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Dialogue must continue

Dialogue must continue

By Paul Dobbyn

AUSTRALIA’S border protection policy is adding to the misery of “our brothers and sisters”.

“As the Catholic Church, we need to think carefully about how we engage with the Government’s policies,” Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office director Scalabrinian Father Maurizio Pettena said.

“People are publicly manifesting their disapproval of what takes place in detention facilities and they are particularly concerned with children in detention.

“We have to ask questions such as: how can we effectively show our disapproval and yet keep the doors open to enhance dialogue between the Government and the community and lead to better solutions?

“We certainly have to consider our approach … We’re not the Government and, even if there is a change of government, it’s quite unlikely we’ll have any drastic changes in Australia’s border-protection policy.”

Fr Pettena’s comments came as the Federal Government’s new Border Force Act took effect, triggering protests including one outside Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s Strathpine office on the morning of July 2.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced the appointment of inaugural Australian Border Force commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg at the same time as the Border Protection Act came into place on July 1.

Meanwhile, dozens of doctors, teachers and humanitarian workers challenged the Government to prosecute them for publicly discussing conditions in immigration detention centres in the wake of the Australian Border Force legislation.

More than 40 former detention-centre workers issued the challenge in an open letter to Mr Abbott, Mr Dutton and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

Under section 42 of the act, an “entrusted person” can be jailed for two years for disclosing “protected information”.

Fr Pettena said Australia’s policy on asylum seekers was having “huge impacts on the region” as the multilateral system to handle the problem breaks down.

“Our Government’s approach is creating other problems because, the more the multilateral system becomes inoperative the more we see people-smuggling flourish,” he said.

“Desperate people rely on this means of migration because there is no other solution.

“The protection of borders ought to also be there for the protection of these vulnerable people, not for their exclusion.”

Fr Pettena said the Government was well aware of Catholic social teaching on this issue.

“As Catholics we must continue the conversation,” he said.

“This is a complex dialogue but one which we must have.

“We have to reach into the Catholic tradition and come up with solutions that are practical and manageable.”

The Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office (ACMRO) was established by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference on July 1, 1995.

The office is responsible to the bishops’ conference through the Bishops’ Commission for Pastoral Life.

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