News & Events

Age is no barrier to taking a stand

November 13, 2018

Age is no barrier to a lot of things – including social activism and two Rushall Park residents are evidence of the willingness of ageing Australians to try and make the world a better place.

Margaret Finlayson and Helen Austin are spearheading a letter-writing campaign in the community calling on the Federal Government to commit to closing the detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island and allowing the asylum seekers detained there to come to Australia.

The letter writing is their latest action in a long campaign for better treatment for asylum seekers. Several years ago Margaret worked, with support from friends at the village and her church, St Philips Anglican Church in nearby Collingwood, to make up gift packs for newly arrived Syrian refugees.

In the past two years Helen and Margaret have cooked for ‘sell out’ fund-raising dinners at Rushall Park and donated more than $2000 to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC).

A recent visit to the village and talk by renowned barrister and human rights and refugee advocate Julian Burnside, prompted the two women to make contact with the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and encourage others to do the same.

“Julian came to another sell out event and encouraged us to do more and write letters, because they are more effective than emails,” Helen said. “We raised more money and baskets full of goods to donate to the ASRC, but we decided to follow his advice and do more.”

Margaret has supplied about 20 people with the letter and petition, which calls on Prime Minister Morrison to close the centres. It says, in part:

In your maiden speech you discussed the values you derived from your Christian faith – loving kindness, justice and righteousness.

If you still adhere to this faith and hold these values to be true, would you please close the detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island and bring these people to Australia to heal and create new lives?

Your vision of a generous Australia sharing our good fortune with others at home and overseas makes this essential for these most vulnerable people who have been traumatised by life prior to arrival and who have been further damaged under your watch.

At first Helen and Margaret drafted the letter to be signed by people in their St Philips Parish, but others were keen to disseminate it too. Many residents affiliated with other religions, schools, businesses and community groups have taken the petitions and they have also been sent to three mosques in the area. Margaret and Helen participated in a letter-writing afternoon initiated by Sue Course in the village and believe that more and more people want the centres closed.

Helen would like to see older people engage in social justice issues that they feel strongly about and not leave it to the next generation.

“We should be making things better for the next generation, not leaving it to them to fix things up. And the important thing to remember is that at the ballot box, the vote of an older person is as valid and powerful as the vote of a young person and we need to let politicians know what we think,” Helen said.

“We also have the benefit of having a bit more time on our hands to do things like letter writing, which we know can sway political views. Importantly, letter writing can help you when you feel powerless about something happening in the world.”

Margaret said the letter writing campaign will continue as long as asylum seekers are living on Nauru and Manus Island. She said it was encouraging to know that other Rushall Park residents are active in the asylum seeker movement, but she hoped even more would take a stand.

If anyone would like to get a copy of the letter and petition they can call Margaret on 9489 3369 or email Helen at haustin@iinet.net.au.

Leith Park is a wonderful place for single older women because of the community and the age-friendly accommodation. I don’t think I have ever felt as safe as I have here.

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