Report for The Australian Friend on Recent Activities 

Since YM 2014 the committee has continued its efforts to keep Friends informed of current international and domestic peace concerns, and to represent Friends’ views in the public domain. A separate article has been prepared on the initiative for projects to be funded for this year in different parts of Australia. Submissions have been made as follows:

  • To the newly-appointed Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson urging attention be given to the threats to freedom of speech from the large array of anti-terrorism legislation still on the statute books in Australia. This submission led to a meeting with Tim Wilson in Canberra to discuss this and other concerns (e.g. racial vilification) and to respond to his questions about Quakerism.
  • To the Federal Attorney-General on proposed changes to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. The submission emphasised the importance of the existing legislation in protecting the rights of minorities affected by racial vilification.
  • To the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee in support of the Greens Bill that seeks to remove from all free trade agreements the right of foreign companies to sue governments for any deleterious impact of decisions on the profitability of those companies.

In relation to the asylum seekers/refugees concern, the committee issued an Action Alert in February to keep Friends informed and to encourage further action. QPLC is supporting moves by Australia 21 to convene a national Round Table in July in Parliament House to involve MPs, Senators, scholars and other experts, and possibly some journalists, to work on alternative and more humane approaches to such issues as mandatory detention, the refugees/humanitarian quota, and co-operation with neighbouring countries to achieve a more effective response to the flow of people from dangerous situations.

The committee drafted a letter for the Presiding Clerk to send to the Foreign Minister seeking responses to two concerns – (a) the abuse of Palestinian children in and around Israeli settlements (as reported on Four Corners), and (b) the refusal of visas for members of Christian Peacemakers Teams seeking to enter Palestine. In this context, the committee has become aware of the NCCA group that supports the World Council of Churches accompaniment program in Palestine and Israel, and will keep Friends informed of opportunities to serve in the region.

A detailed Discussion Paper on Indonesia-Australian relations was circulated to assist Friends in understanding the background to some of the current difficulties in the region. The Vision document prepared in 2013 (now available on the Quaker website) foreshadowed a series of Discussion Papers on topics arising from the document.

The challenge of offering a peace-oriented narrative during the Anzac centenary year has led the committee to decide to hold a series of public meetings during 2015 under the heading Anzac Conversations: Lessons Learned. The aim is to raise awareness and promote reflection on the lessons to be learned from 1915, and to enable sharing of the perspectives of combatants, non-combatants, historians, and educators. There may be some funding available under the Government grants scheme for the anniversary.

The committee has considered other ways in which the centenary might be marked by Friends, and will meet with historian Peter Stanley in June to discuss the role of the Honest History project and the public debate about the centenary. Notes from the Share and Tell session held at YM 2014 have been circulated to stimulate further ideas. The book Remembrance Today by Ted Harrison may be a useful reference, as it gives details about how remembrance ceremonies in Britain have been modified to be more focused on the pain and impact of war.

The committee has continued its concern for peace in Sri Lanka. In March it held another Dialogue meeting at the Canberra Meeting House, with the emphasis on the sharing of stories about Sri Lanka, especially by those who have visited recently. It is intended that several meetings will be held each year to provide an ongoing forum for enhancing reconciliation and healing in Sri Lanka. A Watching Brief has been circulated to Friends summarising the developments in recent years and how Quakers are supporting peace and justice there.

QPLC welcomes feedback from Friends, and information about what is being done to further the peace testimony.

Harold Wilkinson

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