2015 / Dr Simon Longstaff AO

Kerferd Orator questions indifference and invisibility
7 May 2015

IF you saw something being done that was wrong, would you speak up or just mind your own business? Would you tell a friend the truth, even if you knew it would hurt them? How do you arrive at your decision?

These questions are all about ethics. And that’s the theme of this year’s Kerferd Oration in Beechworth, which will be delivered by Dr Simon Longstaff AO, the Executive Director of the Ethics Centre, Sydney.

Kerferd Oration Committee chair Michael Evans said the term ‘ethics’ was often lost in a haze of different expressions which obscured the simplicity of the term.

“It’s really about asking ourselves in any situation, what is the right thing to do?” Mr Evans said.

“Ethics is not about who is right and who is wrong, it is about what is right and what is wrong and how we think about it.

“And ethics is not always about the big issues in life – should we bring back the death penalty? – sometimes ethics is about everyday questions that most of us face on a regular basis. Things like should be buy free range eggs even though they cost more? Should I join the refugee support group even though I know my closest friend would not approve?

“Ethics can be summed up as the thinking process we go through in answering the question, What is the right thing for me to do here?”

Essentially, ethics is about a conversation on how to live a good life, acknowledging that there may be different views or voices in that conversation, Mr Evans said.

Dr Simon Longstaff will talk about why we pay attention to some people in our society and not others.

“It was in 1942, at the height of the Second World War, that Sir Robert Menzies delivered his famous speech ‘The Forgotten People’. Later used as the title for a series of radio talks to the nation, Menzies set out the ideals that would form the basis for the Liberal Party of Australia. Central to Menzies whole narrative was his praise of the Australian ‘middle class’ – those whom he feared had been forgotten, simply taken for granted as the ‘backbone of society’,” Dr Longstaff said.

“There is, perhaps, something worse than being forgotten. It is to be rendered ‘invisible’ – unseen by the society in which you live.

“So, I want to speak of those who are ‘invisible’ – either because they make us uncomfortable, or because their vote ‘doesn’t count’ or because they lack the economic presence to be recognised by a system that increasingly judges worth according to economic utility rather than intrinsic value.

“Farmers, rural and regional communities, Indigenous Peoples, those not living in marginal electorates – all these and others are increasingly joining the ranks of the ‘marginalised’ – made invisible through indifference.

“So, what might be said about them – and how might our society and its institutions need to respond in order that all at least enjoy the dignity of being ‘seen’?”

The Kerferd Oration will be held on Sunday July 19 (a week earlier than normal) at 11am at the George Kerferd Hotel, Mayday Hills, Beechworth. It is a free community event and doors open at 10.15am.

A special feature of the annual Kerferd Oration is the lead-in events. This year the lead-in event is a series of questions aimed at getting the community to think about and talk about ethical issues prior to the oration.

“These questions will be appearing each week, sometimes in places you least expect, and in the towns across Indigo Shire,” Mr Evans said.

“This is an opportunity for people of all ages to think and talk in schools, workplaces and at home about current issues and what is the right and wrong way to act. Or even if there is a right and wrong way to act – sometimes it isn’t that simple.

“The questions are about getting us to think about how we think. It is the process, the conversation and the listening, that matters.”

Information

Michael Evans
Chair, Kerferd Oration Committee
M 0418 344 265

Learn more about the work of the Ethics Centre, Sydney

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