On Welcoming the Stranger

By Mark Uhlmann
Published in The Social Contract
Volume 3, Number 2 (Winter 1992-1993)
Issue theme: "The role of the churches in population growth, immigration and the environment"

On the last Sunday in September each year, on what is known in the Catholic Church as 'Social Justice Sunday,' an issues paper is released under the sponsorship of the bishops. The paper is distributed for sale to Catholic parishes throughout the country. In 1991, the paper was produced by the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council. It was entitled 'I Am a Stranger Will You Welcome Me?'1 and dealt with immigration.

The Council is one of the subsidiary bodies of the bishops, but not the only one which has produced issues papers. Protestant church organizations have also participated, as in 1988 when the social justice issues paper on prisons was produced ecumenically. There is a considerable degree of crossover and interaction among the various Catholic social welfare agencies and with similar agencies in other churches, and with secular bodies.

The 1991 immigration paper, for example, was largely written by Father Anthony Fisher, a Dominican friar who worked as an immigration research officer for a Jesuit center for 'social research and action,' called Uniya. The paper, however, was produced on behalf of the Council, which in turn is sponsored by the bishops. Confused? The complexities continue.

It is important to note that this combination of Catholic activist organizations and the bishops incorporates some considerable tensions. The bishops, as might be expected, are generally traditionalist, while Catholic social activist organizations are generally 'politically correct.' Even bodies sponsored by the bishops, such as the Council, will occasionally openly defy them. At the very least, they are prepared to sail very close to the wind in their quest to change the church.

A forerunner to the Council, the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, was disbanded by the bishops in 1987 for being too politicized. In spite of these divisions, the Catholic social activist organizations and the bishops are at one when it comes to immigration.

The Council paper came down strongly on the side of high immigration, recommending an annual immigration intake of between 170,000 and 200,000, with the refugee intake boosted to make up one-third of that figure - this in spite of the fact that Australia was in recession.

At the time the document was released, Bob Hawke, a self-professed 'high-immigration man' was Prime Minister. The 1991-92 projected intake had been cut to 111,000 from the previous year's actual intake of about 124,000, itself short of the projected intake of 126,000. So the immigration trend was downward. The Australian Council of Trade Unions, an organization closely connected with the Australian Labor Party government, was privately calling for a further, but only marginal, cut in the 1992-93 intake. It would eventually openly call for a figure of 100,000.

Mr. Hawke, himself a former president of the ACTU, was determined to keep the intake high. He had adopted a policy of appeasement to ethnic lobby groups, as indeed had sections of the ACTU. While the ACTU called for a marginal cut, that would only be in the 'skilled' category. The family reunion intake would remain high.

Apart from the ACTU, there were a number of individual commentators and some politicians, including a senior member of the government, Employment Minister and Hawke antagonist John Dawkins, who were calling for a cut. At an ALP conference in June, 1991, Mr. Dawkins said the intake should be halved. This followed upon a similar call by outspoken ALP backbencher Graeme Campbell, who in March that year had called for the intake to be cut to 50,000 and to be held at that figure or below for the long term. Former ALP Finance Minister Peter Walsh was also an immigration critic and had called for a similar cut.

But most of those calling for a cut, including the leader of the Opposition, John Hewson, cited the recession and stated that in good times they would greatly increase the intake.

Historically, Australia had always cut immigration in recessions and the fact that it remained high was because a network of pro-immigration interests, most of them government-funded, had grown up since the late 1970s and were able to exert a powerful influence over immigration policy.

It was clear that so long as Mr. Hawke remained Prime Minister the intake would remain high, but it was also clear that the overall balance of pressures, given the economic circumstances, meant that, at the very least, immigration would not be increased.

'...[immigration] remained high

because a network of pro-immigration

interests, most of them government-

funded, had grown up since

the late 1970s and were able

to exert a powerful influence

over immigration policy.'

It was in these circumstances that the Catholic Social Justice Council released its paper calling for a significant increase in immigration. As a result, although it was strongly promoted by the pro-immigration lobby, it was generally seen to be unrealistic and the immediate political impact was minimal.

However, there is little doubt that with an improvement in economic fortunes the pro-immigration forces will rally, and they will have behind them the moral and organizational support of the church.

In fact, church-related bodies have sponsored a number of discussions across the country centered around the report since its release. These have included discussions with ordinary churchgoers at a parish level, and more formal discussions involving guest speakers, such as academics and international refugee workers beyond the parish. One of the latter included a conference at Sydney University in June, 1992 called 'Welcome Stranger' and dealt specifi-cally with refugees. Incidentally, one of the speakers at this conference was Dr. Arthur Helton of the U.S. Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights, who may be known to readers of The Social Contract.

Through this process, not only will the document evolve but the pro-immigration/refugee network across Australia - and its international contacts - will be strengthened.

The document itself suggests that concerned readers join a '[pro-immigration] lobby group which deals with these issues' and 'organize discussion of these issues in the groups and networks to which [you] already belong' (p.56). The reading list provided at the end of the document is overwhelmingly pro-immigration.

Most Protestant churches, too, adopt a similar line to the Catholic church and so merge with the secular politically correct lobby on this issue. Among the churches, though, it is the Catholic church, as the biggest and best organized, which commands the greatest authority.

Well before the release of the document, sections of the Catholic church had, in particular, taken a leading role in refugee work. This was notably so in relation to Indo-Chinese refugees, many of whom were Catholic. The work done during this generous, but not entirely disinterested, association with the refugees of the 1970s, combined with the long-standing missionary association in Third World countries, was important in forming attitudes to refugees in general. Refugees were and are simply taken at face value.

Even a lay Catholic as outstanding as B. A. Santamaria - a leading intellectual force in Australia for over 50 years - though powerful in his criticisms of other aspects of political correctness, seems to suspend his critical faculties when it comes to refugees. In general, his line about immigration is that if we don't have a large intake, it will be forced upon us.

One Catholic priest, Father Larry Reitmeyer, based at the Western Australian town of Port Hedland, which contains a holding camp for refugees who have simply turned up on our shores, has gained national attention as an advocate of their claims. Most of the refugees in this camp are Cambodian and Chinese boatpeople. He has, on their behalf, announced hunger strikes, called off hunger strikes, generally criticized the immigration department and likened the Australian government to that of Pol Pot. The Archbishop of Perth, Bishop Hickey, has backed up Father Reitmeyer by making various claims about bad treatment of the refugees, one of which involved a pregnant Chinese woman and a suggestion that the government was involved in forcing her to have an abortion. Immigration Minister Gerry Hand, himself raised as a Catholic, was enraged. In Parliament on May 5, 1992, he stated 'A bishop goes on television and alleges that the Department and I are engaged in some sort of compulsory abortion process and then he carefully backs away. That is another outrageous lie - bishop or no bishop. That was never going to happen.' Bishop Hickey has also stated that the approach to refugees was like 'some sort of ethnic cleansing' process.

'The attitude of the [Roman Catholic]

Church to national sovereignty

is one of the most disturbing

aspects of the paper.'

He was supported by the Anglican Archbishop of Perth, Dr. Peter Carnley, who, in his Easter Day messasge for 1992, called the treatment of refugee Cambodians 'one of the most shameful events' in the country's history. The publicly-funded and politically correct Human Rights and Equal Oppor-tunities Commission has also been strongly critical.

Unfortunately for those who have made such emotive claims, United Nations representatives, themselves involved in the refugee determination process, do not support them. The head of the Bangkok office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, stated to The [Melbourne] Age newspaper on June 20, 1992, that Australia's record on processing asylum applicants was well-balanced, fair and deservedly reputable.

Church spokespersons and others seem determined to invite an international reaction against Australia and, given the political forces at work within the UN, fair-minded assessments by that organization are by no means guaranteed for the future.

It is important to remember that the Catholic Church is historically pro-immigration and in particular sympathetic to refugees from Communist countries. The pro-immigration position of the Catholic Church in Australia was emphasized in an earlier social justice paper, 'Land Without People,' in 1953. High immigration and the White Australia policy of admission at that time was an article of faith throughout Australian politics. 'Land Without People' was written by B. A. Santamaria, who was head of the National Catholic Rural Movement, an organization which favored establishing Catholic settlements in rural areas.

Mr. Santamaria not only favored decentralization for national reasons, he wanted to replicate the Catholic model of Europe where the strongest support for the Church was to be found in the countryside. His plan was a failure, as immigration decentralization attempts generally have been in Australia.

So, in spite of political divisions, there is an element of continuity in Catholic thinking on immigration and refugees, particularly where those refugees are Catholic. The 1991 Council paper goes further and tries to get a justification for immigration and the acceptance of immigration from the scriptures. As for the immigrants and refugees themselves, the paper states, in order to gain support from the [presumed Christian] reader, 'many of them are Christian.'

In the future, of course, given the religious makeup of the great bulk of people in countries to our north and the disregard for national sovereignty the Church effectively condones, very few will be Christian. The approach of the church on this issue means that it risks undermining its own position, not only with respect to an influx of non-Christian refugees, but as regards the continued allegiance of its own 'old Australian' congregations, who are in the main strongly nationalist. A new issue - mass population movement - may yet again divide the Catholic Church in Australia, as it was divided in the 1950s, over an internal political struggle in the ALP.

The attitude of the Church to national sovereignty is in fact one of the most disturbing aspects of the paper. The argument runs that sovereignty is conditional upon the application of universalistic social justice principles, and the implication is that Australia is clearly failing to uphold them. The general tenor of these principles is utopian and they are presented as self-evidently good, rather than open to interpretation and abuse.

The paper affirms its commitment to 'inter-nationalism' and states 'No nation can claim absolute sovereignty over its region or resources. Narrow nationalistic self-interest and isolationism are contrary to justice' (p.42-43), and 'Borders around nations, like fences around individual private property, are conditional' (p.42).

Further, according to 'social justice' principles, 'there may well be a right to migrate' and 'Such a right has been asserted in Catholic social teaching ever since Pius XII (1953) and John XXIII (1963), though its scope and limits have not been developed.' (p.43).

The definition of who has such a right is both very wide and open to a variety of interpretations. It exists where 'basic security, participation, equity and proper development in accord with human dignity' (P.43) are not available in the country of origin. A good lawyer, under these circumstances, would be able to stretch the definition to cover the great majority of the world's population. As well, the paper denies the difference between a political and an economic refugee.

So, national sovereignty is conditional, migrants have a right to migrate, and nations with 'room to spare' have an obligation to accept them. This falls under the principle of 'distributive justice.'

But if the church is to be intellectually consistent, 'distributive justice' must also hold for its own 'private property.' The poor in any region, under those circumstances, have the right to appropriate the property of the wealthy. The Vatican City itself, though small, surely has empty rooms available. It has wealth and doesn't mind stooping into the vulgar world of commerce to acquire it. As the Catholic Church is effectively appropriating our nation, supposedly in the interests of the poor, what moral right then does it have to resist an agent of the poor appropriating the property of the Catholic Church on behalf of another utopian ideal? A government which claims to represent the poor can therefore, under the Church's own philosophy, violate the sovereignty of the church.

Australia, under the strictures of the Council's paper, is damned by statistics 'World-wide there are 107 persons per square kilometer; the Asian-Pacific region has on average 78, ranging from Hong Kong with 5,800 to Australia with only two persons per square kilometer.' (p.40), and 'Is it fair for 0.25 per cent of the world's population to claim sovereignty and absolute rights to such a huge area?' Why not ask Is it fair for the Catholic Church to be so rich when so many are poor? Why does it not simply distribute all its goods to the poor?

These bald statistics about population density were repeatedly stressed in the promotion of the council paper, without reference to the arid nature of the continent, though the paper itself states that even if two-thirds of the continent is classified as 'irretrievably desert,' the country would still have plenty of room to spare.

'...the great bulk of migrants

settles in the cities ... [t]he capacity

of Australia's cities to cope with this

immigration-fueled population increase

is not even considered.'

This ignores the fact that the great bulk of migrants settle in the cities and traditionally have done so. Attempts to decentralize the intake have historically been failures. Far from people moving to the country, much of which is marginal farming land with degraded soils, the trend is for country people to leave the land and move to the cities. The capacity of Australia's cities to cope with this immigration-fueled population increase is not even considered. As for economics, it is just assumed that Australia will be able to cope, when most economists now acknow-ledge that immigration, because of the need to borrow abroad to pay for it, considerably exacerbates our current account deficit - a chronic Australian problem.

The paper quotes the fantasy of one high-immigration advocate in these terms 'At the [pro-immigration Bureau of Immigration Research] National Immigration Conference in 1990, one speaker pointed out that in the future Australia could sustain a population of at least 150 million and yet be far more decentralized than it presently is, with at least 150 large cities, many in the resource- and water-rich top half of the continent.' [Our present population is about 17.5 million.] Surprising, you might think, that no one had thought of building cities across the north before. Of course, they had thought of it! Neither locals, migrants or refugees show any inclination to move there and start building. Such a proposal, even if it were practical, presumes a loss of sovereignty leading to total colonization. Because of the numbers involved, we would be swamped.

But, to be more practical, where is the money to come from? Only a country or countries with massive economic resources would be able to contemplate building 15 large cities in the north, let alone 150. After such an investment, would they then offer the cities altruistically to the poor of the Third World? If hundreds of thousands of people do move from the Third World to Australia, they will make claims on the pre-existing cities, which are already under stress, as they have moved from rural areas to the cities in their own countries. The inhospitable north of Australia is not likely to be their idea of El Dorado.

Also, it may not have occurred to the Council that people already live across the top of the continent - albeit, for very good reasons, in very low densities per square mile. They are Aboriginal people, whose rights to land the Council has championed. Are they to have a say about this proposed massive influx? Aboriginals have, in Western Australia in particular, already expressed their strong displeasure at refugee boats just turning up on their shores. As Graeme Campbell states 'Their solution is to sink them.'

Incidentally, the name of this speaker at the Immigration Conference was not given, perhaps because the Church feels some unease at being associated with a position also adopted by the big business lobby. The individual is Phil Ruthven, a consultant to multinational big business firms, most of which are all in favor of high immigration. Mr. Ruthven, along with Hugh Morgan, director of the Western Mining Corporation, has called for intakes of 500,000 per year.

Many in the big business lobby also believe free trade should be accompanied by free movement of labor among nations. Both sides of politics are committed to free trade, in particular with neighboring Asian nations, notably China. Southeast Asian nations already have widespread and low-wage migrant labor schemes run by Third World elites. The Far Eastern Economic Review of April 2, 1992, notes China has increasingly shown an interest in getting involved and has 200 million workers it classifies as surplus. The effect of this approach on Australia can be imagined.

As if to drive home the point, The Australian Financial Review of October 28 carried an article in which a German industrialist gave one of the most explicit statements yet of the profits-above-all big business agenda, as it concerns Australia. The executive chairman of Thyssen Industries, Dr. Eckhard Rohkamm, told a meeting of the German-Australian Association in Dusseldorf that Australia needed to import cheap Asian labor. 'Australia must be prepared to open up its borders and not live in splendid isolation,' Dr. Rohkamm said. He boasted of German industrialists sub-contracting work to surrounding Central European nations, where wages were about 15 per cent of the cost of German wages - this in spite of high unemployment in Germany. He said that much lower wages were needed in order to make Australia an attractive place for investment. Surprise, surprise Hugh Morgan, the president of the Australia-German Chamber of Commerce, was also at the meeting and expressed similar sentiments.

'Many in the big business lobby ...

believe free trade should be

accompanied by free movement of

labor among nations.'

Clearly, if their advice were to be accepted, the Australian social contract would break down completely and the stable political climate big business claims is vital to investment would be lost. The Church position, as outlined in the council paper, would not only act to facilitate such a process, it would provide it with a 'moral' justification.

The Church has, in this paper, with all its moral authority and influence, effectively made a case against the right to sovereignty for Australia. It is part of a continuing trend among churches, sections of the media, and other government-funded agencies connected with immigration and multiculturalism, either knowingly or otherwise, to undermine Australia's moral authority to sovereign status. Frequently, they have used Aboriginal-White relations for this purpose.

The government itself has also increasingly ceded its powers to unelected and unrepresentative bureaucracies, such as the politically correct Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. The quality of work coming from this commission is an intellectual disgrace, yet its reports have been used to promote an ongoing assault on civil liberties in the name of high-sounding causes, such as the prevention of racial vilification.

The government-funded Australian Broadcasting Commission is another home for the politically correct. On September 16, 1992, the Federal Cabinet decided to allow the ABC to broadcast television programs to Asian countries in the region. This was presented by the Minister for Communications, Senator Collins, as some sort of great boon for Australia, but it is unlikely to be so clear cut.

The ABC has pledged not to broadcast programs which might upset our Asian neighbors, but it can be relied upon to broadcast material which presents Australians as racist brutes towards both Aboriginals and Asians. Though Australia is comparatively a very tolerant country, the gross distortions of the facts common on the ABC will no doubt be taken as truth in a region where the media is controlled by governments. These countries, should they ever be in dispute with Australia, as some have been, will have no need to devise their own anti-Australian propaganda; the ABC can be relied upon to do the job for them.

This will further undermine our moral claim to sovereignty and, in the era of an increasingly interventionist United Nations, could see the UN take advantage and sanction the mass movement of peo-ple towards Australia. Various people in Australia, including Hugh Morgan, have virtually invited such a prospect by saying that if we don't allow large scale immigration, then 'the rest of the world' will not only force it upon us, they will have a right to do so - a precise echo of the Catholic position.

Ironically, those nations which effectively control their media and population by coercive means may well be able to posture on the high moral ground, while more open and tolerant societies, presented as racist and selfish by sections of their own population, will face international indignation. This is quite apart from the general effect of the spread of global communications merely for profit, as noted by William Shawcross, among others, in his book Rupert Murdoch. As images of the golden and abundant west that are largely illusionary are increasingly broadcast in the Third World, notably China, mass population movement is likely to be further stimulated.

Paradoxically, the insatiable capitalist profit brigade will again ally with the guilty conscience/ social engineering brigade to undermine the sovereignty of Western nations. The spread of global communications is likely both to create a magnetic effect and a moral justification for mass population movement.

The Catholic Church, if this document is any guide, will play its part in Australia and, no doubt, world wide. It will also no doubt make liberal use of those old favorites guilt and fear, as this paper - for all the supposed social progressiveness of the Council - does. The paper makes clear that we are guilty of being isolationist and selfish if we do not agree with the argument, and possibly even our immortal souls are at risk. The paper's title is an echo of the scriptures. Answering 'no' promises a very heavy penalty indeed.

With heavy implications of spiritual blackmail, the threat of eternal damnation is evoked. The paper quotes Matthew 25 31-46 'When the Son of Man comes in his glory, all the nations will be gathered before him and he will separate people one from another [into the saved and the damned]'. Among the saved will be those to whom he is able to say 'I was a stranger and you welcomed me.' (i.e. those who embraced the position of the Social Justice Council on immigration). On the other hand, those among the damned will presumably include those who opposed high immigration. They will be 'accursed' and commanded to 'depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. ...I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.'


1 'I am a stranger Will you welcome me?' - an issues paper from the Australian Social Justice Council, Collins Dove, 1991.

About the author

Mark Uhlmann, a native-born Australian, was raised as a Catholic and formerly worked for

The Canberra [Australia] Times. He currently is an advisor to Graeme Campbell, Member of

the Australian Parliament

Copyright 2007 The Social Contract Press, 445 E Mitchell Street, Petoskey, MI 49770; ISSN 1055-145X
(Article copyrights extend to the first date the article was published in The Social Contract)