Book Launch Radical Heart by Shireen Morris

Gilbert + Tobin

2018 June, 29

Book Launch Radical Heart by Shireen Morris

I learned ideas of the radical centre by observing Paul Keating. I think a proper reformer is someone who seeks a centre, but not just a lazy centre. The radical centre.

And the radical centre has a very, very convinced adherent in Shireen . It is not as many people have described it in the past; simply a third way position between left and right. That is not the radical centre in my view.

The radical centre is, in fact, the common ground between a conservative liberal and social decision. When you find the centre between those two positions, you find the radical centre. Tradition and conservatism are extremely important for every society. And a commitment to social democracy and redistribution is also really important. But the liberal engine of pursuit and creativity is a search for a better life for oneself and one's family is also indispensable to a great society.

So, in Cape York Peninsula we sought to find the radical centre. Not between left and right, but between conservatism, liberalism, and social democracy. And there is a magic when you find that centre .There is a magic that works philosophically and politically. The idea has a logic. The place has a logic that works.

Let me say that for those people that have been on this journey, particularly at close quarters in relation to this story, this is a bracing book for some. People will find that Shireen tells from her perspective a bracing story.

I want to address two people involved in this story who might feel aggrieved about this narrative. Firstly my great and old friend, Father Frank Brennan. The Jesuit lawyer and priest. I’ve known Frank for over 35 years, since Iwas a very young man. And his commitment to the Aborignal and Torres Strait Islander people for the cause of reconciliation has been long held and profound.

However, I think the mistake Frank made in this debate, and in other debates in which I have been truculent with him, he makes the mistake of thinking that reconciliation is about compromise. That indigenous people should compromise their current position in order to achieve reconciliation. That cannot be the case. For people who have lost everything, how could there be an expectation of further compromise? This is about common ground. Locating common ground. And for my taste, Frank has mistaken the search for common ground with his predilection for finding compromise. And he was mistaken in this, and I pray that in the journey that now begins afresh, that he will understand that.

The second person I want to reference in relation to the story that's told in Shireen’s book is Tim Gartrell, the leader of the Recognise campaign. This book takes the stick to Tim and the Recognise campaign. But no one would doubt Tim’s goodwill, and the anxious commitment he had towards achieving a just result for indigenous people. And of course, Tim’s extraordinary achievement with the campaign for same-sex marriage. I want to absolutely recognise that here tonight. He did a fantastic job with the same-sex marriage campaign. But that job was not good in relation to indigenous recognition. I completely concur with Shireen’s critique of Tim’s role, and the Recognise campaign’s role.

I really think we could be in a better position today had we not made those mistakes. Mistakes were made. In fact, a lot of the battles were held against those who were insisting on minimalism as the only viable outcome.

I think, as Shireen said, I have never read anything near the support and advocacy that Chris Kenny has given us on this question in the pages of the ABC or Fairfax. There has been more steadfastness from Greg Craven in relation to the indigenous voice, than I have ever heard from the progressive media.

And this is the strange thing about the radical centre, it really disorients the simple binary between left and right. And achieving the radical centre is a very difficult business. Shireen had the courage. I was on the south side of Sydney. The cons were on the north side. I always try to send someone before me into the lion's den. And Shireen is invariably the canary. But truly, Shireen’s advocacy is fearless. She is a great persuader. Her voice is like Lyndon Johnson grabbing you by the lapels. She is that good. I've seen her in action. I digress to say that Malcolm Turnbull or Bill Shorten would be well-served by Shireen joining either of those parties. I have told Shireen myself that a career in academia would be a complete waste of her talents.

She crossed the bridge to find common ground with Greg Craven and the conservatives. Greg is the most perspicacious of all of the thinkers about this. The moral question involved here. And I just want to allude to three things Greg said over the years. First, he said, “the voice is a constitutional reform idea, unlike others, that grows over time. All other ideas die a dismal death”. But the voice, in Greg’s observation, is an idea that inexorably grows over time. And that really struck me when I heard that.

The second thing that Greg said, and he said it this week in a piece in The Australian where he was reflecting on the rejection of the Uluru Statement from the Heart and The Voice. And he suggested that it might speak to an imperviousness in the Australian soul. And I thought that the matter could not be put more brilliantly than the way Greg put it there. It speaks to an imperviousness in the Australian soul.

And then finally what he said at the launch Uphold & Recognise on Tuesday was something that we all reflect on. It was that the moral mistake we make here is not for a referendum on Indigenous recognition to fail, but if we don't put the question at all. And Greg changed his thinking about this, he told us. He changed his position from one of being fearful about a failure, to saying to all of us, it is not to put this proposition to the Australian people. And this was very profound and inspiring for my purpose.

Shireen is a student of the radical centre. She is neither left nor right. She respects conservatism. She understands the engine of liberal endeavor. And she also understands the importance of a social commitment.

I want to really say thanks Damian and Bill for your steadfast support for her and our work in Cape York Peninsula. I want to say that it’s just been a huge pleasure working with Shireen over the years. I want to say that this is the end of a chapter. Shireen’s book tells a story and it brings to an end a phase in the story. A new story is now on the way. A new chapter is now on the way. And we have prospects. We have good prospects. And the committee that Senator Dodson and Julian Leeser are co-chairing has got to be given every succor by us. And given every chance to take the story forward to the next chapter.

I know that the hopes of all of us who want a new founding story for this country anxiously depend upon the federal parliament's consideration of the Joint Select Committee’s report. I really think that we have a chance here and I just want to say thank you once again to everyone for joining us here this evening.