Dr Pamela Greet, Brisbane writer and social entrepreneur, recently attended our Vice-Chancellor and President’s annual panel discussion, Social cohesion or social division: where next in Australia's brave new world? She shared her thoughts with us about the discussion:
The panel was as impressive as any you might encounter on Q&A, and the moderator, Professor Hayden Ramsay, could certainly give Tony Jones a run for his money. On 25 May in the Grand Ballroom of Brisbane’s Hilton Hotel, ACU brought together an esteemed group to discuss Social cohesion or social division: Where next in Australia’s brave new world?
The panel featured the Most Reverend Mark Coleridge, Archbishop of Brisbane; Professor Greg Craven AO, GCSG, ACU Vice-Chancellor and President; Father Frank Brennan SJ AO, Chief Executive Officer, Catholic Social Services Australia; Dr Lee-Anne Perry AM, Executive Director, Qld Catholic Education Commission; and Ms Peta Credlin, strategist and policy professional, columnist and Sky News anchor. The discussion began with Professor Ramsay suggesting that the fundamental promise that our children would live in a better world than we do had been broken for the first time in history.
Archbishop Coleridge suggested that the concept of social cohesion originated and adheres in Western thinking because our society both tolerates and embraces dichotomies. We were asked to ponder how we might create new forms of social cohesion with a warning that nostalgia will not serve us well and that new forms of government and governance will need to be imagined.
Ms Credlin countered that we should defend the institutions we have in Western civilisation as much of the social good we have is due to this heritage. She staked a claim for the family in this saying that in these times of uncertainty, “the family offers a community of cohesion.” How we see the national story, that is whether we see it as positive or negative, depends largely on which lens we are looking through, said Dr Perry. Father Brennan observed that the robust confidence of the West would enable us to critically reform our vital institutions.
There were polite but robustly differing views on our refugee policy, put in response to Professor Ramsay’s question referring to Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. Professor Craven urged us to remember that Western philosophy has a huge capacity for truthful debate, a debate which has to draw a distinction between “crazy jihadists” and ordinary Muslim people. Ms Credlin said we do Australians an injustice if we think Australians cannot distinguish between these two extremes, but she warned, “We need to be able to have an honest conversation.”
On the question of bullying and its “escape from the playground”, Archbishop Coleridge remarked that bullying does not stand alone but resides on a dark spectrum spanning domestic violence and possibly sexual abuse. It demands cultural change but we need to beware of a pluralism that becomes so fragmented it is dysfunctional.
The evening’s discussion finished with observations about the social impact of Australia Day and Anzac Day. The final word here goes to Archbishop Coleridge who said Australia Day and Anzac Day are both extraordinarily unheroic. He said both observe things that went wrong. When the troops landed at Gallipoli nothing went right for them, yet we observe how their sacrifice reaches so deeply into our national psyche. Something went very wrong for the Indigenous people when the British fleet with its convict cargo arrived at Port Jackson, resulting in a deep wound in the national psyche. Wounds can heal.
Dr Pamela Greet is a Brisbane-based writer and social entrepreneur who completed postgraduate studies in leadership at ACU.