Standing firm ... Tony Abbott. Photo: Glen McCurtayne
Dear Tony Abbott,
Barely a week ago, as most of us were preparing for Christmas, the media brought news of the fate of more people seeking safety in Australia.
This time the numbers of the dead were more startling, more disturbing. And it's not just the numbers. The agony of the few survivors reminds us starkly how increasingly impossible it is to just stand by.
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The media have also been telling us that you have been hesitating to compromise on more compassionate responses, within Australia or overseas. Perhaps it's the idea of co-operating with a government you despise that holds you back?
Yet we need you to co-operate because the story of asylum seeking is part of our national story, too. This is less because we are largely a nation of immigrants than because our governments - including those of your own Coalition - have involved us in some of the cataclysmic events that have led to this profound disruption in countless lives.
However cautious each national government must be about who can live within its borders and who cannot, this is a global issue as pressing as any other this century. And it is not going away. What we are witnessing is a 21st-century tragedy with women, men and children in their hundreds of thousands needing a place to call home.
You know, as do we, that people do not risk their lives and their children's lives because they want to be free to do late-night shopping at Kmart. They leave everything that is familiar and dear to them because their lives have been overtaken by fear. Even their fear of the deadly travel to unwelcoming countries is self-evidently less than their fear of what ''home'' has become.
Asylum seekers are largely fleeing social violence, including war. Our governments have made us complicit in some of those horrors.
Rather than limiting our national involvement to aid and peace-keeping forces, or to more intelligently supporting global and local efforts to resolve complex social divisions peacefully, Australia has participated in dangerously isolating Iran, and in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have displaced countless people whose need for respect, safety and shelter is probably much like our own.
As we continue to gather around laden tables, you might also agree that we have failed adequately to meet the global challenges faced by those fleeing hunger, particularly in Africa. Far fewer of those refugees or asylum seekers think of Australia as a possible haven, but they are also part of our story.
Living on the margins and in poverty, with all the dangers to health, spirit and life that such poverty implies, they must endure the now-familiar contempt of millions who do have a place to return to at the end of their day.
Like many of the asylum seekers looking towards Australia, those fleeing Africa are largely funded by their families out of a collective purse. Their fear of disappointing those left behind can only be imagined.
Like many coming towards Australia in perilous boats, they were, presumably, meant to carry the hopes of those left behind. How could they easily admit that this journey has taken them only to more misery, or that the so-called promised lands of plenty offer them neither safety nor hope?
Hope, as you would know, is a currency vital to the human spirit. Western governments - and opposition parties - have entrenched policies that seek to deflect asylum seekers by withdrawing most meaningful notions of ''asylum'' and by denying hope.
That the world's asylum seekers nevertheless continue to hope is testimony to the human spirit. It is also heartbreaking.
Mr Abbott, I am just one voice among many thousands saying that the political ''deadlock'' on this matter is more than deadly. Again and again, I hear other Australians say there is no more time to waste. Many of us see this as a global issue in which Australia's ''problem'' is proportionately less than that of almost any other wealthy nation. We see this as a vital local issue too, where our national identity as people of a fair go hangs precariously.
Some might argue that a lack of co-operation between you and the Prime Minister and her government is literally killing people.
However you interpret it, there has to be a better way: a better way to understand the causes of this vast 21st-century upheaval. And a far better way to address, with decency and compassion, its most urgent effects.