Six members of the Love Makes A Way refugee advocate group, including Uniting Church minister Rev Alex Sangster, were forcibly removed from federal Health Minister Greg Hunt’s Melbourne office on Tuesday evening after staging a four-hour sit-in protest.
No charges have been laid against the group, which also included Uniting Church members Kristen Furneaux and Jake Doleschal, despite them refusing a police request to leave the office’s reception area just before 6pm but not actively resisting being dragged out by officers.
“The police were fantastic and very respectful and all the relationships were very cordial and polite,” Ms Sangster, who is minister at Fairfield Uniting Church, said.
Other Love Makes A Way activists staged a vigil outside the building, located in Hastings on the Mornington Peninsula.
This included protesters lying on the ground every half hour to form an ‘SOS’ sign as a plea to help asylum seekers detained on Manus Island and Nauru.
The protesters were demanding that Mr Hunt follow the lead of fellow Liberal MP Russell Broadbent and call for asylum seekers detained on Manus Island and Nauru be brought to Australia. However, there was no response from the minister.
Wednesday’s vigils coincided with the 22nd day of protests by asylum seekers on Manus Island, who gather at 2pm each day in response to their imminent forced removal to Lorengau Transit Centre.
In a video that was made during the sit-in, Ms Sangster said the Love Makes a Way action was being conducted in solidarity with the men on Manus Island.
“Every day they’ve been gathering and making a stand against the cruel and inhumane way they’ve been treated by our government,” Ms Sangster said.
“The camp at Manus is about to be shut down and the men are being deprived of food and water and they fear desperately for their safety.
“We call upon the Minister of Health Greg Hunt to look after the health of these men and bring them here.
“And we also recognise there are 42 children still on Nauru, 42 children who should be here.”
In a statement to the media, Love Makes a Way further outlined some of their concerns about the wellbeing of the men on Manus Island.
“These people have been violently attacked on numerous occasions in the community, and have a real fear for their safety and their lives at the Centre,” the group said.
“They are now living in unsafe and unhealthy conditions, without proper access to power, food or water. The situation on Manus Island has resulted in yet another death just over two weeks ago.”
Despite not hearing from Mr Hunt, Ms Sangster believed Wednesday’s vigils had been important as part of the continuing God-given mission to fight the injustice of offshore detention.
“If you look at it as part of a great arc of hope, then I think that it is definitely contributing to that,” she said.
“As a sign of solidarity for the men on Manus who feel completely unlistened to, unsupported by the Australian people, it’s a way of saying ‘that we hear you, we are standing with you and you are not alone’.”
The vigils were part of a month of rolling actions by refugee advocacy groups nationwide.
Love Makes a Way previously held a vigil inside Greg Hunt’s electorate office in 2015, which led to charges being laid but most of these were subsequently dropped by a magistrate in 2016 who praised the protesters’ “exemplary characters”.
Last month Ms Sangster was part of an ecumenical sit-in protest against the Adani coal mine in Queensland which succeeded in gaining the promise of a meeting with Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg.