May 31, 2012
If you see an injustice in the world, ask yourself: "What am I going to do about it?"
That was the main message from former Victorian Premier Joan Kirner as she delivered a landmark speech at the Communities in Control Conference in Moonee Ponds on May 29.
Ms Kirner, who is currently serving as the Victorian Communities Ambassador, was chosen to deliver the speech named in her honour in recognition of the leading conference's 10th and final year.
The Joan Kirner Social Justice Oration wrapped up an inspiring two days of thinking, inspiration and celebration, with speeches from Tasmanian ethicist Dr Natasha Cica, social science researcher Dr James Whelan, political commentator George Megalogenis,
community campaigner Damian Ogden, Google Australia partnerships manager Scott Riddle, journalist and media commentator Margaret Simons, and public health sociologist Dr Samantha Thomas.
Papers and audio from the conference will be loaded on to the Our Community website at www.ourcommunity.com.au/cic in coming days.
Ms Kirner told conference delegates that she knew she shared with all of them a passionate commitment to a nation based on democracy, mutual respect, human rights, equity, environmental sustainability and community ownership.
She said that a society that broke the link between economic success and social justice was on the road to social division and economic disintegration.
"Let's be clear: we can and we must afford social and economic justice in Australia," she said, pointing out that Australia ranked second in the UN Human Development Index, and its residents had the highest median wealth in the world.
Ms Kirner said people committed to social justice needed to reject the false notion of "citizen choice" in the basic areas of education and health, saying that those without the means did not have any real choice at all.
"Frankly, I believe the concept of choice is a load of rubbish as a basis for social justice," she said.
"We know, as voters and as citizens of the world, that the happiest, most productive countries in the world are those where there is the least gap between highest and lowest income earners.
"This is not about earnings or class envy. It is about ensuring the quality of life of all our people, in Australia and the world, is underpinned and sustained by shared wealth.
"Increasingly in Australia, as the Gonski Report demonstrated, we are creating a divided education (and health) system - public versus private."
"For the future good of our society we desperately need to invest big bikkies in our education system in ways which ensure that no child's educational opportunity, from child care to tertiary placement, is inhibited by their parents' income or the school's location."
Ms Kirner put forth her own values, which had been laid out over four decades of community work:
- People matter;
- Women matter as much as men do;
- All people deserve to treated with respect (and treating people with respect gains respect);
- People affected by decisions should be part of making them; and
- Equity before the law and in the distribution of resources underpins a successful, socially just society.
She urged community activists to restate and recommit to their own values, and to plan their individual and collective campaigns to strengthen social justice in Australia.
Universal early childhood education, training and employment for all were the keys, Ms Kirner said.
"Insist on our collective responsibility to close the gap in income distribution and provision of services for all citizens - even if it hurts you personally a bit," she said.
"Continue to build an Australian society which is free from violence and respects and enhances our common humanity and our common environment.
"You people here today, and your children, you are the future. You can ensure that Australia is a socially just nation.
"Our task as social justice advocates is to enhance humanity. Thank you for what you are already doing for our common humanity, and may you accept the challenge to keep doing it."
Joan Kirner's full speech is available for download from www.ourcommunity.com.au/joankirneroration
Information about Communities in Control: www.ourcommunity.com.au/cic or via Twitter at: #cic2012
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