I have been a little dismayed in the last 24 hours listening to the angry words of Woodside residents in South Australia reacting to the Federal Government’s announcement that disused military accomodation in the Adelaide Hills will be used as an on-shore assylum seeker detention and processing centre. I have been listening to the radio news, and haven’t found a lot of it in the print media, but you could see here, here and here for more information.
I can understand the Woodsiders’ frustration at lack of consultation. Apparently Julia Gillard was in Woodside recently, and entirely failed to mention any plans for the establishment of the centre. I can understand parents concerns that the children of the assylum seekers will be sent to the local schools. This isn’t an issue of racism, but an issue about a school system already overstretched. The local community is entitled to ask about extra funding and expansion of the schools to take an additional 200 students with very special needs. And I can also understand members of the community being angry about the fact that 10 million dollars will be spent on the centre, including 24/7 medical and dental services – when similar services for the locals exist only in their dreams.
All this I can understand, and all this reflects badly on the Federal government. But I have been deeply saddened to hear, in much of the rhetoric eminating from the public meeting at Woodside, such ugly words directed against the assylum seekers themselves. I had not thought that the “stop the boats” slogans had been quite so effective. I hope that the Christian community of Woodside and their pastors will be able to lead the community in general into a more welcoming embrace of the stranger.