NEWS | Anne Lim
Friday 23 October 2015
The NSW Premier Mike Baird has called for more compassionate treatment of asylum-seekers in Australian detention centres, including speeding up the processing of refugee claims.
Speaking last night at a debate on God, religion and politics hosted by Warrawee Anglican Church in Sydney’s upper north shore, the Premier said the use of detention was one of the issues in the public debate that Christians had to wrestle with.
While stopping the boats was an important step, the next step was to accelerate processing in the detention centres.
“The former’s government’s deliberate approach was to process very slowly, so limited funds were allocated, and so when people were in these detention centres the message that got back was ‘don’t come because you’re going to be four, five years in detention.’
“Now, that’s not the answer. Process very quickly if you’re going to do that and look after kids and families in particular,” he said.
“The question is how do we … maintain the no-boats [policy] – but surely we can be more compassionate in those detention centres and I think that’s where the next wave is.”
The former banker and aspiring Christian minister was answering questions after giving a talk in which he recounted his long and tortuous path into politics.
In answer to a question about marriage equality, he accused the church of mishandling the debate.
“I think if we’re honest with ourselves as a broad church, I think we have been incredibly damaging at times in this debate because we have been judgmental,” he said.
“Yes, we understand the context of the relationships but have we loved as we should in that debate?
“Collectively as a church, how do we respond to those sort of events? Stand up for what we believe, absolutely, but don’t lose the focus of that debate – and it’s about the tone and the way, surprising with grace.
“One thing about the gospel is this incredible explosion of grace that you can’t contain, you can’t see. I n the gospel God sent his son to die for us; we didn’t deserve it – the exact opposite – but he died for us. I mean, how on earth did that happen? Our response in our life is along those lines, wow – we are to have this eternity and we gave nothing and God gave everything.
“How do we shape the debates that are important to us, how do we surprise people in that public discourse with God’s grace and love? I tell you what, the more people see that, the more they want it, and the more power and impact I think the church will have.”
Mr Baird said that as a Christian in politics, he did not see his role as legislating his beliefs but operating with wisdom and integrity and “a deep servant heart”.
“There is a separation between church and state. However, I can’t separate myself from my faith … in that context I think SRE should remain as part of our schools and will remain as part of schools while I’m there.”
Mr Baird acknowledged that there were many issues where Christians wanted him to be much stronger, and more public and run legislation.
“But I do not see my role in this as reflecting what I think and legislating what everyone should believe,” he said.
However, he believed the church should not be “stuck in its house”.
“We need to get out and be a part of public debate and people seeing the power of the gospel will change the nation,” he said.
“One of my frustrations is the church can be relatively silent across a range of issues.”
Mr Baird, who said he had been a keen Christian since Year 12, said one of the three key pillars he built his budgets as a Liberal Party Treasurer was looking after the vulnerable.
“I have been so heartened that we as a nation have opened our arms to the [Syrian] refugees. We are a rich country; we have many resources. Surely the response of a nation in our position to such a humanitarian crisis and individual stories of despair is we have a role to play there.”
Mr Baird said one of the issues he had become passionate about was disadvantaged youth.
“There are so many among us who are in such difficult circumstances. We have to do better with our disadvantaged youth. That’s what on my heart.”