New South Wales Greens MLC David Shoebridge has criticised the decision to allow religious groups to travel internationally and take the spots of citizens who may have “pressing personal needs”.
Australian Government’s decision to grant exemptions for 75 foreign nationals with ‘critical skills in religion or theology’ to enter the country in the first half of this year, while the Australian border remains shut due to Covid-19, has drawn flak from New South Wales Member of Parliament David Shoebridge.
The Department of Home Affairs issued the travel exemptions under the critical skills category, using the codes for minister of religion or religious assistant.
Anyone who is not a citizen or permanent resident requires a travel exemption to enter Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic. Australian Government issued about 20,000 permits between January and June this year overall, a majority under the ‘critical skills’ category. This was after expertise in “religious or theology fields” was added to the list of critical skills in August last year.
Despite the Australian border being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sydney-based co-founders of the global Pentecostal Christian church Hillsong preached in person at a service in Mexico. This was confirmed in images and messages shared on Instagram which confirmed that they took part in a service at the Hillsong Monterrey congregation in Mexico on Monday.
“I know it’s a particular kick in the guts for many people particularly in multicultural Australia to see some of their permissions being given to Hillsong preachers to travel internationally on those scarce spots when they know that their family members and members in their community can’t see loved ones who are very ill, can’t have those pressing personal needs to travel satisfied because of the COVID measures.” – David Shoebridge, NSW MLC (Greens)
David Shoebridge said, ““Right across Greater Sydney, there’s real anxiety as we’re seeing COVID numbers increasing. That anxiety is being particularly felt in South West and Western Sydney where the lockdown is even more intense. That’s part of the heart of multicultural Sydney and we know that those communities have multiple pressures at the moment and one of those is the long-standing inability to go and visit relatives overseas and have relatives come back because of the lockdown measures. I can tell you now that the Greens are working at every level we can to increase the number of safe returns, to increase the number of quarantine services available, so that we can have those family reunions and family connections return as rapidly as possible.”
“I know it’s a particular kick in the guts for many people particularly in multicultural Australia to see some of their permissions being given to Hillsong preachers to travel internationally on those scarce spots when they know that their family members and members in their community can’t see loved ones who are very ill, can’t have those pressing personal needs to travel satisfied because of the COVID measures. We need to be all in this together, we need to look after each other and I can tell you now, we are doing everything to ensure that those safe quarantine numbers increase so that we can keep those connections, keep families connected even in the middle of this crisis.”, Mr Shoebridge added.
Brian and Bobbie Houston, the husband and wife team who are co-global senior pastors at Hillsong Church, have been based in the United States for several months, despite the Australian border being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A church spokesperson confirmed the Houstons also gained an exemption to travel to the US for several months last year.
More than 38,000 Australians are currently stranded overseas due to COVID-19.
Featured image by Nandhu Kumar from Pexels