25 January 2005
The Christmas-New Year period in our region was marked by the tragedy of the tsunami that killed over 200,000 people and destroyed the homes and livelihoods of many more. The awesome display of the power of nature was a reminder of the fragility of our human existence but the extraordinarily generous response of governments and people around the world and the striking display of international co-operation and unity in the aftermath of the tragedy also provided a glimpse of a possible future for our planet.
The event and the response it generated raise many questions.
Why were we moved to respond so generously on this occasion yet we remain unmoved by the deaths of millions around the globe from malnutrition and preventable disease?
As many people around the world die each month from malaria as perished in the tsunami and yet we have the knowledge and means to eradicate malaria from the face of the earth. Why don’t we?
Moreover an estimated 500 million people could be enabled to escape abject poverty, 250 million would no longer go to bed hungry and 30 million children would be saved if rich nations double development aid over the next decade to $US195 billion ($256 billion), according to a UN-sponsored report released earlier this month.
Why can the Australian government pledge $1 billion in aid for reconstruction when over the past decade it has consistently reduced its annual aid budget and thereby cutting back its commitment to the Millenium Development Goals ?
Can the tsunami tragedy awaken the conscience of the developed world to a lasting committment to build a more just and peaceful future?
The meeting of G7 Finance Ministers in London on February 4-5th provides a real opportunity to encourage a fair deal on debt cancellation.
Jubilee Australia is asking its supporters to join the co-ordinated global campaign and to fax the ambassadors of the G7 countries about the upcoming meeting.
According to Jack Jones Zulu of Jubilee Zambia, "There will never be sustainable human development if the debt is not cancelled. We did not experience the tsunami but we live with these conditions every day. Our people are dying because of debt, because we do not have the money for hospitals and drugs. That is why we are joining with others to send out this message, we want to make a global impact."
Information about the campaign can be found at the Jubilee Australia website.
The hopes raised for a settlement of the dispute over oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea in August were dashed in October when negotiations broke down. Since then there has been no progress, although in the meantime the Australian Government continues to draw revenue from the area in dispute.
The Australian Catholic Social Justice Council (ACSJC) recently urged the Australian Government to do all in its power to ensure East Timor has early access to revenues from the oil and gas resources of the Timor Sea. Bishop Christopher Saunders, Chairman of the ACSJC said, “A rich nation like Australia can endure delays in these negotiations. East Timor cannot.”
The Timor Sea dispute comprises a number of boundary issues but the most immediate relates to the Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields. At stake is the development of billions of dollars worth of revenue. A reasonable share of this revenue is desperately needed to secure the economic viability and sustainable development of East Timor.
In his statement Bishop Saunders pointed out that “East Timor is among the poorest nations of the world. Half of the population of 900,000 is under the age of 14. Food security is poor and there is widespread malnutrition. Child mortality rates for children under 5 years of age are well over 10%. Industry and commerce is minimal – over 80% of the population survive on subsistence agriculture and farming.
The only resource available to East Timor to provide adequately for its growing population rests in the Timor Sea.” The full text of Bishop Saunders statement can be found at the ACSJC website.
A final question for now in the wake of the tsunami tragedy was recently posed by a writer in the Melbourne Press. What would have happened if some of the tsunami survivors had made their way by boat to Australia? Would they too have been locked up for years in a detention centre in the Australian desert like those who have fled violence and persecution in places such as Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan?
The date itself marks the day of the establishment of the first permanent European settlement at Sydney Cove in 1788. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people then it can seem to be more an occasion for mourning the loss of life, land and self-government and remembering the drastic changes to the Aboriginal peoples' way of life that resulted than an occasion for celebration.
At this time therefore it is appropriate to take a moment to reflect on the injustices experienced by Indigenous people, which continue today, as a result of colonisation.
An interesting test which may challenge your perceptions about Australia Day can be found at the ANTAR Victoria website.