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Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Tags: Equality, Refugees

Ms O'CONNOR (Denison - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I had the great pleasure this morning of attending the Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast along with a whole bevy of my colleagues from across the political spectrum. As I understand it, there were more than 500 people at today's Prayer Breakfast and it has been my experience since I became leader that it is a very worthwhile event to attend.

We have had the most fantastic speakers for the three years I have been attending. The first year we had Bruce French, who travelled the world mapping edible plants. That was a wonderful presentation. He is a living treasure who lives somewhere up near Sheffield. He has gone into developing countries and talked to local communities about how to live literally off the land and what foods in their natural environment are edible.

Last year we had former New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione, another excellent, inspiring speaker who talked about the value of public good and working towards a stronger community. He also talked about compassion in law enforcement and fairness in justice. I found Mr Scipione's contribution extremely inspiring.

Today we heard from the marvellous CEO of World Vision, Claire Rogers, who we heard this morning is the first female CEO of World Vision. Again a speaker was invited to the Prayer Breakfast who challenged us all to look inside ourselves, examine our values and examine whether what we say we believe in we live in practice. Claire Rogers has been the CEO of World Vision for the past 18 months and in that time has travelled to developing countries and countries experiencing the pressure of global displacement of peoples as a result of war, famine, climate change, grinding poverty and civil unrest.

When I was listening to her talk about her travels to Nauru, I hoped that my colleagues from both major parties were listening very closely. Ms Rogers talked about the children on Nauru who have given up hope some of these children have only ever known a detention centre or an island, which as she described it, is about the size of Melbourne Airport. Some of these children have given up and it is a diagnosed psychological condition called resignation syndrome. You have children lying in bed who are refusing to eat, drink or go to the toilet, and these children are at risk of death. It is because they have given up hope because of the cruelty of the Australian Government's asylum seeker policies, policies that are supported by the Labor Party, despite their bleating protestations about being a party of fairness and social justice.

I want to quote from Ms Rogers, who said:

Do we really believe in equality? I'm not talking here of intrinsic differences and ethnic distinctions, I'm talking about the idea that every human being made in the image of God should be able to exercise the same rights and freedoms.

If the answer to that is yes, we believe in the principle of equality, then how does this principle really shape our behaviours and policies, because if displaced people are our inferiors in practice, we cannot then say with integrity they are our equals. This is simply a fact. The goal is not to declare that we are not sexist or not racist or that we believe in equality, the burning question is, are we willing to use our privilege to ensure equality?

I checked with Bishop Condie, who I was lucky enough to sit next to, and she read from the New Testament.

Mr Hidding - She was a member of Bishop Condie's diocese.

Ms O'CONNOR - Parish at St Jude's. That is right. It is that marvelous quote from Jesus that talks about the fundamental equality of every human being on Earth - man or woman. It does not matter if you are Jew or Gentile, you are all equal before -

Mr Hidding - Paul's letter to the Galatians.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you. It is very relevant to the work that we do, but also how we conduct ourselves as human beings and equal citizens of this planet.

Claire talks about coming back from her travels overseas and being very moved by her connections to those communities and the challenges and responsibilities it presented to her, living and knowing how some people are suffering. She came home to Australia and it struck her that Australia is harming children. She was shocked after coming home from visiting Cox's Bazaar earlier this year and soon after realising that her own country was still actively and systemically denying children's rights.

It was a brave and determined Australian schoolteacher, Gabby Sutherland, who held up a photo on the ABC's Q&A program taken that day of 124 children still being held on Nauru that alerted her to this. She said: 

For some time now the Government has been insisting there are no longer any children in detention. Clearly the Government is relying on semantics because there is a photo of 124 children clearly still trapped on Nauru. I have not been to Nauru, few people have, but I have seen first-hand the plight of children growing up in refugee camps.

Hope is the universal gift that Jesus gave us. How we treat other human beings can give or take away hope. People, let alone children, who are our future leaders, should not be left in limbo for prolonged periods. There is no hope when there is no end in sight.

She says, quite rightly:

There is actually nothing that can justify the imprisonment of innocent children anywhere, anytime.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank the organisers of this morning's Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast for inviting Claire Rogers as the guest today. I believe incremental change in the political psyche of this country will come about if people listen to people like Claire Rogers, really listen and take on board what she sought to teach us today about mercy, compassion and love.

Mr Hidding - You could have heard a pin drop.

Ms O'CONNOR - You are right, Mr Hidding, you could have heard a pin drop. It is a stain on our national character that there are children who have given up on life in prison in Nauru. There are desperate men, women and children on Manus and Nauru and we must do something about it instead of paying lip service to these desperate people.