Over the last few years, Australia has become famous for its uncompromising stand on detaining asylum seekers – including children. The morality of this policy has been scrutinised and criticised. For my own views on this matter, see the paper I co-authored for the Presbyterian Church’s Gospel, Society and Culture Committee: Knocking On Australia’s Door.
Just recently, the High Court of Australia ruled that even children born to asylum seekers here in Australia have to be placed in offshore detention on the South Pacific island nation of Nauru. But Daniel Andrews, the Premier of the State of Victoria, has just thrown a cat among the political pigeons by offering the resources of the State to care for those children.
I want to focus on one aspect of Mr Andrew’s offer: his representation. His offer binds not just himself, nor just his political party. He’s offering the resources of the whole State of Victoria to care for these children and their families. “Victoria will accept full responsibility for all of these children and their families including the provision of housing, health, education and welfare services.”
Mr Andrew’s offer binds all people resident in Victoria, and all Victorian government agencies, and probably, to some extent, non-government corporations, organisations and agencies as well. Caring for these asylum seekers will cost money. That money comes from state rates and taxes. People and organisations within Victoria cannot ban the state government from spending their particular rates and taxes on caring for these asylum-seeker children.
And this brings me to my point: Mr Andrews has used his office to bind the whole State to act in a certain way – whether the people of Victoria like it or not. He did not, as far as I know, conduct an opinion poll. He just acted. And his actions bind the whole State.
I remember sometime last millennium, when I was still at University, seeing a poster campaign: “don’t blame me, I didn’t vote for Howard”. Similarly, I’m sure many Victorians will be livid at this decision. But those individual opinions were as irrelevant back then as they now. What you and I think is irrelevant. The Premier has spoken, and his word binds those he represents.
This illustrates a significant Biblical theme. In the Bible, leaders represent their people. This representation has two aspects: past, and future. Leaders show what their people are like – their current character, which is the product of their past. Leaders also (sometimes, when things are going well…) show their people what they should be like – an ideal, to progress towards.
This representation underlies the way God treats Israel’s and Judah’s kings. When God blesses David, he also blesses David’s people, who are God’s people (2 Samuel 7:8-16). God even offers to rebellious Jeroboam, who rebelled against Solomon, that if he obeyed God, God would build him a dynasty comparable to David himself (1 Kings 11:37-38) – an offer which Jeroboam wound up rejecting (1 Kings 12).
Most famously, this representation underlies the comparison between Adam and Christ in Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:20-28. Adam represents all those who are human by birth, by nature. Therefore, his rejection of God binds us all – whether we like it or not. Through the disobedience of the one, the many were “made”, or “established”, as sinners (Rom 5:19a). In Adam, all die (1 Cor 15:22a). Christ represents those who are united to him by faith. In Christ, all (who trust in him) will be made alive (1 Cor 15:22b). Through the obedience of the one, many will be “made”, or “established”, to be righteous (Rom 5:19b). When we put out trust in Jesus, God really genuinely does not see the filth of our rebellion. He sees the beauty of the obedience of his one and only Son. Therefore, he does not treat us as our sins deserve – “depart from me, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”. He treats us as his adopted children – “this is my son, whom I love. I am very pleased with him.” In his representation, Christ commits the full resources of almighty God to protect and nurture us.
Christ’s act of representation is unique. Nothing in this world gets close. In one sense, the Victorian Premier’s offer is the opposite to the gospel. He is offering the resources of his State to protect those who are in danger of unrighteous suffering – of being detained, and at possible risk of harm, without having committed any crime (seeking asylum is never a crime). He is offering asylum. Christ in his gospel forgives those who are cosmic rebels against almighty God. He offers us amnesty from divine wrath.
That said – Premier Andrew’s offer is a wonderful thing, a commendable use of his state’s resources. It demonstrates the kind of compassion towards undeserved suffering which, while not being unique to Christianity, certainly agrees with the character of the one who, filled with compassion, touched and healed the leper (Mark 1:40-42). I don’t know the history of how and why the Premier of the State of Victoria could think of this, and act on it. Does it indicate that the people of Victoria are more compassionate and charitable than the rest of the country? I hope it does. Either way, I think it’s a good model to aspire to.
To which end – Premier Baird – how about NSW match Victoria’s offer…?