Tag Archives: Australia

A Quiet Integrity

Integrity – Word of the Day

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Sir Ronald Darling Wilson (1922 – 2005)

Wilson had a battler’s start. He was born in Geraldton (a then small West Australian coastal country town). Although his father was a lawyer, his mother died when he was four, and his father was incapacitated with a stroke when he was seven, and his older brother (14) cared for him. Wilson left school at fourteen and became a court messenger at the Geraldton Local Court. He signed up for military service in 1941 with the army, transferred to the airforce and sent to England in 1942. After the war he studied law at the University of Western Australia, and then went on to be a Fullbright Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania in 1957 completing an MA. In 1969 he became Solicitor General of Western Australia. In 1979 he was appointed to the High Court of Australia. He was a moderate in politics, he was conservative in law, and yet a passionate champion of human rights, something that was at the core of him.

In the now famous High Court ruling on Mabo. Eddie Mabo, an indigenous man from Queensland had pushed for Native Title rights and presented his case to the High Court. Wilson dissented, but on grounds that the findings were not strongly based in equality. The High Court ruled in favour of Mabo (Mabo 1) on June 3, 1992. In 1993 the High Court inserted the legal doctrine of Native Title into law, thus changing the foundation of Australian law. The new law was The Native Title Act 1993. Wilson agreed on this, and became a vocal advocate for Aboriginal people.

He retired from the High Court in 1989, but in 1990 was appointed by the Hawke Government to the post of President of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission until 1997. He served as Deputy Chairperson of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. He was made Chancellor of Murdoch University 1980 – 1995. From 1988 – 1991 he was elected and served as Moderator of the Uniting Church of Australia, which he did consecutively with his other appointments. He brought a stong social justice stance to the Church.

But I think his crowning achievement was conducting, along with Mick Dodson (The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner), the 1995 – 1997 National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families. The report was pivotal in approaching the national tragedy of the Stolen Generations – forced removal of indigenous children from their families. The 600 page report was tabled in parliament in 1997. The then Prime minister John Howard refused to issue an apology, but his successor Kevin Rudd did on February 13 2008. State governements also issued apologies, some immediately others later on. It is a significant report in our history and though shameful, it is also a matter of integrity. The subject of the report was not unknow but invariably denied, ignored or resisted through our history. In spite of the community awareness, the report shocked the nation.

Sir Ronald Wilson never promoted himself, never sought public attention, believed he was hard working, but not exceptional. Yet his integrity in working tirelessly, in amongst all his other responsibilities, for the rights of the indigenous people of Australia is outstanding. His commitment to the values of human rights, equality, fairness, playing his part in the Native Title cases, bringing the plight of the Stolen Generation to national attention, and many other commitments is inspiring.

Mick Dodson said of him: “Once you convince Ron Wilson you can have no one more passionate as an advocate … As an advocate he gives it 120 per cent.”

Justice Michael Kirby of the High Court said of him: I think his great contribution is that he showed how a highly orthodox, conservative lawyer can grow up. How he can grow out of the cocoon. Can expand his mind in harmony with his heart and with the sense of spirituality in which he was raised.”

A man of integrity! And one who inspires me.

Paul,

pvcann.com

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Filed under community, history, life, Native Title, quote, religion, Stolen Generation

Tree Talk

via Daily Prompt: Forest

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It was inevitable. I was born in Nottinghamshire, UK, and grew up in the midst of forests, and the famous one, Sherwood Forest wasn’t that far away. Migration to Australia brought a different experience of forests, and I have explored several. The writings of John Muir, Robert Frost, Wendell Berry, Judith Wright, Noel Davis, Mary Oliver, and many more, inspired my interest in trees. I worked in horticultural work and farming for a time, and learned so much about how trees are really our family, our life-line, our lungs. I am happy in a forest, which we generally call the bush. In fact I’d say I was a Nemopholist – a haunter of forests.

There’s a famous quote by John Muir that I love: “The clearest way into the universe is through a forest.” I think he’s right!

Forests have something special going on, they form habitat for many creatures, they are a special climate zone, they reduce salinity, and redistribute water, provide shade, timber and many by-products. The trees in a forest also communicate. Dr. Suzanne Simard of the university of Columia studies a type of fungi that forms underground networks between trees.

Older trees or “mother trees” are hubs in this fungal network. The trees communicate across species too, from Acacia to Eucalypt. Signals between trees can now be plotted, especially defence signals, through the build up and movement of enzymes. Tree communication is not a new thing, but study has now begun to show concrete evidence of it. The trees work to protect each other, help each other, feed each other, and look after young trees. So the forest is a series of interconnected families, a set of special relationships.

The forest thrives when there are enough mother trees and when the trees are interconencted. We too thrive when we belong to supportive hubs, and are nurtured by networks that protect, share, and feed us. The fungal network equivalent for us is love, empathy, and compassion, a special climate zone, a vital ecology. With love we thrive, we grow, we bloom, and we develop capacity to give out to others. The human forest needs an ecology of love, else the erosion to loss of community will be devastating.

Gandhi put it well when he said: “What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and one another.”

If we do to ourselves as the trees do to themselves, well, we’d be thriving and not just surviving.

For the article that underpins tree communication here, go to Do Trees Communicate With Each Other?  Its a wonderful read.

Paul,

pvcann.com

 

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Filed under bush walking, environment, Forest, life, mindfulness, nature, self-development

What Does It Mean To Be Foreign?

via Daily Prompt: Foreign

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Graphic comes from livingwaterlutheran.com via Bing

I wonder if the word foreign might eventually be redundant?

Where I grew up in England, my mother from Derbyshire, father from Nottinghamshire, we had dialects, and there were inflections and local flavours within regions and districts, you were foreign if yo came from 10 miles away. I was once asked by an Australian work colleague to translate what a tradie from Yorkshire was saying, he assumed, even though I had migrated as a mere child, I’d know! What astounded me was that it didn’t seem that difficult to understand what said tradie was saying. In Australia, there are subtle accents between east and west, and a variety of indigenous languages. Across this vast land there is also a sense of the local, which has become important across activities such as sport, politics, but especially federal funding.

I was once appointed to serve three towns. I was based in a main centre and would visit the other two on a rota. Once, while in the smaller of the three towns, on market day, I got chatting to some people who were passing through. One of the locals who knew me joined the conversation. At some point one of the visitors asked if I was a local. The local said I was not, and I said I did. There ensued one of those useless exchanges – no you’re not, yes I am. This went on for a split second or two with much positioning and my answer’s better than yours. The true local pointing out that I lived 45kms away in the big town. At some point the visitor asked what I meant. People really shouldn’t ask me questions, it gets tricky, I love to engage, I’m passionate about what I believe so they should be warned.

Little did the visitor know I had been waiting a lifetime for this question.

My answer: I’m local to Australia. Blank stares all round. Then the penny dropped. Derision followed. I never did convince them. Apparently you have to come from somewhere, belong somewhere, be part of something, or the nation, the world, cannot function.

I belong to a small circle of friends who firmly hold to the notion that we belong to each other, and not to any flag, state, or bounded ideal. We don’t much care for petty idealism, sabre rattling politics, flag waving jingoism, or some hyped pride based on place or space. Besides, those beliefs and behaviours have not got us very far.

As the graphic suggests, I’m more for reaching out and taking the hand of another, irrespective of any standard defining characteristics, be they colour, belief, birth country, sexual orientation, class, income, education, and etc. The word foreign is a divisive word, intentionally so, as it defines if you’re from round here or not. I accept that people take pride in where they’re from, and that they need to have conenction and identity, but I wonder if we can dial that back a bit, and focus on being present to hospitality, need, helping, journeying with the other? As is often said, we need to look for what we have in common rather than what divides us.

One of my main influences in life has been music. I have particularly admired Peter Gabriel, formerly of Genesis, who helped pioneer World Music in the late 70s as a fusion of styles and genres working together. Paul Simon has encouraged working with artists from other cultures, notably his album Graceland was founded on this ideal. Robert Plant has similarly worked with and encouraged artists from all over the world.

I was never a diehard Glen Campbell fan, but this song was influential in my thinking. It makes a great point: if we see our brother/sister standing by the road, carrying a heavy load, then it’s up to us to help share the load, to enable the other to get by, to get along. The refrain, “You’ve got to try a little kindness …” is perfect for our world. If we show a little kindness, then the definition foreign becomes redundant, and all people are from round here.

These days I’m local to the globe …

Paul,

pvcann.com

 

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Filed under community, life, Philosophy/Theology, politics

Homage

via Daily Prompt: Homage

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A few years ago, on our way home from holidays, we decided to (I decided to, Lyn indulged me) drop in at the Dwellingup train museum. As it happened we’d timed it just as one of the stem trains had come in from a tourist run and I was able to take several photos of the loco coming in, reversing, the fireman cleaning out the fire box, and the marshalling of the coaches. It was a great time. For me it was paying homage to a two things: an age of steam that was crucial to the development of the world (and no longer possible given the polution and carbon hungry nature of steam); and my childhood spent catching steam trains. While pollution is bad for the universe, I sill miss the smell of burning coal, the hiss of steam, the whoosh of pistons, and the clanking of steel wheels on rail. It was like they say, a steel horse. it was as if it were alive, pulsating and vibrating, thrumming and moving, a living, breathing beast.

As a child growing up in Nottinghamshire, I was fortunate in my love of trains to live near a rail line and to see steam trains daily. My father took me across Nottinghamshire to indulge me in transpotting (taking down the numbers of the trains coming past and looking out for well-known or famous locos. On my way to school I had to pass by a major goods marshalling yard, and it was fun to observe the manoeuvres of locos and wagons. As a child coming to Australia I discovered that steam was just as much a part of the rail system here, even though it was slowly being phased out for diesel.

My passion segued to rail modelling. So in many ways I pay homage to steam trains, and I miss them because they were such a part of my life, the sounds, smells, feelings and visual are part of me. I do enjoy diesel and electric too, but it just isn’t the same.

pvcann.com

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Seeking Asylum (Part 4) How Many Come?

The way the Australian media report on refugees or asylum seekers is either by overstatement or the opposite, silence. But then you would only have to look at who owns the media to work that out, as Australian media is (with the exception of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and SBS) privately owned with bias towards the ownership (which is to be expected). However, you would think that journalism might actually be journalism and question government and anti-refugee rhetoric. There is precious little reporting in the mainstream commercial media that challenges the lies and myths surrounding those seeking asylum.

According to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (2012 data) “23,000 persons per day leave their homes and seek protection elsewhere – more than the total number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia in a year.” http://www.asrc.org.au

According to the UNHCR: 

As at December 2012 there were 45.2 million people displaced. of which there were 15.4 million refugees, of which there were 10.5 million (with 4.9 million Palestinians under UNRWA mandate) refugees in 2012. Of that number 1,638,500 were being hosted by Pakistan, 868,200 hosted by Iran, 589,700 hosted by Germany, 564,900 hosted by Kenya, 476,500 hosted by Syria, and 376,400 by Ethiopia.

Developing countries  hosted over 80% of the world’s refugees (compared to 70% ten years ago).

Pakistan hosted the highest number of refugees compared to its national economy – 552 refugees per 1 USD of GDP. Ethiopia was second (303), Kenya third (301), South Sudan fourth (209). Germany was the first developed country on the ranking placing it 31st, with 15 refugees per 1 USD of GDP. Australia hosted 0.7 refugees per USD of GDP ranking it 77th in the world!

Australia’s World Ranking by:

  • Total number of asylum claims 20th.
  • Compared to our population size (per capita) 29th
  • By hosting 77th
  • Compared to our national wealth GDP (PPP) per capita 52nd

Australia’s Ranking of 44 Industrialised Countries (2012):

  • by total number of asylum claims 12th
  • compared to our population size (per capita) 16th
  • compared to our national wealth GDP (PPP) per capita 14th

Note: PPP is purchasing power parity.

By asylum applications received in 2012:

  • Asylum applications received in 2012 out of a global total of 2 million applications globally was 29,610. Australia’s share – 1.47%; Australia’s ranking 20th.
  • Asylum seekers recognised as refugees in 2012 globally 1.3 million. Australia’s recognition 8,367. Australia’s share – 0.61%; Australia’s ranking 28th.

For further statistical resource see:

http://www.unhcr.org/globaltrends/2012-GlobalTrends-annex-tables.zip

http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/r/stat-int.php

Although New Zealand (pop. 4.3 million; Australia 22.2 million) only takes small numbers of asylum seekers under the quota system (750 per annum – plus/minus 10%) and although in 2011/2012 there were 364 extra claims from others who arrived in New Zealand by various means, only 115 were validated, it is the way they handle it. For a small nation they have a very healthy attitude to reception, processing, and the integration of asylum seekers. It certainly puts Australia’s attitude and policy(s) in a poor light despite population difference.

So, whether we look at our ranking within the industrialised nations, or globally across all nations, or wether we look at per capita (thus in relative context) Australia is woeful at taking in refugees.

A correlative is migration (another sticking point in Australian politics). A recent article at blogs.worldbank.org “Can I get the bill, please? Are immigrants a burden or net contributors to the public purse?” by Jean christophe Dumont and Thomas Liebig asks a number of questions about migration. One significant question is “the current doxa about the fiscal impact of migration is indeed that immigrants contribute less in taxes than they receive in benefits …” It is an expectation an unfounded attitude but not a reality. the converse is also true as the article explores the question as to whether immigrants are a fiscal panacea, and they are not. However, the authors contend that immigrants are neither a burden nor a panacea, but rather that “immigrants have a positive net direct fiscal position in most countries …” in other words, they are not a drain on any society.

The official immigration impact on OECD countries, including Australia is negligible when considered over a period of fifty years of migration study, to the point that the fiscal impact is “close to zero, rarely exceeding 0.5% of GDP …”

The subject of asylum seekers also raises the doxa of negative fiscal impact but that is also not true. In Australia refugees cannot access Centrelink, do not get public housing, rarely are able to get transitional housing, a limited number are able to get the Red Cross Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme (which is 89% of the New Start Scheme) for a short period of time. Refugees face higher rates of homelessness than other groups in Australia. Until a visa is granted they cannot access Medicare. They receive less than what it costs to pay rent and buy food let alone pay up-front for medical and dental costs.

There are many other myths surrounding asylum seekers. We need detention centres: well between 1948 – 1992 we successfully resettled 452,000 refugees, all processed directly within the community. There were no detention centres then and we more than coped. We must protect our borders: we do and have always done so, refugees by boat have always been checked and scrutinised no one is at risk in Australia from a boat arrival in spite of the government or media rhetoric (manufactured moral panic?)!

So, we are not being overrun, or flooded by refugees. We are not at risk. We take the least of many of our fellow industrialised nations. We are way behind developing nations in accepting refugees. They are neither a major drain on our economy nor a panacea (using the immigration ideal which is not radically different) as they have limited access to welfare or assistance.

So I’m wondering what the problem is?

I personally believe that it has a lot to do with the development of the nation and our beliefs about the ‘other’ the foreigner. With the reaction to the Chinese on the Victorian goldfields (1851), the fear of a Russian invasion (1885), the framing of the constitution to deliberately exclude non-whites and restrict non-english speaking peoples (Section 51, sub-sections 26 – 30), the treatment of German people during World War One, the riot in Kalgoorlie in 1934 against Italian migrants, the Imperial attitude to race and culture, all of these and more are contributing factors to an anxiety about the foreigner in Australia today.

I believe that the current fear is, as a direct result of ignorance, a fear of Islamic people, beliefs and culture (White Australia Policy again). Which is not dissimilar to how people reacted to the Chinese and the Germans and Italians in the past.

In addition, it has become popular in political circles to utilise this anxiety for political gain, so that people have become politicised and therefore dehumanised. There is a worrying connection with the insights of Georgio Agamben in his work ‘Homo Sacer’  and earlier, Hannah Arendt’s ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’ which demonstrate how easy it is to create scapegoats, and to dehumanise and demonise a race or culture for political gain.

We are not overrun, we are not inundated, we would not be financially burdened in the extreme (especially if we used an integration process rather than a detention process – which is costing us dearly), so it must be (irrational) fear.

Only this past week, the U.N. has reprimanded Australia for reneging on its U.N. treaty obligations in regard to 46 refugees. We have descended from a nation of foreigners (excepting the indigenous Aboriginal peoples),risen to a nation that welcomed some foreigners after both World Wars, and then plummeted to a nation that resists foreigners. We have lost sight of our responsibilities as a nation on the world scene. We have lost our compassion in regard to asylum seekers. We are surely hypocritical to be sitting on the U.N. Security Council, sitting making decisions that affect other nations, sitting in judgement of other nations as we seek to reinforce U.N. treaties and conventions!

It is entirely possible to change this. Education about asylum seekers at all levels from school to parliament would help to restore a positive understanding of their plight and our responsibility to them, and the possibility of  their positive participation in our nation. To deconstruct the myths and distortions would help to re-humanise those who come to our shores by whatever means.

We need a new way forward on asylum seekers and refugees, one that will see them as people with inalienable rights, but also to see them as future Australians.

See:

epress.anu.edu.au/cw/mobile_devices/ch13s05.html  (chapter on the ‘White Australia Policy)

http://www.dictionaryofsydney.org  (reference to fear Russian  ship visiting Sydney)

“In Fear of Security: Australia’s Invasion Anxiety” Dr. Anthony Burke 2001

“U.N. castigates Australia for treatment of 46 refugees” Reuters, Geneva 22.8.2013

http://www.immigration.govt.nz  (refugee fact sheet)

Hannah Arendt ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’ Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich  1973

Georgio Agamben ‘Homo Sacer’ Stanford University Press, 1998

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