Thursday, February 14, 2008

Australian Government Apology

Unless you were way out in the outback, sitting amongst the scrubby bushes waiting for the days heat to die down while contemplating the shimmer in the horizon, you would have heard about it. 'It' being the Australian Governments apology to the indigenous people of Australia who suffered so greatly under past (and present) policies.

I was reading The Age and found this article and thought it said more than I could say, so here is an extract from it:

Tony Wright
February 14, 2008

NEVER, perhaps, has a deeper silence descended upon a prime ministerial speech in the House of Representatives.

In the crowded galleries above the gathered representatives, a handkerchief fluttered here, a hand moved to brush away a tear there. An old woman laid a comforting arm around the shoulders of — who knows, her daughter? Eyes were drawn to each of these small stirrings because all else was still, as if the whole place was holding its breath.

"For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

"To the mothers and fathers, the brothers and sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry."

Here was the word, used twice in two quick sentences by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, that everyone in those ranked, packed galleries had come to hear. There was, quite audibly, the exhalation of breath.

That same release — the hope of an expulsion, really, of a national burden — could be felt across the country, in public gatherings before giant screens in places such as Melbourne's Federation Square and Sydney's Martin Place, to clubs and parks in small towns and school classrooms everywhere.

Twenty-five minutes later, when Rudd had finished with what he declared was the need to deal with "this unfinished business of the nation, to remove a great stain from the nation's soul and, in a true spirit of reconciliation, to open a new chapter in the history of this great land, Australia", the silence in the House of Representatives was replaced by an eruption of whistles, cheers, foot stamping and handclapping, an outburst of emotion echoing across the land.

And so, as thousands of Australians filed away down the hill from parliament house to share the stories of their lives, a lot of them enough to make the strong weep, and their fellow Australians from coast to coast took stock of an event rare enough to file away and tell their grandchildren, the new start Rudd had promised his nation had begun, albeit shakily, like most brave quests.

The House of Representatives, its shades of grey-green designed to recall a eucalypt forest, a peculiarly Australian place of deep silences and raging storms, may never experience the likes of it again.

Paul Kelly, Editor at Large for The Australian, penned this:

Thursday February 14, 08

KEVIN Rudd has enshrined the national apology as a “new beginning” and seeks a bipartisan compact for indigenous policy in Australia.

The apology, written by Rudd, is about the future and the past. It is an essential act of contrition and a uniquely confessional event for Australia’s soul.

But the words of this unqualified apology, accepted by Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson, formally pledge the nation to “close the gap” between indigenous and non-indigenous living standards.

Understand what this means: the apology imposes obligations on today’s Australians.

Its spirit is dishonoured if the current generation cannot devise new and better policies to lift the conditions of indigenous peoples.

The mood yesterday was mostly hopeful, uplifting and harmonious.

But the expectations Rudd has created for his prime ministership are huge. The truth is that the real meaning of the apology is elusive - it hovers between another descent into past grievance and an opportunity to generate fresh momentum.

Rudd recruits the spirit of forgiveness and an honest admission of contemporary failure to demand new directions.

His message is that symbolism without substance becomes hollow sentimentality.

In a moving display of bipartisanship, Rudd and Nelson united to say “sorry” just after 9am yesterday. It was a special and emotional moment in the nation’s history. This event conducted before Stolen Generations members ends the divisive decade-long debate over the national apology.

It should be a liberation. In the lobbies, former Howard government ministers said it should have happened long ago. Nelson has moved the Coalition parties a long distance in recent weeks.

Rudd defined a series of benchmarks in literacy, employment, health, education and infant mortality where he wants to close thegap. He offered, and Nelson accepted, “a kind of war cabinet” - a joint policy commission they co-chair to deliver a housing strategy as a prelude to bipartisan constitutional recognition of the first Australians.

The power of Rudd’s speech lay in its humanity. Welcomed like a rock star by the public galleries, he addressed the elemental human tragedy of the removals and the “terribly primal” quality of the stories.

Rudd, offering an unqualified apology, said: “The Stolen Generations are not intellectual curiosities - they are human beings, human beings who have been damaged deeply by the decisions of governments and parliament.”

The apology, Rudd said, was not an affirmation of the black armband view of history. His speech was conspicuous for coupling the ideas of mutual respect and mutual responsibility with the apology. It is a critical step.

Nelson’s speech captured the complex nature of the apology. He was more contentious than Rudd. The essence of Nelson’s position needs to be grasped, not ridiculed, because it is shared by a majority of Australians.

Nelson offered a double apology: for the past and for the present. He said “sorry” to the Stolen Generations and he offered a warning to the Australian population of today, declaring that it had “over 35 years overseen a system of welfare, alcohol delivery, administration of programs, episodic preoccupation with symbolism and excusing the inexcusable in the name of cultural sensitivity to create what we now see in remote Aboriginal Australia” - and that this present world of misery warranted its own apology.

As today’s generation apologises, it must be humble enough to concede the nature of its own dishonourable failure.

Both writers have captured the essence of the meaning behind yesterdays events. Wright captures the emotion of the moment, while Kelly reminds us that while an apology is important, there is much to be done.

A large number criticized Nelson's (Leader of the Opposition) speech and while it did at times seem to be a defensive, he did try to put past policies in context. Whether it was the right moment to do so is arguable, yet the essence of his speech demonstrated a critique of Australian history that encapsulates the thinking of the time.

Based on the various Government reports on the Stolen Generation and the current conditions in the Aboriginal communities, one has to realise that future policies and actions will demonstrate the Australian peoples resolve to bring about significant change.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sustainable Development

On Friday, the day after the Chinese New year, the students took the day off and the school asked all staff to come in for a day on sustainable development. A lecture was given on what other countries and schools were doing, then the teachers and all workers of the school including gardeners and canteen staff, drivers and cleaners, took part in a series of workshops to examine the impact they as an individual and as a group make on the environment. It was a day of learning, discussion, and laughter, yet you could see that a number of people went away thoughtful at the end of the day.

The school is setting about to adopt best practice in achieving a balance between economic, social and environmental concerns. As an IB school, it is critical that we educate our students on being world citizens and that we walk the talk.

As such, the two schools went away in the afternoon (primary and high school) to discuss in their respective groups what could be done now to reduce the environmental impact we have on our community. Then we all got together again and presentations were made by both groups. The ideas were far ranging and practical.

More composting, the need to cut down on paper, reducing photocopying, ensuring the buses and cars are better tuned to cut down on emissions, carpooling, double toilet flushes, timed bathroom water taps, less lighting used, less airconditioning, cut out selling of plastic bottles in the canteen, school activities planned more carefully towards zero use of unrecyclable products, waste recycling and so on. All ideas could be put into practice immediately which was the aim with clear set notions of who was responsible, how it could be done, a pro and con list based on the 3 aspects of sustainable development, i.e social, economic and environmental, and the timeline involved.

It was a good start and the amount of background knowledge the staff already had was impressive. But like all things, unless the group acts as a whole and is empowered to reach decisions and then take responsibility for those decisions, little comes about. Thus, in one day the staff as a whole were given the opportunity to take control of their surroundings and asked what they wanted to do.

Remains to be seen how the school goes as it embarks on this pathway to awareness and action, but the day gave us all hope.


The Literacy of Littering

Today we went to the water park. A very popular place as evidenced by the very large number of families about. Lovely day, sun shining, kids running about, music playing and all seemingly orderly yet there did occur a discordant note that made me reflect on life in Indonesia.

A large family was settled in tables and chairs to our front and side, while a smaller family had taken over the tables directly in front us. I noticed the family to one side ranging in ages from small children to grandmothers had finished their lunch. You could tell because they had dropped everything made of plastic onto the ground. Cups, plates, napkins and other detritus littered the ground around them. The group in front of us did the same, allowing their napkins to blow gently across the cement and into the tots pool, while leaving the larger pieces of rubbish strewn about, despite the fact that there was a bin directly behind them no more than arms reach away.

They are not schooled in the art of rubbish disposal. No wonder though that Indonesia has a serious litter problem. Children from a young age are shown that it’s okay to leave it to someone else. There is little in the Indonesian consciousness on littering, it just doesn’t make any impact on their sense of right and wrong. Everywhere you go in the city, rubbish litters the roads, the rivers, the pavements and so on.

So how is it that environmental responsibility of ones own and communities actions are all but ignored? It’s not a labour issue; there are plenty of people out of work. It could be a financial issue in that there might not be any funds to pay the people to keep everything orderly. It could also be that environmental awareness is just unimportant in day to day survival. However, be that as it may, this does not excuse the rampant disregard for the environment. Rivers are choked by rubbish, the city is weighed down with it, the streets piled with it, and few people realise the strain they are placing on their habitat.

It comes down to just one thing. Education.

Educate the children as they go to school, run grass root campaigns to raise awareness of what is happening in their part of the world. Provide the simple utilities to help contain, recycle and compost rubbish. Show people what they can do and why. Develop a literacy of littering, that is, a knowledge base and competency in action and consequences. Consequences both in results and in inaction.

Results could be highlighted by focussing on the economic, social and environmental benefits from a clean and healthy environment. Sustainable development which incorporates these three aspects has at its base the notion that by thinking of the issues before an action takes place, the action is thus mediated towards a more responsible effect. Using the framework of BDA (Before, During, After), the group or individual undertakes a quick three step of what they need to do before they take an action, what they do during it, and what they would do after it. While simple, it does take some thought.

A community could setup a committee whose main task is to analyse each and every decision that may affect the community. That is, an analysis of the best outcomes based on the 3 aspects of sustainable development for any activities undertaken in the community. A wedding is to be held. An analysis of the social, economic and environmental impact both positive and negative acts as a catalyst for further discussion and hopefully, better informed decisions. How would the community benefit from the wedding and what are the best options available to ensure that the pros far outweigh the cons.? If organisers were instructed in what could and could not be done in order to make the smallest environmental impact, the community benefits.

Another example is the food sellers in a community. Take the regular nasi goreng ‘kaki lima’ who wraps the fried rice in waxed paper. Educate him/her to stop using wax paper and instead use banana leaves. Or provide him/her with plates to use. Provide communal sinks and running water for washing. Grey water is then distributed or recycled. Provide a recycling bin. Make it a condition of operating that all food waste is composted in a central area.

The community committee could organise for an NGO to participate in an educational drive throughout the area. By highlighting the issues that impact on that area from a social, economic and environmental viewpoint gives both autonomy and empowerment. Once armed with information and strategies, the communities can take on responsibility for their own area.

Consequences need to be addressed as well. What if a member of the community acts in an irresponsible manner? The community as a whole decides on what sanctions should be put in place. Community service, a fine, a restriction, attendance at a local course in environmental responsibility could all act to provide barriers to wrongdoing. With guidelines and community education in place, the community is provided with the means to act as a cohesive whole.

This obviously is taken a further step in the greater community. The citizens of a city are educated through mass campaigns such as TV advertisements on littering and sustainable development. Fines and restrictions are put in place and enforced. People are made aware of the consequences of their actions both from an individual and a global perspective.

At an individual level, again a BDA analysis is required. Once used, each time becomes simpler, a tacked on thought process that allows responsible actions to take place. The use of water and electricity, rubbish disposal etc all incorporates a decision making process that uses at its foundation what could be done to minimise impact. It is not the big things make a difference, it’s the small stuff.

And it could all start with that one family instead of sitting amongst the rubbish they had strewn about their table, to reach behind them and dump it all in a bin, showing their children the right thing to do.

One small step on the pathway to a literacy of littering.

Thoughts Outside the Box

I've known Jakartass for quite some time now, albeit only through blogging, and he has always impressed me as being of those rare individuals who is both intensely interested in what goes on in Indonesia as well as being a prolific writer of entertaining and thought provoking articles from an intellectual perspective coupled with a wry humour.

It is rare that a day goes by that I don't log on (as many others do if you look at his visitor count!) to see what he has to say about matters of the world with a specific focus on Indonesia.

Some time ago he contacted me and asked to be part of a project called "Thoughts Outside the Box".

This is what he has to say on it:
It is hoped that these essays will spur new approaches to solving some of the myriad problems faced in this country, one which, whatever our ethnicity, we call home. As Jakartass I may not agree with the opinions given, but as a pluralist I welcome them, as must we all. Therefore comments and debate will be welcomed, although clichés, personal abuse and spam will not. I would also welcome more contributions, so please email me if you haven't already made a commitment to join in.

Have a look, the articles so far are wide ranging and interesting. I encourage any readers here to contact him and submit your ideas, this might become a blog that reaches across boundaries and politics to bring about change, or, at the very least, provoke further discussion. Indonesia is at a significant cross roads at the moment. It is a developing nation with a rising middle class who are becoming more aware of the issues surrounding them. With the passing of former president Suharto, there is a certain new hope that the struggle to free itself of its past shackles will come about.

I've just finished revamping a blog entry for inclusion on the website, calling it "The Literacy of Littering". As I told Jakartass, its a bit simplistic in its ideas but you get the general idea.

I'll also post it above.


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