May 2016 -Concerning Peter Dutton’s Comments – a letter to PM Malcolm Turnbull

A letter to the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

The first time I called upon my church to write to the Australian Prime Minister was over a decade ago. The issue was John Howard’s policy of Mandatory Detention of Asylum Seekers. His office sent a personal response and a shift in policy regarding children in detention was announced. Here is a copy of my recent letter to Malcolm Turnbull, with a computer-generated(?) response below:

Thursday 19th May 2016

Dear Prime Minister,

No doubt you are reflecting on the various responses to Peter Dutton’s recent comments on the educational and economic value of those seeking refuge and Asylum in Australia.

Australia is a country rich with a diversity of ethnic backgrounds. I am concerned that when public figures make negative statements of this kind about immigrants – for whatever the reason – it makes all Australians who look like they might have non-Caucasian ancestry feel vulnerable and unwelcome in Australian society. The fear and suspicion of new Australians which such statements evoke are divisive for the society of ethnically diverse Australians already living here, who may have been Australians for generations and whose families have contributed to building the Australia we know today. Can you reassure me that the wider cost of these kinds of statements cause you and the government concern as they do for me?

I am also concerned by the perceived loss of the moral standing of Australia in the Pacific Rim region and internationally, resulting from a policy line that is not only isolating us from our immediate neighbours, but also drawing the disapproval of church leaders, humanitarian leaders, state premiers, and of countries who would otherwise be our allies – and of the UN. Can you reassure me as to how these issues are being considered?

I do not want to assume that former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser was correct in his remarks about a “race to the bottom” in order to appeal to the “redneck vote”. You will of course be aware that this is the way our current policies are now viewed by a great many. Can you reassure me that this view is mistaken and give me an idea of what your party’s vision and strategies are for building “unity and concord” in Australian society?

The plain reading of Peter Dutton’s comments would infer an intention to make Australians fearful, and to think less of those who have desperately thrown themselves on our country’s mercy. Can you help me understand his comments differently? I understand that you will want to back your minister, but will you be taking some action to address the impression that has been given by Mr Dutton’s statements?

My work has involved me in the work of networks of independent and Anglican churches in Victoria, NSW and the ACT and in the Lachlan Macquarie political internship. In the past the Christian churches have felt an affinity with many elements of the Liberal party’s values. The support of the church organisations may be lost entirely if we continue to prosecute policies that would seem difficult to reconcile with principles of justice and compassion. How isolated can the government afford to be – particularly in an election year? I look forward to your allaying my concerns.

Kind Regards…

And here is the, presumably, computer-generated response pointing me to an article published by the prime-minister, entitled “The truth is our successful multicultural society is built on secure borders.”

May 25 2016

The Reverend Paul Wallis,
Thank you for contacting the Prime Minister to share your concerns. May I refer you to the article written by the Prime Minister in the Sydney Morning Herald for a more detailed understanding of the Prime Minister’s views on this issue:

I simultaneously wrote a parallel letter to Peter Dutton’s office. His office has neither acknowledged nor replied.