Simon Longstaff seeds a fresh democracy

DSCN2701THE Ethics Centre’s Simon Longstaff this morning delivered to a packed 450-plus audience in the north eastern Victorian town of Beechworth a provocative and powerful 2015 Kerferd Oration about Australia’s ‘invisible people’.

Dr Longstaff drew on the ‘fireside chat’ broadcasts made by Australian politician and later statesman Robert Menzies in the midst of World War II to argue for a fresh contract between people and government – in which government should act for the people, not in political self-interest.

He said that government in Australia, regardless of political colour, had come to keep from the public eye:

  • The ‘hidden’:  those whom the powerful see but will not show;
  • The ‘ignored’: those whom the powerful see but will not recognise; and
  • The ‘unseen’: those whom the powerful look at but cannot see.

Dr Longstaff also said that government in recent decades had watered down the ‘constabulary’ role of the public service.

“…The public service must look for and see every citizen in an equal light – irrespective of who they are or where they live,” he said.

“There can be no ‘dark corners’ or ‘zones of irrelevance’ – no citizen should ever be ignored simply because they are not thought to ‘count’ for much in the calculation of party politics.”


2015 Kerferd Oration PDF
by Dr Simon Longstaff AO
Executive Director
The Ethics Centre, Sydney

Image: Ovens & Murray Advertiser / Jamie Kronborg

Kerferd Oration 2015 honours ‘the champion of Beechworth’

DSCN2603AUSTRALIAN ethicist Simon Longstaff on Sunday will seek to extend the legacy of a colonial-era businessman known as “the champion of Beechworth” when he delivers the annual Kerferd Oration and challenges the Indigo community to recognise its “invisible people”.

The oration – now in its thirteenth year – is named for George Briscoe Kerferd (1831-1889), a Liverpool-born immigrant to the goldfields, a wine merchant and brewer who went on to become a Beechworth borough alderman, Victorian premier and, later, a Supreme Court judge.

Oration committee chairman Michael Evans – pictured with founder Joan Simms in the heart of Beechworth on Monday – said he believed that significant elements of Kerferd’s ‘gift’ were manifest in the oration series.

“In his day one of his nicknames was ‘the champion of Beechworth’ and he had a vision of the town as a thriving ‘city on the hill’,” Mr Evans said.

“He worked with others to bring to Beechworth some of the institutions that kept the town alive after gold.

“His vision was that they would serve a thriving town rather than be the economic mainstay of the town, but it’s worked out quite well for Beechworth.

“The other thing about Kerferd is that he was a businessman and a very active citizen, and the Kerferd orations, through Joan’s design and evolution, have always had this element about being a ‘good citizenship’ and justice and ethics.”

Kerferd was actively involved after he came to Beechworth in 1854 in the establishment of the Beechworth Public Library and Athenaeum, the Burke Museum and the Ovens District Hospital and Benevolent Asylum.

He was largely responsible for the design of Beechworth’s water storage, known as Lake Kerferd, and distribution system.

He was also instrumental in linking Beechworth to Melbourne by train – a line that now forms part of the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail.

Mr Evans said that Sunday’s oration at the George Kerferd Hotel at Mayday Hills was explicitly about ethics.

“We’re lucky enough to have Simon Longstaff here who can talk about ethics in plain language and challenge our thinking,” he said.

“It fits in with Kerferd’s legacy of being a good and active citizen, and keeping in mind the needs of people whom you might regard as invisible.”

Dr Longstaff, Sydney Ethics Centre executive director, will speak about “something worse than being forgotten – it is to be rendered ‘invisible’, unseen by the society in which you live”.

“There are 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,” Dr Longstaff said.

Kerferd Oration founder Joan Simms says that 10 descendants of George Briscoe Kerferd are expected to attend Sunday’s oration.

These will include descendants of three of George and Ann (Martindale) Kerferd’s children in three generations – great grandchildren, a great-great granddaughter and a great-great-great grandson.

“The message I get in talking with the family is that they’re so appreciative of the Beechworth community honouring their ancestor,” Ms Simms said.

The oration will be delivered at 11am at the George Kerferd Hotel at Mayday Hills in Beechworth.

This post is reprinted from the ‘Ovens and Murray Advertiser’, which is supporting the oration by publishing each question of the week.

Ethical question # 8: building community

DSCN2595‘If you could choose one thing to make this community better what would it be?’

BEECHWORTH Community Support co-ordinator and Beechworth Neighbourhood Centre kitchen co-ordinator Trish Mom (pictured) has answered the eighth – and final – Kerferd Oration lead-in question before Sunday’s 2015 presentation in Beechworth.

‘If you could choose one thing to make this community better what would it be? – that’s the challenge.

“I think I would choose encouraging the community as a whole to care more and to care about our community,” Ms Mom said.

“By that I mean caring for and supporting our local businesses and ensuring their success, and caring for local services – schools, post office, doctor, the health service and banks – because without those things small communities die.

“I also include BNC in that, and caring for our neighbours and keeping an eye on them in our town and in the street.

“Perhaps it’s going next door and borrowing something; it’s considered old school but it’s a great way to keep in touch.”

Ms Mom said that contemporary communications technology – while a “tool for living” – had a flip side. It could lead to disconnection.

“All of this technology – we’re communicating with people across the world but we’re not talking with our neighbour and asking how their day was, just caring about that person,” she said.

“Caring for community members in times of need, when they need that help, is also vitally important, and I guess we do a lot of that at BNC with the community food program, so people can access a meal for whatever reason.

“We also care through the ‘community sharing feast’ that we have once a month (at BNC), when we encourage people to come along and meet new people – it’s just about sharing.”

Ms Mom said caring about newcomers would also build a better community.

“We can make sure they’re welcomed and that their transition into our community is a positive one, wherever they’re from,” she said.

“Whether refugees, or tree changers, (when we welcome) that’s the word that gets out there – that ours is a good place to move to and we have a really good sense of community and we engage and connect with people who come here.

“Caring about the community in times of crises – in bushfires and other emergencies – that’s also important.

“Probably my key one is caring about how our kids learn to become good community members.

“If we don’t teach our kids how to become active in our community and engage, we’re just going to grow generations of people who sit at home and use electronic devices and become a ‘community of individuals’.

“I think it’s important that we make sure that they’re engaged in sporting groups, in clubs, school events.

“That for me is really important.”

Ms Mom said that – in the wake of the earlier oration lead-in questions – giving people a ‘fair go’ and caring about where your food comes from were significant hallmarks of community.

“The great turn out at the (Beechworth Urban Landcare) fair food forum (last week) means that people do really care about what’s happening in that field,” she said.

“Caring about the environment as well is important – maintaining such a special place that we have here.

“A lot of people in the past have worked really hard to maintain the integrity of Beechworth and its historical content and have ensured that what we have is around for a long time.”

The oration will be delivered at 11am at George Kerferd Hotel at Mayday Hills in Beechworth.

This post was reprinted from the ‘Ovens & Murray Advertiser’, which is supporting the oration.

Ethical question # 7: tucking into food

DSCN2420‘How much do you know about where your food comes from?’

BEECHWORTH livestock production consultant Kristy Howard (pictured) has tackled the Kerferd Oration committee’s seventh lead-in question – ‘How much do you know about where your food comes from?” – for the 2015 oration in Beechworth on July 19.

“It’s an interesting question because there are two things to think about,” Dr Howard said.

“’Do we know what food we’re actually eating?’ – as in milk comes from cows and pork comes from pigs.

“I think there are a whole lot of questions about that.

“We used to understand that because we used to have relatives who were farmers and people used to have market gardens in their back yards.

“And then the other part is ‘Do we know where it comes from?” – its place of origin.

“Is it produced in Australia? How much of it is produced in Australia? There’s the whole question of food miles.

“I did some work looking at farmers’ market development in the North East.

“In the North East we produce a lot of meat, fibre and grain but not a lot of vegetables.

“So if you want a local farmers’ market with a lot of vegetables there’s not a lot to choose from (here), whereas if you go to Melbourne there are a lot of market gardens but not a lot of meat produced.

“So, different parts of the state produce different the foods that we eat.

“And then there are some that we take for granted, as being available, that we don’t actually produce in Australia.

“Coconut oil’s a good example, but we don’t produce it here.”

Dr Howard said that her buying decisions were influenced by food freshness and nutritional value.

“When thinking about where your food comes from and why you eat what you eat, for me it has to be fresh, it’s got to be nutritious, and then whether or not its locally produced is a lower consideration.

“And then there’s price – and I think we underestimate how the consumer relies on price to make a buying decision.”

This post is reprinted from the ‘Ovens and Murray Advertiser’, which is supporting the oration by publishing each question of the week.

Ethical question # 6: assessing a ‘fair go’

DSCN2408‘What does a ‘fair go’ mean for you?’

THE sixth of the Kerferd Oration committee’s eight questions to encourage Indigo citizens and communities to think about ethics in the lead-in to the July 19 oration in Beechworth goes to the heart of an Australian idiom – a ‘fair go’.

Malian-born professional painter Diallo (pictured) had the challenge of answering it – “What does a fair go mean for you? – outside Beechworth Post Office this week.

“Not long ago I heard the expression ‘fair go’ for the first time, but I have understood the meaning for a long time,” Diallo said.

“I have wanted for a long time to find a way to say thank you to the people of this country – and particularly to the people of Beechworth – for giving me a ‘fair go’.”

Diallo emigrated from Mali, in West Africa, to France in his late teens and when, as an adult, he told people that he was moving to Australia they thought him “crazy” to leave his good job.

“Life is good here, particularly in Beechworth,” he said.

“I am surprised at how people accept you, even if you can’t speak the language very well, your colour might be different, or your religion might be different – it doesn’t matter. Nobody judges you.

“When you come here at first everyone tries to help you. You can’t find that everywhere.”

Diallo said that in Mali a citizen had always to carry an identity card, but he had found in Australia that you could go anywhere and no-one would ask for ID.

“In some countries I have been, police would stop you to check you have a valid ID, at least twice a week, just because you might be different, “Diallo said.

“In Australia the police won’t stop you unless you have a problem.

“I don’t even carry a wallet here.”

Diallo also said that in some countries, as an immigrant, opening a business could be difficult.

“What I have noticed in Australia and particularly in Beechworth is that people are honest,” he said.

“If you are an honest person, too, people appreciate that.

“This is the only place I ever worked where I have people knocking on the door to pay for a job I have just finished.”

Diallo said that others had encouraged him to start his professional painting business.

“I had some doubts because I couldn’t speak English very well but I’m happy we did because the business is doing well,” he said.

“I consider myself very lucky to have found a town like Beechworth.

“It’s a beautiful town and my work as a painter is welcome here. The business is doing well – and it’s thanks to the people’s support and giving me a fair go.”

This post is reprinted from the ‘Ovens and Murray Advertiser’, which is supporting the oration by publishing each question of the week.