Australians are facing yet another Christmas in which those who administer and govern in our name are reminding us that the Christmas spirit has no place in what is done year-round in our name.
We all know that the Christmas feeling doesn’t last all year round, but feelings are not supposed to last forever. Seasonal celebrations like Christmas and Easter, or annual occasions like birthdays and wedding anniversaries are designed to generate feelings of generosity and love that will strengthen our rational commitment to behave with generosity and love when there isn’t a mountain of emotion to help us.
To be truly human is to make rational decisions not because they feel good, but because they are good. Major community celebrations (and you will notice that they are primarily religious celebrations) are designed to make our emotions and our reason congruent, so that our decisions will be rationally good even in the face of negative emotions.
In this particular case that looks like blighting our Christmas, a German doctor and his wife and three children have been denied permanent residency in Australia because one of the children, 13-year-old Lukas, has Down Syndrome. They have been here on temporary visas since 2006 and are entitled to stay until 2010.
The case is not without hope because numerous public figures – including Bishop Joseph Grech who represents the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference on immigration – have objected to the decision. However, many of the barbarous decisions made under immigration law have proved very hard to change in the past.
Immigration officials are no doubt forced by the law to make many of the weird decisions they produce in our name – and they may even claim the defence that they are rationally following ‘the rule of law’ as it applies to immigration.
However, the issue at stake is whether the decisions (such as this one) that are produced by the ‘rule of law’ bear any resemblance to what Australia and Australians stand for. We certainly hope they don’t.
There are many profound issues involved. The first is Australia’s attitude to families. Lukas Moeller is very much a part of a family, a family that is very much committed to Lukas.
In fact, they brought him to Australia because they believed this was the best place in the world for him because he and they would experience less adverse discrimination here than anywhere else.
That, in itself, should tell Federal Parliament and anyone else who needs to be told that this sort of decision does not fit the attitudes of Australians who are strongly supportive of people with any sort of disability.
Families have always been the foundation and strength of human society, although there has always been some antipathy between families and the state.
Dictatorial regimes hate families because they cannot control them; bureaucratic regimes dislike them because they are not sufficiently well ordered; and our country has suffered from an underlying belief that governments can do the work of families better than families can.
In these days when far too many people break up their own families, officialdom might have an argument, but it is not strong enough to overturn the faith that most Australians have in families. Lukas Moeller is part of a strong family that cares for him. He should be seen as benefiting that family and from that family, not as someone who can be turned into a cause of disqualification of his family.
If Dr Moeller is suitable to stay in Australia to work in private practice at Horsham (Vic.) and as a specialist at the Wimmera Base Hospital, his son Lukas can stay with him. Apart from that, in his two years here young Lukas has developed an effective kicking style with an Aussie Rules football, and that’s a very human consideration.
Using disability of this kind in this way is treating human beings in the same way we treat nuclear waste – we don’t want anyone else’s! This is not what Australians think, and it is time our law stopped pretending that we do think that way.
As Christmas approaches, let us all examine how we feel about families – all families and all members of families – and tell our politicians that we want our laws to protect those standards.
Laws discriminate against disabled: Bishop
Bishop Joseph Grech of Sandhurst who is also the Australian Bishops’ spokesman on Immigration, said the case pointed to a deeper issue regarding the principles of human dignity on which Australia’s immigration system should be based.
“We accept that any immigration scheme must be subject to rules and criteria,” he said.
“However making a disability a reason for refusing a family permanent residency is not acceptable.
“Sadly, it is the norm in our world that international laws and customs do not permit people with disability free movement across borders, or the right to settle in a country of their choice on equal terms with others.”