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Getting conversations on the #RightTrack

In the refugee advocacy space, we often ask ourselves how we can change the conversation around people seeking asylum. On this issue, the words we use and how we use them can make a big difference in changing attitudes and building support.

Hunter Presbytery Community Action Workshop at Jesmond Park Uniting Church Photo: Supplied
Hunter Presbytery Community Action Workshop at Jesmond Park Uniting Church Photo: Supplied

That’s why the Uniting Social Justice Forum has recently partnered up with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) on the #RightTrack campaign – to bring practical workshops to Uniting Church congregations and wider communities.

These workshops teach participants about how to use persuasive language focused on values and personal narrative. They also present key messaging principles, developed from the groundbreaking, sector-commissioned Words That Work research, by Anat Shenker-Osorio, aimed at finding more effective ways of speaking about refugees and people seeking asylum.

At a time of heated debate around immigration policy and Australia’s treatment of people seeking safety here, it’s more important than ever to equip people with the skills and strategies needed for more open conversations about this issue, that are not grounded in concerns around “security”, “terrorism” and “border control”. Using language in that frame, says the research, perpetuates negative perceptions that further demonise refugees and people seeking asylum.

Debbie Carstens from the Hunter Presbytery Social Justice Committee and co-host of one of the recent workshops says it made obvious how often “we’ve been drawn into using the security frame of language on this issue”. She was reminded about the importance of language framing after “one friend commented that she’d used the concept of framing regularly in her professional life, but hadn’t considered how it could be applied in campaigning on social justice issues”.

The Hunter workshop, one of two presented in February, was co-hosted by the Hunter Presbytery Social Justice Committee, Newcastle Anglican Social Justice Taskforce, Maitland-Newcastle Catholic Social Justice Council and Newcastle-Lake Macquarie Grandmothers against Detention of Refugee Children – and drew a large group of over sixty people.

The team also presented a workshop for the Georges River Presbytery at Bankstown Uniting Church, following a successful first session at Roseville Uniting Church last November. At Bankstown, participants were joined by people from the community with refugee backgrounds who shared their own stories and thoughts on the issue.

The next step for participants of these workshops, and for other church members wishing to advocate for refugees and people seeking asylum in a more powerful way, is to have more conversations with those around them – particularly with local Federal MPs.

This was a key take away from the workshop for Debbie, who will be encouraging members of her presbytery to “start talking to persuadable voters, and in turn get them talking to their local MPs”. This, according to the ASRC and other organisations in the sector, will be essential in influencing policy and party positions on this issue in the lead up to the next federal election. Watch this space!



For more information on bringing these workshops to your congregation or community and for support in organising an MP meeting, contact Alex Hogan at Uniting’s Give Hope campaign: 02 9407 3230.

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