration (or restrict it)… it will be consensus re what is or is not sustainable, and what is culturally beneficial or destructive. Please stop preaching (moralising) and use a more universal approach.

    • Drindiana says:

      Respectfully why wouldn’t it be? With some many first world nations laws and values based on Christianity having a clearly constructed comment from that perspective is valuable. People who are Christian and those who are not can benefit from thoughtful critique. From a moralising perspective we need to be careful on that observation by reflecting on ourselves….

    • Willem says:

      This is a Christian blog. The author is looking for a Christian response, which will be part of the wider response of the Australian people. That’s why it is framed as a Christian issue. Also, I reckon that that your demand for the author to stop moralising is far more moralising than his article.

  5. Pingback: Row row row your boat… | ignitingjustice

  6. Pingback: Australian Refugee Policy for Dummies #2: Excise the Australian mainland from the migration zone | …for he has made you beautiful

  7. Pingback: Australian Refugee Policy for Dummies #3: PNG is violent and dangerous—Rudd’s policy is harsh and selfish. | …for he has made you beautiful

  8. Pingback: Australian Refugee Policy for Dummies #4: Australia is not pulling its weight in refugee settlement. | …for he has made you beautiful

  9. Pingback: Australian Refugee Policy for Dummies #5: A positive policy solution | …for he has made you beautiful

  10. Pingback: The PNG Solution and Biblical Ethics – an new article with Eternity Newspaper | …for he has made you beautiful

  11. Pingback: New article with CASE magazine: Laws of Inclusion and Strategies of Exclusion | …for he has made you beautiful

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