Centre for Values Ethics and Compassion
What do Holly Ransom (Chair of G20 Youth coalition), Mark Tedeschi (crown prosecutor and promoter of civil rights), Michael Sheldrick (eliminate polio campaigner, WA youth of the year and Global Citizen), Richard Stirzaker (CSIRO scientist and soil chameleon inventor), Toby Gunn (save the children advocate and Nauru detention centre whistleblower), Yasmin Abdel – Magied (civil engineer, Sudanese born Muslim), Sarah Bachelard (philosopher and theologian) and Sam Bailey (Pilot, farmer, author and quadriplegic) have in common? They were all speakers at this year’s Radford College (Canberra) Dirrum Festival run by its students and Chaplain.
How did they pull off a line up like that? I have no idea!!
Would the speakers be speaking into values which could boldly be described as ‘Australian values’? The public recognition already afforded them screams yes - unequivocally. Each in their own way has been acknowledged, applauded, recognised, through awards in the media and at a regional, state, national or international level. Why have they been so recognised: because they stand out from the pack in terms of compassion, integrity, imagination and sheer tenacity for good?
What are those values? The simplest way of describing them is to say that they all live a version of the principle that for good to be good it has to be common.
While many of the speakers would not be described comfortably as ‘Christian’ – and one is obviously Muslim – are their values Christian? Absolutely yes! Why? Because belief in a God who is revealed in the human face of Jesus requires the believer to stand for justice, equity, and equal opportunity, indeed to stand for the common good.
And could their values be described as Australian or rather, do Australian values work for the common good? Is the good of ‘Australian’ values limited to the Australian border?
Our soldiers have been engaged in conflicts abroad, fighting against Nazism and keeping peace BECAUSE our values take us there, fighting alongside others on the premise that freedom, dignity and justice are common and worth sacrificing for, beyond even our borders. Asking as Yassmin did (albeit naively on ANZAC day) if those values are being upheld on Nauru and Manus, would thus be a traditionally ‘Australian’ thing to do.
In my hearing I gained some clear messages from the stories and initiatives of these (mostly) young men and women about the nature of the good, of Australian values. They – and also their young student hosts – challenged how common and broad our values should be applied. From them I heard a very clear affirmation that if there is such a thing as Australian values, then they must work for what is common, global, human, and when they don’t, they have become un-Australian. With this logic, I clearly heard:
· It is un-Australian for this country to manipulate our common border with Timor-Leste that Australia might gain the lion’s share of gas and oil – which is what we have done.
· It is un-Australian to hold Asylum seekers, confirmed as refugees by the UNHCR, in cruel and indefinite detention – which is what we have done.
· It is un-Australian to inflict permanent psychological damage on refugee children known only by their boat arrival number – which is what we have done. Toby Gunn, the speaker, risks two years in gaol every time he says so.
· It is un-Australian for inventive ingenuity to be focused solely on profit. It is very Australian to invent a piece of technology which enables life giving productivity to African subsistence farmers. CSIRO has been changed from an institute committed to pure science which betters the lives of all, to an organisation which focuses on commercialisation. This is what has recently happened – it is un-Australian.
· It is un-Australian not to recognise that our nation has been built on many injustices against its indigenous people including an attempt at ethnic cleansing. Mark Tedeschi’s account of the Myall Creek massacre, its aftermath, and the role played by John Hubert Plunkett the NSW Attorney General should be compulsory reading for all Australians.
· It is un-Australian for Yasmin Abdel Magied to have been pilloried because of her comments about ANZAC and its place in the Australian psyche. What was it about her that made her comments unacceptable? Is it that she is Sudanese born, that she is a Muslim, that she is female, or perhaps that she has had the audacity to put her head way above the parapet?
Now let me come to the rub. I have a feeling that values expressed at the festival would have been interpreted by some as representing an ideological position, perhaps a politically ideological position, out of keeping with the aspirations of those who presume it is their right to define Australian values. Why wouldn’t aspirations for justice, compassion and equity be apolitical? Why wouldn’t every parent expect these values to be at the absolute core of what is taught at their children’s school? Why wouldn’t all Australian politicians assume that these are the values of Australians?
Why wouldn’t these values, expressed by the causes picked up by the students, be at the very heart of the policy initiatives of the Church? Why is the Church seemingly more comfortable talking about personal piety, than the implications of that piety when it is lived out publicly in a courageous life of faith?
Students living the Dirrum values, Australian values, Christian values, you give me confidence in the future; confidence that leaders of your generation have caught a vision that good has to be common, that if it is not common it is probably not good, that independence is a mirage, but that dependence is disempowering and diminishes us. I am confident that you understand that it is mutual interdependence which gives us wings.