Palm Sunday is a moment for reflection
On Palm Sunday it is an opportunity to talk about union values, to talk about opportunities that the Covid pandemic has generated, and to applaud the town of Biloela.
Union values are based on a collective view of society. How can a society be progressive and inclusive and caring of and for each other?
Australia is undoubtedly a great country, but the narrative that Australia can be a better place post-Covid has drawn me in, and I believe the opportunities do now exist for a cultural shift.
This shift would rest on, and grow from, the notion of an inclusive Australia – an Australia that has reflected on its past, and having learned from the past, has the confidence to implement the changes necessary to create a better, more progressive and inclusive future.
Australia post World War II made public policy decisions to grow its population by some six million people.
This was not a perfect strategy but by the mid 1970s out of necessity, where previously there had been an expectation of assimilation, there emerged the ideas we now recognise as the principles of multiculturalism. We were getting there – ‘there’ being a nation with the capacity and the desire to embrace diversity.
Think back on the positives of the first Vietnamese boat refugees arriving in Darwin and Australian fishermen who greeted them providing the necessary coins so they could ring the authorities. We managed because our instinctive response was to be inclusive.
Tiananmen Square – another crisis managed – in excess of 90,000 new Australian citizens arrived. Again, we managed because of our natural instinct to provide a safe harbour for these people in need.
Why has this policy of welcoming refugees been discarded?
I’d like to return to the opportunities which grow from the Covid-19 pandemic. In the early weeks and months of the pandemic our union members in schools turned education on its head and pushed on, delivering education. This ‘can do’ attitude existed in all professions and industries across Australia– a spirit of cooperation came to the fore.
Workers across the nation placed their community needs above the risks to their own health and safety by continuing to go to work, providing essential services such as groceries, power, education, and the vital health services that our society relied upon.
Acting together as a whole is the foundation of the trade union movement and in my view a core Australian value – a value we seem to have lost sight of in recent years.
As one of the wealthiest nations in the world, that Australia currently makes a conscious choice to withhold support to refugees is a national shame.
Justice being withheld.
Justice is being withheld from hundreds of people who attempted to come to this country, fleeing violence and persecution in pursuit of a new life. Hundreds of these people pleading to our collective sense of humanity, only to suffer further indignity and dehumanisation at the hands of Australia’s offshore detention program – a program that is unlawful under international law. Shame!
The ‘values’ we require to meet our international obligations and to rebuild community acceptance of refugees are union values of dignity, of inclusiveness, and of respect.
They are the values of the town of Biloela in Queensland. We all know the story of the Murugappan family, but we should revisit the family’s plight.
Priya and Nades Murugappan and their daughters, Kopika and Tharnicaa, were taken from the regional Queensland town of Biloela into detention in Melbourne more than 1,000 days ago. The family was moved to Christmas Island in August 2019. They remain there to this day.
The federal court has called the treatment of the family Kafkaesque”, denying the youngest daughter of the family procedural fairness in her visa application.
The community of Biloela has been unwavering in their campaign to deliver justice for the family who came to know the town as their home.
The townspeople have acted in a way that would be familiar to many of us who are a part of union or been involved in a union campaign. They have in essence formed a Community Union.
Through grassroots community organising, this regional town has coalesced into a formidable force, building a level of strength and power by coming together that no single individual could ever have hoped to achieve on their own.
They have built campaigns and petitions that have reached across the country and mobilised thousands in support of their cause.
It is a righteous and it is a just cause, a plea for humanity in the face of inhuman institutional power and violence. Again, these are themes that ring true for the union movement.
The plight of the Murugappan family is just one example of the unconscionable pain that is inflicted upon refugees by this government. The campaign of the Biloela community to bring them home is just one example of the compassionate strength that Australian citizens possess.
But these examples can be an example to everyone. Never has the statement been more true, that “an injury to one is an injury to all.”
But we can win together in our demand for justice. A demand to free the refugees and close all the camps. A demand for permanent visas for refugees, not unworkable conditions that leave them condemned to poverty. A demand for peace, not militarism, a rejection of racism, and a demand for inclusion.
Everyday people have achieved their demands by joining together and acting in unison, and we can do it again.
I applaud Biloela. As a nation we have an opportunity for change. The pandemic has demonstrated our collective spirit can come to the fore. Let’s insist on a better, more inclusive Australia.
So today we call on the Australian Government to act in a dignified and compassionate manner. To act in a manner that reflects the progressive and inclusive and values of this great nation – one of the wealthiest countries on the planet.
A single day in unwarranted detention is too long.
Seven years is unconscionable.
Today we call for all refugees in detention to be set free.
Today we call for Justice for Refugees.