31 October 2009

Uhlmann on Rudd on asylum seekers

ABC journalist Chris Uhlmann has published a spirited critique of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s recent pronouncements on asylum seekers, measuring them against earlier pronouncements made by Mr Rudd in places such as his essay Faith in Politics, published in the October 2006 edition of The Monthly.

In his critique, published in the ABC’s Off Air blog here, and TheWeekend Australian 24-24 October here, Uhlmann notes:

In his essay Faith in Politics, Mr Rudd set a high bar for the way a Christian should act in the world. His model was German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the 20th Century figure he admires the most. Mr Bonhoeffer's faith demanded he confront injustice and he asked, "Who speaks boldly to the state for those who cannot speak for themselves?"

Mr Rudd argues this means "that a core, continuing principle shaping this engagement should be that Christianity, consistent with Bonhoeffer's critique in the '30s, must always take the side of the marginalised, the vulnerable and the oppressed".

Mr Bonhoeffer certainly did. And the state he spoke boldly to was run by the Nazis. He spoke courageously against the Nazi state from its inception, worked in the resistance and, in April 1943, was arrested after money used to help Jews escape to Switzerland was traced to him.

While in jail he was linked to the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler and on April 9, 1945 he was stripped, led naked from his cell and hanged with piano wire. Not for nothing did Mr Bonhoeffer say that when Christ calls a man, "he bids him come and die".

In Faith in Politics, Mr Rudd measured the Howard government against the kind of Christianity Mr Bonhoeffer preached and found it wanting. He listed a series of challenges for Christians who followed Mr Bonhoeffer's example.

Among them was this, "Another great challenge of our age is asylum seekers. The biblical injunction to care for the stranger in our midst is clear. The parable of the Good Samaritan is but one of many which deal with the matter of how we should respond to a vulnerable stranger in our midst.

There is more in that vein, and then Uhlmann concludes:

The Government has softened Australia's stance towards asylum seekers and it is determined to maintain strong border protection. These are not mutually exclusive propositions and there are defensible, reasons for doing both.

But confronted with a rising tide of boat people it panicked because it was scared its policy changes would be blamed for the influx and the electorate would punish it.

So the Prime Minister was faced with a choice. The narrow gate was to make a complex argument, to explain what he was doing, and to try and change the tone of Australia's debate about asylum seekers.

The wide path was to play the hard man and tub thump.

His life was not at risk. The state he had to speak boldly to is run by him. All he was risking was an approval rating of 71 per cent.

And Mr Rudd chose the wide path.

In the modern, relativistic, world of politics the only way of measuring a man or woman is against their own words.

This was not a large test of character. But it is a telling one.

Hard to disagree with any of that.

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