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Why he did it

A group of six protestors, Christian members of the Love Makes A Way protest, camped out in a senator’s office in the middle of the day, on 25 August.

They wanted to meet Senator David Bushby to discuss allegations of cruelty, neglect and sexual assault of asylum seekers and refugees and their children in offshore detention.

They were supported by another group of 10 protestors outside the senator’s offices.

The protestors inside the senator’s offices spoke together, sang and prayed. They spoke to police and the senator’s staff. When, at 5 p.m., they were directed by staff and police to move on, they chose to refuse to do so, acting in civil disobedience to the directive; they were trespassing so that other may not be trespassed against.

Lieut Ben Clapton, a corps officer at Devonport Corps (Tas.), was one of those arrested. ‘I’ve felt strongly about this for a long time,’ Lieut Clapton told e-connect. ‘I served on Manus Island, and my protest is both because of that experience and because of prior life experiences.

Lt Ben Clapton and family

Photo by Dave Turner of Flick, and Dave Photography

‘My family has been involved with refugees and asylum seekers for a long time, and my mother has been helping refugees with humanitarian programs since the 1990s. My parents were Church of Christ minsters, and my mother went on to become the refugee and migrant secretary for the Churches of Christ in Western Australia, before they  moved on to the Anglican Church.

‘So, yes,  I can remember, as a primary school child, being taken out to the airport to welcome Ethiopian families.’

The lieutenant says that on Manus Island, serving as a Salvation Army officer cadet, ‘I formed my own views and had my own experiences. Before that I had knowledge of people’s situations, but had not witnessed and experienced the situation. On Manus I spoke with wonderful people who have been through horrendous, difficult circumstances, yet still had hope and a light about them.

‘That light was slowly being eroded. That experience on Manus helped form in me a strong desire to be able to do more for them. It has been difficult to put that experience into the right context as a Salvation Army officer.’

Meeting with Members of Parliament, discussing the issues with community members, preaching on the subject occasionally; these experiences led him, with the permission and approval of his territorial and divisional leaders, to join Love Makes A Way (LMAW).

‘I know a lot of the LMAW people who have participated, including folks in Western Australia and Captain Craig Farrell, and my respect for them piqued my interest. I did a training day with LMAW in Launceston last year. From there it was a process of listening to God and deciding when would be the right time to act.’

As mentioned, part of that time of listening and discerning included speaking with Army leaders and with the communications team.

After being released some 30 minutes or so after his arrest, Lieut Clapton said ‘I had a tough night’s sleep that night; my mind was busy. I am looking forward to engaging with people about this subject.

‘We wanted to speak to the senator; we sang and worshipped in the senator’s foyer and we prayed for the children, for the senator and his staff. Our release was without having to pay bail, with the stipulation that we don’t go within 50 meters of the senator’s offices. Our next opportunity to speak on the subject is at the Hobart Magistrates Court, either on or after the 5 October (the date may vary).       

‘When you consider that there have been 30 allegations of sexual assault and/or abuse of refugee children, and no prosecutions, it’s absolutely disgusting. The safety of children is a value that we should put above everything; our country has to take this seriously, just as we do the abuse of Australian children.’

Lieut Clapton pays tribute to his wife, Lieut Liesl Clapton, who supported his decision and looked after their children, Annabelle Joy (aged three) and David John (aged one), as well as the corps, while he was in Hobart. When this young couple look at their own children, they know that Ben made the correct decision.

‘There is something profoundly, jarringly wrong when we do not take abuse and neglect seriously,’ the lieutenant adds. ‘Children need to be protected. We need to stand up and say to the empowered that pretending nothing happens is not good enough.

‘We need to stand in the gap; to be in the world but not of it. And I firmly believe that in our actions and in God’s grace we can help change the conversation in our churches, in our parliament and in our nation.'