Mary Ward Justice Forum

Please don’t forget about us, we are human.

This thought, from a letter penned by a refugee, was at the heart of the discussions at the Mary Ward Justice Forum on Wednesday night.

The theme for the night was ‘Human Rights – Shouting Across the Divide: In Pursuit of a More Just Australia” and Loreto Normanhurst was honoured to have three phenomenal guest speakers in attendance, Mr Julian Burnside QC, Professor Dr David Isaacs and Dr Sara Townend.

Throughout the evening we bore witness to a frank discussion about human rights and its meaning, as the audience was posed the question: why are some people’s human rights seen as “less respectable” than others? Unfortunately, there is no one simple answer to this question and it is a topic full of, in many cases, uninformed opinions.

The audience was implored by all of the experts, with ground-roots activist Dr Townend using her own personal example, to educate ourselves in order to have balanced and respectful discussions with others, in the hope of affecting change. Dr Townend built on this point further, suggesting that given we all start somewhere, it is perfectly okay, or even ideal, to have passion above all and learn as you go. This sentiment of doing all that a seemingly ‘ordinary’ person can do is paramount in a society where apathy to human rights abuses seems to be immensely prevalent due to a lack of empathy.

Although justice and human rights were broadly discussed, the focus of the night – refugees and people seeking asylum – was at the centre of the discussion, producing thought provoking moments where even the perceived negativity around so-called ‘people smugglers’ was called into question. Indeed, Mr Burnside elaborated on the legality of this definition, stating that people heralded as heroes for saving Jews in Nazi Germany would be classified as ‘people smugglers’ under Australian Law.

How can we, as a country, present ourselves as ‘hard-line’ while engaging in the same practices we oppose? More importantly, how can we, as a country, ignore the obvious pleas from the most vulnerable who we, as a signer of the Refugee Convention, are tasked to protect – those who now oppose the #BringThemHere and #KidsoffNauru movements as they no longer wish to be resettled in Australia?

It seems only the Government can answer these questions, and, as Sister Libby Rogerson IBVM said, they themselves don’t seem to know the answers.

As members of the Loreto community we were called, by the panellists, to draw on our true christian teachings in order to seek the most just solution, with Mr Burnside posing the scenario: if Jesus Christ was alive today, would He, too, be locked up?

In a night that seemed to have moments of heartbreak and even small glimpses of hopelessness, we were reminded by Professor Dr Isaacs that we should never simply accept something as the status quo, given that the world, like our thinking and perspectives, are constantly in flux and developing. He extended this point with the quote “keeping quiet [is] as political an act as speaking out” (Arundhati Roy) to highlight that, in some cases, acceptance truly is the foil to justice. Professor Dr Isaacs also suggested that public awareness is paramount when it comes to the human rights, or current lack thereof, of people seeking asylum, stating that perhaps simple “human decency” will force those with the ability to create change to act.

The evening was one of insight and inspiration that allowed the audience to affect informed change and influence others, hopefully causing a momentum that may be able to rescue the remaining 84 children from Nauru.

 

Isabella Mincher, Year 12

Social Justice Captain