Scene from the film Bonhoeffer. A Documentary on the German Pacifist Dietrich Bonhoeffer who in his resistance to the Nazi regime was hung days out from the beggining of World War Two. Pictured is a portrait of the Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.Directed by Martin Doblmeier. Opens September 25, 2003SMH METROPOLITAN Pic is supplied from Valhalla CinemasReiew by Paul Byrnes

Rudd's hero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, smuggled Jews to safety.
Kevin Rudd's hero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was a people smuggler. And our prime minister knows it.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian put to death for his complicity with those who attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler, was ''a theologian, pastor and peace activist ... a man of faith ... a man of reason''  -  and a people-smuggler. As Rudd himself wrote further in the October 2006 edition of The Monthly, Bonhoeffer ''organised the secret evacuation of a number of German Jews to Switzerland''.

In that essay, in which Rudd reveals himself as a clear thinker who can write, he argues thus: ''Another great challenge of our age is asylum seekers. The biblical injunction to care for the stranger in our midst is clear. The parable of the Good Samaritan is but one of many which deal with the matter of how we should respond to a vulnerable stranger in our midst.''

It is the combination of these two assertions - that Bonhoeffer smuggled Jews to safety and the acknowledgement of the obligation owed to the vulnerable stranger - that makes the panic of Rudd's government over the arrival of more asylum seekers so dismaying. For Rudd knows better.

So far this year 33 boats carrying asylum seekers have arrived on our shores. As in their right, as Rudd acknowledges, thanks to our signing the UN convention protecting those seeking refuge, which, as Rudd further acknowledges in the same essay, was a response to the Holocaust, when the world turned its back on the menaced Jews of Europe.

Rudd has done what he can to ensure that 33 boats do not become 34, with the latest boat, carrying 78 refugees, and the one before it, carrying 250 Tamils, ending up Indonesia - which has not signed that UN convention - instead of being allowed to continue their journey to Australia. The stranger has been turned away, before he is even in our midst. Those 330 people will in all likelihood live a squalid life for years to come, without work or education, with no certainty about where their eventual home will be.

Rudd has used unusually intemperate language twice to denounce people smugglers, calling them the vilest form of life. He has convinced no one, least of all himself. I think what he is trying to do is create a demon - and make that demon the object that soaks up all the fear and hatred that otherwise can attach to the refugees themselves. Which is what our previous prime minister did, except that he targeted the refugees themselves.

Rudd's lack of belief in what he says about people smugglers is betrayed by his overreaching rhetoric, his uncustomary language, his tin ear. He doesn't believe. He knows what Bonhoeffer did. The government line that it is following the letter of international law betrays the fact it is not following the spirit. The government has kept most of its promises in relation to asylum seekers - but getting Indonesia to take them before they get to Australian waters subverts everything else.

There is, of course, no straight moral equivalence between Bonhoeffer risking his life for 14 Jews and a professional people smuggler risking others' lives for his own profit. But the motives of the smuggler matter little to those fleeing danger - they will take help where they find it. And it is precisely such help that Rudd is now denying vulnerable strangers.

In his essay, written while still in opposition, Rudd wrote that one role of the church is to speak truth to the power of the state. Now that he embodies the power of the state, Rudd needs to be reminded, perhaps by the church, of that truth.

He wrote also that ''a core, continuing principle ... should be that Christianity, consistent with Bonhoeffer's critique in the 30s, must always take the side of the marginalised, the vulnerable and the  oppressed''. Rudd needs to get back in touch with his principles and knock off the politics. His current actions betray not only his own principles, but the people who put him in power. On this topic he is failing as a politician and as a Christian.
Copyright Michael Epis