Christian leaders arrested after silent protest in Bendigo

UPDATE Wednesday 11.50am: Nine christian leaders were arrested and are expected to be charged on summons after a silent protest in Hargreaves Mall yesterday.

Bendigo sergeant Steve Rainey said the protesters had not warned the office staff prior to the event.

"There was a number of people outside doing a peaceful protest but a number of them had gone inside the office basically barricading the staff inside," he said.

Sergeant Steve Rainey said as a result of the protesters not leaving when asked, police arrested and questioned them.

Sergeant Rainey said there was an element of concern for the office building staff.

"There is an element of fear, in that they are locked in and not able to move," he said.

"It's a bit of an unknown quantity as to what may or may not escalate.

"They don't know these (protesters)."

READ MORE: Christian leaders arrested after protest

UPDATE 1.30pm: Nine christian leaders were arrested in Hargreaves Mall following a peaceful protest in Senator Bridget McKenzie's office.

About 10 people were outside the office, singing in support of the nine leaders on the inside.

UPDATE 1.25pm: The group has been taken back to the Bendigo Police Station for questioning and expected to be charged with trespassing.

UPDATE 1.11pm: All of the Christian leaders are handcuffed and being placed in police vehicles.

Cathedral dean John Roundhill

Cathedral dean John Roundhill

UPDATE 1pm: One man has been arrested at the scene of the silent protest in Hargreaves Mall.  The group is singing. 

EARLIER: POLICE have been called to Hargreaves Mall as a group of Christian leaders stage a silent protest at the office of Bridget McKenzie.

The group is targeting the Bendigo senator as a plea for asylum seeker children and refusing to leave until the senator offers her public support.

Those participating in the sit-in include: the Very Rev. John Roundhill: Dean of St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral; Rev. Gordon Bannon, Uniting Church minister; Dylan Le Clerc, Pentecostal pastor;  Michelle Rankin, Eaglehawk community worker; Jonathan Cornford, Community member; Tracey Wolsley, School chaplain;  Carl Rusbridge, School chaplain Anthea Taylor, School chaplain and Dave Fagg, Community worker.

In a statement released today, the prayer sit-in is to seek the local senator’s support for end to children’s time in immigration detention

The statement reads: 

"The tragic plight of 789 children currently held in immigration detention has compelled a group of local Christian leaders to stage a peaceful sit-in today at the office of Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie.

"The group is asking the senator to become a public champion for the release of all children and their families from mandatory immigration detention and intends to remain in Senator McKenzie’s office until that assurance is received.

"The action is taking place under the banner of Love Makes A Way, a movement initiated by Australian Christian leaders appalled at the inhumane treatment of children in our nation’s detention facilities.''

Organiser Dave Fagg, of Long Gully, said Love Makes A Way was a movement of Australian Christians demanding “an end to Australia's inhumane asylum seeker policies through prayer and nonviolent action”.

“The Bendigo sit-in sees a small group of local church leaders – both ordained ministers and lay people – entering Senator McKenzie’s office in Hargreaves Mall to request that she becomes a public champion within her party for the release of all asylum seeker children and families still in detention.

“Numerous requests for a meeting with Senator McKenzie have already been submitted to her office, but nothing has eventuated.

“This is a peaceful action, with the group sitting in the foyer until the Senator provides her public support.

“We need to act urgently on this issue,” says Pastor Dylan LeClerc of Epicentre Church. “It is our job as Christians to care for those who are suffering, and we know the harm detention is doing to asylum seeker children.”

The movement has already staged actions around the country, targeting the offices of (among others) Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

This  is the first times any such action has taken place outside of a major metropolitan area.

People taking part have included priests, pastors and nuns from the Uniting, Catholic, Baptist, Anglican and Pentecostal churches, as well as from the Jewish faith.

The Very Reverend John Roundhill, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, said he had involved himself in the sit-in because “children matter”.

“Children in detention is a matter of concern for all Australians,” he said.

“I hope the issue of detention and, in particular, the detention of children, becomes more widely known by the actions of Love Makes A Way.

“It is a sad irony that a country which prides itself on its care of children should have a policy that sees hundreds of children still held in immigration detention.”

For many years church leaders have been calling for change on asylum seeker policy to both Coalition and Labor governments. Many churches have volunteered to house asylum seeker children and families at their own expense.