May 19, 2014
EIGHT religious leaders today were detained by police in Sydney after refusing to leave Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s electoral office in a protest against asylum seeker policy.
The protesters invited office staff to join prayers for about 1000 child refuge seekers in detention centres and demanded their release.
And there could be more prayer protests and civil disobedience to come in a national campaign as groups have previously occupied the offices of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison.
The “prayer vigil” at the Prime Minister’s office was co-ordinated with a similar sit-in in the Melbourne electoral office of Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.
Moderator of the Uniting Church in NSW and ACT, Rev Dr Brian Brown was at Mr Abbott’s office and a former President of the National Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia Rev Dr Alistair Macrae was in the Melbourne group.
The eight removed by police in Sydney were later released without charges being laid.
Neither Mr Shorten nor Mr Abbott were present at the time. About 12 people were involved in the initial protest at each site. They were allowed to stay at Mr Shorten’s office.
It was a “peaceful action is a response to Australia’s cruel treatment of asylum seekers and an appeal to the two major parties to end the bipartisan tragedy of offshore detention, especially of children”, said a spokesman for the two groups.
Those involved in the occupations included two Catholic priests, a nun, two Baptist pastors, an Anglican Priest, five Uniting Church ministers, and a number of lay church leaders.
“Churches across Australia are speaking out in one voice about the cruelty of imprisoning children in detention centres and we are here today to ensure these calls for justice for the most vulnerable in our society are not ignored,” said Sister Brigid Arthur, a Catholic nun from the Brigidine order, who was at Mr Shorten’s office.
“Churches have exhausted all formal channels of policy debate on the issue of asylum seekers, that’s why we are risking arrest today,” said Rev Brown before the Sydney vigil.
“There comes a time when such grave injustice must be confronted directly through peaceful acts of civil disobedience, we believe that to be silent is to be complicit in the injustices being perpetrated against asylum seekers.”