Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Palestinians forgotten at Xmas, Eid and Hanukkah

A Hanukkah of light vs. a Hanukkah of darkness

From Khalid Amayreh in Occupied East Jerusalem

4 December, 2007

Hanukkah is the Jewish holiday of light that recounts the Talmudic story of the Maccabees victory over the armies of King Antiochus IV. The story symbolizes the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness.

This year, the celebration of Hanukkah coincides with a slow-motion genocide the legions of Zionism are carrying out against nearly 1.5 million helpless human beings in the Gaza Strip.

According to human rights organizations, Gazans are dying in significant numbers as Israel continues to bar them from accessing food and work. Scores of patients have also succumbed to their illnesses thanks to Israel’s refusal to allow these unfortunate people to travel abroad or reach the West Bank to seek proper medical care.

This week, the Israeli Supreme Court, a mere rubber stamp in the hands of the occupation army, authorized further cuts of fuel supplies and electricity to Gaza.

This, coupled with the sinister policy of denying Gazans access to fresh food, vaccines, and clean water, is already having a disastrous impact on innocent people whose only crime is that 23 months ago, they elected a government that Israel didn’t like.

According to the Maan News Agency, hospitals in Gaza are already facing nightmarish conditions resulting from the fuel shortage.

Muawiya Hassanin, Director of Emergency Medical Services in Gaza, was quoted as saying that the continued cut-off of fuel supplies to Gaza would cause the destruction of crucial vaccines and other essential medication supplies. The fuel Shortage is also impacting intensive care units, dialysis units, operating rooms and neonatal incubators.

In addition to the callous blockade, the Israeli occupation army murders innocent Palestinian civilians on a daily basis. And to justify or at least extenuate these crimes, the Israeli army routinely concocts excuses, pretexts and lies which are readily parroted by a generally dishonest western media that refuses to call things by their real names.

As an occupying power, Israel is morally and legally obliged under international law to meet the needs of the people of Gaza. Israel claims to have ended its occupation of the Gaza Strip. But this is a brash lie since the Israeli occupation army continues to control Gaza’s borders, land, air and sea. Even impoverished Gaza fishermen seeking to obtain food for their starving kids from the sea are routinely hounded and often killed by Israeli gunboats.

In the West Bank, the same policy of murder and oppression reigns supreme despite all the artificial aura of hope and good will Israel and the West are trying to foster, particularly in the aftermath of the American-hosted conference in Annapolis, Maryland.

On Sunday, 2 December, trigger-happy Israeli soldiers shot and killed 31-year-old Firas Qasqas near Ramallah as he was walking with his brother outside the latter’s home. The father of three female children died a few hours later at Ramallah’s government hospital. As usual in such circumstances, the Israeli army issued a terse statement, saying the army was investigating the incident.

Meanwhile, Israeli occupation troops continue, nearly every night, to storm Palestinian homes, usually in the quiet hours before dawn, terrorizing innocent men, women and children.

They beat and humiliate fathers in full view of their wives and children and vandalize property before dragging youngsters all the way to the notorious Ketziot detention camp in the Negev desert in southern Israel.

Israel already detains as many as 11,000 Palestinians, many without charge or trial. Indeed, numerous detainees have intimated to this journalist that they don’t really know why they are being incarcerated.

Furthering abusing its authority as an occupying power, Israel often keeps inmates in prison months and even years after the expiration of their respective prison terms, apparently to further torment them and break, as much as possible, their mental sanity.

And when a given prisoner is released, he is often rearrested three months later without any genuine reason, apart from the sick desire to disrupt his family life and keep him in a constant state of anxiety.

Why does Israel indulge in all these obscenities against a thoroughly tormented people whose only crime is its enduring desire to be free?

Do these sick minds really think that oppressing and humiliating helpless Palestinians give them a feeling of virility and manliness? Is manliness measured by the extent to which a solider humiliates and brutalizes another human being? If so, then the Gestapo, SS and the Wehrmacht must have been the most virile and manly of all men!!

Zionism not only has wreaked havoc and vengeance on a people that had nothing to do with the holocaust, but has also nearly completely destroyed the moral fabric of the Jewish people by morphing them from ordinary men and women with a special sensitivity to justice into jailers, oppressors, murderers, thieves, and liars.

Judaism taught thou shall not murder, but murder has always been and continues to be Zionism’s modus operandi. Judaism taught thou shall not steal, but Zionism and theft are effectively two sides of the same coin, and Israel is the greatest kleptomaniac in the history of mankind. Judaism taught thou shall not lie, but Zionism lies as often as it breathes.

Judaism says don’t mistreat foreigners who are living in your land. Treat them as you would a fellow Israelite, and love them as you love yourselves, but Zionism insists on viewing non-Jews as children of a lesser God.

In Numbers-15 (15-16), the Lord tells the children of Israel that for all time to come, the same rules are binding on you and the foreigners who live among you. You and they are alike in the Lord’s sight; therefore, the same laws and regulations apply to you and to them.

Don’t these rabbis who shout starve them, kill them, destroy them read and understand these exhortations? Or is their Hanukkah a Hanukkah of darkness?

It is sad and lamentable that the state of Israel, the illegitimate daughter of Zionism, continues to walk in the path of inequity and evil, all under the rubric of protecting Jews and safeguarding their vital interests. But in so doing, Zionism is striping Judaism and Jews of morality and justice. And a Judaism without morality and justice, is a heartless and soulless Judaism.

One ancient rabbi encapsulated Judaism in a few words. He said Do not do unto others what you wouldn’t want others to do unto you.

Now, compare this with what Israel is doing to the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Check your chocolate!!

We all love our chocolate, but are often not aware of what is entailed in getting it to us. A little thought at this time of year for the children who suffer in the process would be a great Xmas present for many little children.
For more information on the horrendous activities of chocolate farmers and the slave trade of small children, go to www.stopthetraffik.org, check the chocolate guide at http://www.stopthetraffik.org/chocolatecampaign/guide.aspx and buy only chocolate that is traffic free.
Enjoy your chocolate with a clear conscience!

Libs apologise for racist pamphlet

Seeing the Liberal Party eat humble pie with the Muslim community is something I did not think would happen in my lifetime! Barry O'Farrell has apparently visited the Lakemba mosque to apologise for the actions of his political colleagues in their "Chaser-style prank" printing defamatory pamphlets on behalf of a fictitious Muslim organisation.
They should also begin a 'sorry' campaign to:
* refugees
* asylum seekers
* Villawood detainees
* Siev X relatives
* children overboard families
* Muslim schools (who were targetted for what 'values' they were teaching)
* hijabis
* the people of Iraq
* the people of Afghanistan
... I could be here for a while!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Saudi Shame

The recent court ruling by the legal system in Saudi Arabia is a blight on the reasonable treatment of women and once again shows just how much the government and patriarchal system of Saudia Arabia is distant from the compassionate teachings of Islam and the example of the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. It is to be hoped that Muslim governments and Human Rights Organisations that exist in Muslim and non-Muslim communities will apply pressure on the Saudi government to reverse this decision. Rape and particularly gang rape is crime AGAINST a woman, and should never be seen as a crime that implicitly involves women.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Kevin 07's Throwaway Laptops

In this giveaway world where your mobile phone lasts for a few months if that and your PSP, ipod and PS2 all need to be upgraded within the year, why would a government - as Labor's Kevin Rudd proposed today - fund a computer for every student?
Where would all of these computers be housed? If they were not laptops, every school would be required to rebuild their classrooms just to accommodate them! If Labor was proposing laptops - a good proportion of students already own their own laptops! Does that mean they will now own two laptops? or will they get a refund for their former laptop? And how are they to carry textbooks and a laptop to school without getting robbed? The logistics of such a throwaway decision are incredible!
And of course the most important issue of all involves our teachers and administrators, many of whom still struggle to format a Powerpoint, have never entered information in a blog, or created a webpage. So - will the students teach the teachers first? or will the teachers pretend to instruct the students while their pupils play interactive gaming on a hidden window?
Unfortunately our two aspiring Presidents are apparently not in the Democrats business of democratic consultation or real planning before bribing the voters.
It's time to call the next government to account....

Monday, November 12, 2007

Hans Blix at Cabramatta High School

Before the students let loose a number of white doves, Hans Blix officiated at the blessing of the Peace Garden at Cabramatta High School. The rain poured down and the wind was cold - but no one's spirits were dampened.
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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Dr. Hans Blix receives Sydney Peace Prize:

On Thursday November 8th in the Great Hall of Sydney University, Hans Blix was the 10th recipient of the international Sydney Peace prize. Other recipients have included Hanan Ashrawi (possibly the most controversial peace prize winner), Desmond Tutu, Muhammad Yunus, Sir William Dean and Irene Khan amongst others. The Award was presented by Paul Keating to an enthusiastic packed audience of Sydney intelligentsia. A large contingent of Labour supporters thumped the floor when Paul Keating spoke, reflecting on past history including the Cold War, the role of the US and his own contribution to recent history.

The ceremony was chaired by Mary Kostakidis – missed by many of the audience from her former role at SBS. Emeritus Professor Stuart Rees - the driving force behind Sydney University’s Peace Foundation, spoke about the history of the Peace Prize which has developed into an internationally significant prize and is the only Australian international award for peace. Also in attendance was a former peace prize winner - Sir William Deane who is the only Australian to be awarded the prize. There appeared to be a notable absence of senior members of the Liberal and Greens party, although the Australian Democrats Dr. Arthur Chesterfield Evans and Silma Ihram were present.

It is vitally important that the initiative begun by Prof Stuart Rees is supported by our political parties. Its drive to keep the acquisition of peace on the agenda is imperative considering the threats to humanity from global movements of people due to the ongoing wars in Africa, the Middle East and the impending economic refugees that are expected from future climate change. The world is changing rapidly and conflict is an almost inevitable product of change unless there is adequate discussion and planning by our academics, community leaders and global entities directly targetted not at war - but peace.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Accept Diversity and Make It Work

Democrats Candidate Silma Ihram has called on Pat Farmer – Federal Minister for Macarthur, to meet with her in order to address his constituents concerns about the proposed Islamic school in Camden.

In her letter to Pat Farmer Silma said “In reality, Muslim schools are now part of the private school fabric of Australian society and are actively engaged in the fight against extremism and ensuring a diverse and integrated society.” In response to a perception that the area does not have a significant Muslim community and that many students may be bussed in, local residents have complained that this will result in their town changing.

Silma has expressed concern about an apparent concerted campaign where leaflets are being distributed to local residents and sms sent in order to alert them to concerns about an increase of Muslim families into the area. One speaker at Monday’s Rally of a 1000 protesting residents alleged that terrified families were moving from Bankstown “which used to be a really nice town” into country areas. Another speaker warned that the community would be hoodwinked, and that Australia should “watch out!”

This kind of hysteria is reminiscent of the pre-Cronulla riots activities where locals banded together against a perceived threat from Muslim visitors. Neither Labour nor Liberal have taken a tough enough stand on the issue of our diverse community. The Australian Democrats have long held to policies that ensure our diverse society is well integrated – and specifically geared to ensuring that the individual needs of our diverse communities are respected and met.

“We need to accept that Muslim schools are part of the answer to an integrated and diverse society, not part of the problem. They have come under scrutiny from all levels of government and bureaucracy – it’s time they were recognized for the valuable work that they are doing. If there are any real concerns about traffic or about local amenities, there are laws and regulations in place to deal with it just as for any other development proposal.” Silma has requested the local community to talk to the various representatives of the Muslim community, and to meet with her and other representatives. She has urged them not to respond to any racist or inflammatory propaganda, but to work constructively to resolve any real issues of traffic or amenity in the area.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Representing FAIR (Forum on Australian Islamic Relations) I was privileged to read a prayer at the Interfaith Remembering Burma Day. The ongoing crisis in Burma is a typical example of greedy dictatorial governments suppressing democratic rights and the ongoing oppression of a people aided and abetted by foreign powers who benefit from lucrative economic opportunities, while the rich treasures of their lands are sold to the benefit of the dictators and the loss of the people themselves. The humble patience of Burmese Buddhist monks and their strong quiet protest at recent injustices were truly inspiring, and we hope and pray for a just resolution to their ongoing crisis.
I read the Dua Qunut prayer that is said by many Muslims during the Witr prayer - the odd numbered prayer that is said after the evening prayer of Isha. This prayer highlights the authority and power of Allah, and requests He will bless what we have, and assist us with our difficulties. Islam does not condone any form of oppression, and encourages its people to stand against it and to reject those leaders who engage in it, through non-violent means initially, through challenging corrupt rulers, and ultimately to do as the Burmese monks did - to mobilise against such oppression.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Religion in the News

While all of us were still celebrating the Eid, news began to surface of a new attack on Muslims - the banning of the hijab at the airport. I was due to be interviewed on the religion report that night and asked if they could find out about it. Sky News and other news channels had been reporting on it - but fortunately, the story did not 'get legs'. Without a strong media presence there would no point in continuing the ban, considering how complicated and difficult it might be to implement. I mean, would you then legislate against hats? How about beanies? Turbans? If the problem was the covering to the neck, then what about a tie? Would that be banned too ? And what about a combination hat and tie? Surely that would land the fashionista in trouble with Border Security!

The Religion Report went well, although I fear I had a very poor start by talking about the biological difficulties women would have in being available to lead the prayer in the local mosque. The issue became sidetracked into why women had these biological differences, and whether they should be taken into account at all Fortunately, the focus shifted to the current conflict between more liberal or feminist Christians, and those who relied on a more literal interpretation of the texts such as the 'Equal but Different' group. For once, Muslims were not the subject of ridicule and intrigue, although the issue of the role of women within the broader range of leadership and decision making of the Muslim community will continue to be a topic that is increasingly challenged and debated.

On the topic of religion and its application within society, a fascinating series of films have been associated with the role of leadership under the title of 'Why Democracy?' Information about this can be found at www.whydemocracy.net - check it out and watch the films as they are shown on SBS.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Metropolis 2007

In early October 2007, the International Metropolis 2007 conference was held in Melbourne, and i was fortunate to be there. over 750 delegates discussed, questioned and listened to papers about Immigration, diversity and social cohesion. Delegates and speakers came from Europe, Canada, Britain and New Zealand, not to mention a considerable contingent of our own fine speakers from Australia. Academics, policy makers and community representatives participated in more than 60 workshops over 4 days, presenting a remarkable range of research about the movement of people across continents due to economic and political pressures, and the huge challenge that this is presenting to governments around the world.
The elephant in the room that was occasionally identified and sometimes highlighted, was as usual, the Muslim community, Islam and security. As with so many other conferences that I have attended in recent months, there continues to exist an almost total vacancy in representation from the Muslim community itself. Statements are made about the motives of the community, beliefs, actions, threats and solutions including virtually no direct engagement with the community being discussed.
For example, a speaker from Europe in the presentation on Faith and Social Cohesion, referred to the legislation taken by France and currently under consideration by Germany, on removing the oppression of Muslim women through the banning of the hijab. Firstly, from the audience I requested enlightenment on what oppression I was currently suffering from, and secondly I suggested that the choice of clothing and identification was a personal one, but that perhaps the males in the audience needed freedom from oppression as virtually all of them felt it necessary to wear a suit and tie - they seemed to have little choice in their own attire!
An aspect of the conference I found particularly troubling was the emphasis on economic grounds for the assessment of policy and consideration of matters that affect so many humans around the world. While economic management is essential to the effective running of any human situation, the welfare of humans should not be subject to it - surely economic management is there to benefit humanity, not vice versa. We have forgotten that wealth is not an end in itself, but what we as humans can create and develop as part of our contribution to the civilisation of humankind. It seems that so many of our leaders and policy makers see an over-riding concern in ensuring that wealth increases in order for us to consume ever more products regardless of their effect on our health, happiness or future.
It is vitally important that we return our focus to realistically meeting our needs, not our greed.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Post Elections and Hilali

Well, the elections are now over and unfortunately the task in reviving and envigorating the Democrats is even greater than before. Dr. Arthur Chesterfield Evans is no longer in the Upper House and there is therefore no political presence for the Democrats in the NSW Parliament. Although obtaining 10% of the votes in the booths in Auburn where myself and my close supporters stood, I was unable to dislodge Barbara Perry who is now sitting on the Front Bench to replace the disgraced Mr. Gibson.
Local issues in Auburn will continue to be a great interest to me. I have posted the picture of tree root damage which is affecting a local resident, cracking her house and reaching into her neighbour's house. The Local Council has apparently not addressed the issue, neither has Ms. Perry. I will be continuing to follow this issue as it is probably the tip of the iceberg in relation to trees, tree damage and responsible environmental care of Auburn.
At the moment our wonderful Sheikh Taj Al Hilaly is dominating the airwaves, and reactionary newsmedia once again, giving cartoonists plenty to draw, and Islamophobites plenty to froth at the mouth about. Unfortunately he should be stood down, but the community does not want to be 'told what to do' and so therefore will drag their feet in responding to his ridiculous and insensitive comments. I would LOVE to be at the forefront of responding to his comments and leading a series of positive reactionary comments to his outlandish statements, except that I am in the process of conducting research which is related to his issues and could railroad most of my interviews! (Good timing).
Still, behind the scenes there is much work to be done and there is a growing political will to make a change for the better - Insha Allah.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Courageous Tom's Zeal

Tom Zreika has written a report according to the latest Media, which has called on Muslim imams to become more involved in their local communities and for Muslims in general to 'mend their ways'. This is a very brave stand for a leader to make, but not a very diplomatic one. Tom has been at the forefront of efforts to try and stem the damage from the recent Sheikh Taj incidents, but has had limited effect, as Sheikh Taj has regularly ignored or deliberately done the complete opposite of Tom's requests.
Toufic (Tom) has an excellent understanding of the ways of the Australian people, but he is losing touch with his own it seems. When the honour and dignity of a Muslim Arab is threatened, then the only face-saving way to deal with an issue is to react aggressively. This has nothing to do with logic or sense, but is often an emotional reaction to a perceived injustice - even when wrong has been done by the Muslim himself. Younger generations are hopefully learning that emotional aggressive reactions - such as the threatening phone calls that Toufic is currently receiving - will not solve any problems and ultimately won't even make the aggressor feel any better. From my own experience, gentle recognition of the facts of the community are necessary in order to be accountable and honest. Then, negotiations and face saving leverage is generally needed in order to achieve good outcomes for the community. Public announcements damning what is obviously a problem, without practical solutions to fix the underlying causes, will almost certainly result in further alienation. In this case, Toufic (Tom) needs to find a face saving way that Sheikh Taj can be honoured for his community work, but kept from opening his mouth. Probably a few well placed minders to keep him from speaking publicly, meeting with community workers who speak Arabic and can explain the politics of how to give Islamic advice without being politically incorrect, and supporting the mass membership of Muslim University students (especially those in accounting and economics) can perhaps turn the tide for the ailing Lebanese Muslim Association.
Above all, the one thing that is needed is patience!
Good luck Tom..

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Global Day of Protest

The Democrats were a force to be reckoned with at the Global Day of Protest. Along with the Greens and the more radical Socialist Alliance, the Greens joined the Rally calling for Australian troops to be out of Iraq, and David Hicks to finally receive some justice and be brought home. I also attended, but unfortunately struggling on crutches slowed me down and I had to join the Rally after the march. Unfortunately, the Rally was poorly attended, and even more sadly, Muslims were noticably absent from the protest! The Muslim community must not give up hope that their opinions and attitudes can be reasonably presented and supported. It is vital that they continue to speak out about injustice in a reasonable and intelligent manner and never give up hope that their words are in vain. While listening to speeches, songs of protest and various other unintelligable loud sounds from the stage, I talked to a family of Australian Iraqi's and asked them about their family back home. They told me that one of their uncles had been murdered only 4 days ago in Northern Iraq. He had refused to be involved in an allegedly Al Qaeda based move to drive out or kill Shia Muslims from his area. They had beaten him badly a few weeks ago and he had refused to name them as they were known to him in his area. They came back and killed him in his home in front of his wife. Such brutality is becoming common in so many parts of the world. It is time for good people to step forward and not only condemn such behaviour, but begin to work on changing the conditions that lead to such barbarity. When men and women are brutalised, justice is denied, they are humiliated and driven from their work and their homes, such responses are to be expected. We cannot change the brutality that we see unless we stand against the injustices that occur around the globe.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Channel 9 - Democrat candidate interview

Today I was on the Channel 9 The Catch Up show. It was a lot of fun -
here is the interview
Unfortunately they edited out why I am a Demcrats candidate and why I support the Democrats. So here is the explanation:
Don Chipp set up the party to 'keep the bastards (sic) honest'. The Democrats have worked hard using their balance of power in the past to ensure that good policies are carried through and government is held accountable. The Democrats have excellent policies on health, the environment, support of the migrant community, ethical investments, reducing poverty and so on. In the Upper House, Arthur Chesterfield-Evans has valiantly continued to represent these policies against a factionalised Labor Party and a Liberal party beholden to the top end of town. Not only do I support their policies but to lose the Democrats from Parliament would be a tragedy. I hope to support the party by contributing my own ideas to their policies, and generate a return to this mainstream, comprehensive and highly ethical party.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Hypocrisy of Liberals and Labor

It is with pride that I associate myself with the Australian Democratic party - 'keeping the bastards honest'. On the one hand we have the Liberal party which is giving preferences to the Christian Democrats - the party headed by Fred Nile who wants a racist moratorium on Muslim migration, and on the other hand, we have Morris Iemma damning the Greens for their drugs policy, and then giving them preferences!
From my point of view, I am not damning the Greens - I understand their point of view, but don't agree with their solution. While legalising drugs allows it to be better regulated it runs the risk of having drugs become as casual as alcohol and equally destructive to society.

Fred Nile and Sheikh Taj

Media Release - sent out this week

Fred Nile’s call for a halt to immigration of Muslims directly contributes to the sense of isolation experienced by Muslim communities, Silma Ihram, Australia Democrats candidate for Auburn said today.

“It is a flagrant attempt to stir up the Muslim community and attract the One Nation vote. Such a call is designed to appeal to the worst elements of our society by appealing to the racist and bigoted members of the community. The divisiveness of singling out the adherents of one religion as being unsuitable for migration is even more extreme than the White Australia Policy.” She said.

Ms Ihram was responding to calls by Fred Nile made on Sunday calling for a moratorium on Muslim immigration and included in leaflets distributed by the Christian Democratic Party.

“Fred Nile alleges that Muslims reject Aussie values of tolerance, compassion and care. Yet these are the same values that Rev Nile himself refuses to demonstrate towards the Muslim community,” she said. “Sheikh Taj’s call for a Muslim party is likely to be almost as divisive. The spectacle of Rev Nile and Sheik Taj engaging in religious politicking within Parliament would be the average Australian’s nightmare.”

Ms Ihram pointed out that there are many instances of prominent Christians, Muslims and Jews who are willing to discuss their similarities, their differences and the way forward to a harmonious society. The Affinity event titled “Isolation or Integration” held in Parramatta last night, was just another example of practical, progressive activities which help to break down the barriers between us.

The Rev. Fred Nile was noticeably absent. Fred Nile’s call for banning Muslim migration can only lead to more angst and frustration for the tens of thousands of hard working, ethical Muslim migrants who are contributing substantially to Australia’s economy and lifestyle.

“Some good Christian values that are consistently demonstrated by other leaders of the church should be brought into Parliament by Rev Nile’s party, and Muslims should demonstrate their commitment to Australia by joining mainstream parties and working for the whole community not a narrow representative body such as a Muslim political party,” Ms Ihram said.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Courageous Tom Zreika

Tom Zrieka – President of the LMA – has shown enormous courage by instituting a ban on certain Muslim clerics talking to the media. He is to be congratulated for taking this stand which will surely have a negative reaction amongst many of the various clerics' supporters. It is to be seen whether any of them will show him the respect that is due, and for their own sake, keep out of the media.

Childcare Scandals

The Australian on Thursday reported the appalling and overwhelming number of childcare protection instances that have been reported to the various State departments charged with handling the welfare of children. Unfortunately this is a ‘too little, too late’ solution to the huge crisis affecting child welfare in this country.

Leadership begins at the top, and while John Howard and his team require espouse their well publicized ‘9 Australian Values’ they do little to demonstrate it or actively follow it. Their hardline policies which support the big end of town, and religious pursuit of wealth and economic progress, will inevitably result in suffering for those who do not succeed.

Long term solutions where real ‘ care and compassion’ are exercised at all levels of government, with genuine support for the underprivileged and suffering will make a huge difference to the stress on struggling Australian families, and almost certainly reduce the number of children casualties. More funding for mental health programs in schools, reduction in the amount of gambling and alcohol related facilities will also assist. While the Liberal government along with their State counterparts reap a huge reward from the vast gambling industry in Australia, the amount of stress brought into families from gambling, along with the abuse of alcohol, contributes significantly to deteriorating family situations. When this is combined with a lack of support for mental illness, crumbling social structures which are needed to support families in crisis, is it any wonder that hundreds of thousands of families release their stress on the most vulnerable in this society – their own children.

A complete change of attitude is needed to begin reversing this horrendous situation before Australia reaps a reward of damaged children developing into angry, unhappy adults.

Homeless Children

The recent report on homeless children and families by Brian Burdekin is an appalling blight on the Howard government’s reckless pursuit of material and economic wealth without any real consideration for the poor. Caring for the less fortunate in a society is a mark of the real progress of any nation, its ethics and values. While John Howard continues to call on schools (with a particular spotlight on Muslim schools) to teach about ‘Australian values’ he does little to practice or role model such values himself. He demonstrates little responsibility for the mentally ill, the disabled or infirm, or the poor. He requires that schools teach the value of a ‘Fair Go’ while his government enacts policies which essentially prohibit a fair go for the thousands of struggling Australians, and demonstrates the exact opposite of ‘Care and Compassion’ in his treatment of the refugees, asylum seekers, the homeless, the mentally ill, and carers of the disabled.

Shame on you, Mr. Howard.

Be Inspired!

Be Inspired!

On Thursday I was delighted to be invited to present a short speech to the Methodist Ladies College in Melbourne for International Women’s Day at a dinner function. MLC has long been a school that I admired for its leading educational initatives, particularly in relation to Information Technology. It was one of the first laptop schools in Australia, has taught the International Baccalaureate for many years and is extremely active in community work, charity, fund-raising and mentoring of many different groups in other parts of the world, as well as the less fortunate in rural areas of Australia.

The topic was “Making A Difference”. The first speaker – Victoria Tauli-Corpuz is a community activist who has made incredible progress against the odds in fighting for the rights of her native Philippine people. Amongst other positions she is a member of the International Advisory Council of the Third World Network, and chairperson for the UN permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The next speaker, Dawn Robertson who was until recently, CEO of Myer, spoke about her determination and progression through the ranks of various companies and what she has managed to achieve in attracting customers and turning businesses around. There is still a problem for women in achieving equality in pay and conditions for capable professional women. Her example was certainly inspiring and will almost certainly ensure that many other young women follow in her determined footsteps.

My own efforts seem much less significant in comparison. As there were so many talented young girls in the audience I spoke about my own background and the factors – including unhappy childhood experiences and depression – which could have derailed my own progress. I emphasized the importance of having good support networks, faith in yourself, and learning to love yourself before you can adequately give to others. Women make a difference in so many ways, but most importantly through the love, care and inspiration that they provide to their own children. Having six children of my own, 4 of whom have now married and are now successfully pursuing their careers after University education, I rate my other initiatives as secondary to the importance of assisting with their development.

The best part of the night for me was sitting next to Marcia Hines. In the panel discussions she talked about her own difficulties struggling with the cold in winter and her asthma affliction. The time alone at home from school during the long, cold, winter months, gave her determination at the early age of 4 to be a singer. A very sensitive and warm person, I managed to score an autograph for my son before the night ended!

Many struggling parents whose children are educated in public schools would probably resent schools such as MLC. Certainly the divide between rich and poor, public and private schools is widening daily. The very talented and impressive Principal – Rosa Storelli – shared with me briefly my concerns about the difficulty in working with public schools, sharing knowledge and mentoring.

Public schools cannot compete or adequately develop in the current environment of under-funding. I continue to be appalled at the amount of money that is poured into wealthy private schools, without the consequent support given to the vast majority of students who attend public schools. Although a private school Principal myself, our fees, legal struggles and problems with Council effectively deprived us of the opportunity to develop as most other private schools have. In fact, Noor Al Houda as it was, certainly had less facilities and support than any other city public school. However, teachers and administrators should be able to work as colleagues whether they are in a public or a private school. It is my intention to work for substantially increased funding for public schools, and far greater co-operation between public and private schools in knowledge, administration techniques and overall professional support.

Many thanks to MLC for a wonderful night and congratulations on the beautiful students that I saw there.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Encourage Reading First Carmel Tebbut

Morris Iemma’s initiative to introduce testing into Kindergarten discredits the very capable work already being done by Kindergarten teachers. Particularly in NSW the teaching profession has long been aware of the importance of progress in the first years. Extra funding for Reading Recovery teachers is a very expensive but certainly worthwhile program.

The biggest drawback to early development of children’s literature from my own experience, is the lack of interest in literacy due to the family situation. Families – especially those of hard-working and financially struggling or recent migrant groups, need ongoing support to assist them with improving the literacy and numeracy of their children. Parenting programs, videos, literature and free short-term childcare which demonstrate the importance of reading to children with substantial quantities of good children’s literature, may help to stimulate those critical years when young children’s brains develop. Of course whatever is done should not be decided upon just before elections, with little accountability, planning or discussion with those child-care providers and kindergarten teachers who are truly the experts.

My own children have been excellent readers, as I read to them from before they could talk or walk. The ongoing discussions about pictures, storylines and concepts encouraged language development. One of the first items that I am organizing prior to the birth of my first grandchild, is a selection of well-used favourite books in preparation for long hours of comfortable story telling in my lap.

Clean Up Australia in Auburn

On Sunday I was fortunate enough to be an attendant at the Clean Up Australia in the area. There I met with Ghassan Al Assadi who told me that he has organized the local Clean Up for more than 12 years.
With a free barbeque and lots of children running around, such excellent work demonstrates the importance of volunteers and a good community attitude. Well done Ghassan and your fellow
The Auburn Lidcombe area has one of the highest rates of multicultural communities in Australia. Many of our residents are still working exceptionally hard to establish themselves. Migrant Resources provide for the Turkish, Chinese, Asian and Arabic communities, although there is a growing population of Afghans and Somalis.
It is essential that this vast array of communities are supported not only through the voluntary efforts of community members but through strong government funding and adequate facilities.
The attached picture shows Ghassan Al Assadi with his team of volunteers on the weekend.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Education Makes A Difference

Adele Horin in today’s Herald discusses student success and failure concentrating on the ‘haves and have nots’. She misses the point. Despite poverty or wealth, students who are not given support at an early age, and inspired and mentored on the way through their education are unlikely to succeed. The nuturing of the next education is NOT a simple matter of postcodes or money in schools. Rather it is recognizing the needs of the child at the appropriate time.

Certainly families from low socio-economic backgrounds have more distractions and sometimes less ability in meeting the needs of their children. Adequate access to good facilities whether at home or at school also assists the development of our children. But it is the organizational care that ultimately delivers good results. Two parts – well structured organization, and compassionate care.

Currently I am in an unusual position of observing the rapid change of the school I pioneered 13 years ago. During most of those 13 years the school had very little money and struggled to provide even basic facilities for its students – but it had a lot of compassionate care and a strong vision. Students responded to this environment in a variety of ways. Many students felt that it was a second home. Troubled students who did not respond well to the discipline of public or private schools found solace in the individualized care that was generally on offer to the students in my school. Our students succeeded and despite their low socio-economic status, nearly every students gained entrance into tertiary studies.

One important ingredient was lacking however. A strong structural organization. This was due to many factors – particularly a lack of money and a consequent shortage of staff as well as the long fight by the administration for the school’s survival which took valuable time away from establishing a strong structure - vitally important areas.

Our school was rescued by a stronger, wealthier and more established structure from Melbourne. Daily I watch as their very tight structure is imposed on our more generous, less tightly controlled one. Layers of responsibility are instituted with strict accountability measures, and each section of the organization is monitored and given feedback. Students who miss even one class, are in the wrong place at the right time, and are struggling with any of their assessments are notified, monitored and given support. Well structured organization. Add to that the compassionate care that our staff have always given to the students - and academic success, high self esteem and long term benefit to the community are well on their way.

Also printed today in the SMH was an article about an achieving Aboriginal student Craig Ashby “A Getting of Wisdom” who chronicles how he struggled despite his academic talents, to read and write until he was fortunate enough to attend a wealthy private school. It was not the wealthy facilities that assisted him though - it was the constant monitoring, encouragement and support. A perfect demonstration of my point. Craig learnt to read because he was attended to, give the support, time and management by a caring community which helped him to overcome almost a decade of neglect.

Julie Bishop, John Howard and Kevin Rudd can talk about nationalizing the curriculum, but it will not really address the problem that the Craig Ashby’s face in the classroom. Their problems will not be addressed until schools are given the support they need to have well structured and accountable organizations along with compassionate care. And yes, of course this will cost money to provide the resources that allow teachers to stress less, care more and provide a better range of support.

Time to cough up – whoever makes it into government!
To Be a Democrat
As a community activist and educator I have long considered the importance of politics. A a mentor to many young people I have tried to encourage talented and capable community members to enter politics. Politics unfortunately has a very low reputation - more the realm of those who have not succeeded in other professions, avoid the really critical questions put to them, and serve selected members of the community.
Having completed many years serving the community as an educational pioneer, perhaps it is time to see if it is possible to be a genuine servant of the community in the political arena and not succumb to its reputation for ego and self-aggrandisement.
The range of political options though is not encouraging. Of the two major parties Labour appears to be rift with factions and the Liberals treat Australian citizens like garbage (David Hicks). The two remaining substantial parties are the Greens - with excellent environmental credentials and the Democrats. Now I am a thinking person and like an intellectual challenge. I also remember Don Chipps founding statement that he established the Australian Democrat Party "to keep the bastards honest".
Well, here goes - please keep honestly critical and as a candidate for Auburn, Sydney, I will try and listen and do my best. My focus will be on the family, education, youth, health, welfare, the disadvantaged, and of course, the Muslim community.
Let's see what it is like to join the democratic system as a Democrat! (keep you posted!)