Anglican priest joins parliament refugee protest

A pro-refugee billboard outside the church. Photo: anggos.com.au.

Father Rod Bower has been the rector at the Gosford Anglican Church for 14 years. His cheeky and very direct signs on the church board have received up to 50,000 views and thousands of shares on Facebook. He spoke to Green Left Weekly's Niko Leka about joining the convergence for refugee rights in Canberra on November 18.

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What sort of responses have you had to your messages of support for asylum seekers?

Overwhelmingly positive. There are a handful of people who trot out the mantra — that they’re queue jumpers, “illegals”. I find if you engage those people sympathetically, you can start to change their mind. It is a matter of finding ways to introduce facts to them. Of course there are ideologues who will never change their mind.

Why are you going to the Canberra convergence for refugee rights?

I’m interested in the asylum issue. I’d like to know what others are doing to promote an equitable response. I’d like to hear the speakers and find out what their focus would be.

What do you think of the government keeping boat arrivals secret?

As long as they can keep themselves a small target, limit the information, it is a very effective strategy so people don’t see what they’re doing and there is less for people to respond to.

What can we do to help people in remote and hidden detention centres?

Get their stories out. Story telling is the most powerful form of communication. Figures are important, but they are not really what changes hearts. What’s effective about the government’s strategy is that nobody gets a name, nobody gets a face, they’re numbers.

Documentaries like Mary Meets Mohammed and Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea get beyond preaching to the choir, they reach the swinging voter.

Have you succeeded in making contact with people in remote detention centres?

I was supposed to go as Chaplain to Christmas Island last year for three months as part of a joint project between the Anglican and Uniting Church, but they cancelled the program.

Did they read your blog?

Probably. People in the immigration department didn’t really want somebody like me there.

If the boats did stop coming, what will happen next?

Well, what is the government’s exit strategy? Are they going to keep them in detention on Manus Island and Nauru indefinitely? They don't know what their exit strategy is from this plan. You can’t keep people there indefinitely.

There’s information going around that these tents on Nauru are the most expensive in the world. It is costing the governemt $1 million a year to keep one person in a tent. If you poured that million dollars into that person here in Australia in a regional centre, think of the benefits.

View more billboard messages from the Gosford Anglican Church below.

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