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'Abuse of language' corrupting public debates: former diplomat

By Suganthi Singarayar
6 December 2004

John Menadue
John Menadue

Language in Australia has become debased and has helped to corrupt public debate about much of Australian life, John Menadue said at the launch of Uniya's latest publication, A Fair Go in an Age of Terror.

Language in Australia has become debased and has helped to corrupt public debate about much of Australian life. This is the view of John Menadue AO, former head of Prime Minister and Cabinet, under both Whitlam and Fraser, former Australian Ambassador to Japan, former General Manager of News Limited and Chair of the online journal newmatilda.com, speaking at the launch of A Fair Go in an Age of Terror, a compilation of Uniya’s Jesuit Lenten Seminars in 2003 and 2004.

Menadue argues that words have been used to lie to the Australian public, to change the way people view issues, to promote fear in the community and to subjugate people within a debate. Words like border protection, terrorist, liberation, fundamentalism. He argues that Australia has never and he repeats, never, had a problem with border protection especially in comparison to other countries. Instead, the term border protection has become a code word to promote fear within the Australian community. He said that more unauthorised arrivals will arrive through Kingsford Smith Airport in Sydney this year than would ever come by sea.

He points out that the "liberation" of the Iraqi city of Falluja was no such thing. Instead the "liberation" oversaw the destruction of a city with its 300,000 residents being driven out. His response was: "God save us if that is liberation."

"I think that we need as a community to be more careful about the way language is being used, because something quite serious is happening when language can be so abused like this and it debases the whole public discourse."

Commenting on the title of the book A Fair Go in an Age of Terror, Menadue said that the threat of terrorism has been used to deny us our civil liberties. Two Australian citizens current held at Guantanamo Bay, David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib, are classic examples of the denial of a "fair go", he said. However, in his view, and traditionally, a fair go has been meant for outsiders: aliens; foreigners; refugees; people that are different. He said that in the Judaeo-Christian tradition there is no more powerful message than that the alien shall not be oppressed, shall not be dispossessed.

He said that the concept of caring for the alien is mentioned more than any other social matter in the Old Testament. Compassion and concern for the alien is mentioned 36 times in the Old Testament and here he relies for the detail on a Jewish friend of his. It is asserted more strongly than any other Jewish law, whether it be the Sabbath, dietary laws, or attending the tabernacle of the temple. He said that caring for the alien, the person that is different, the outsider, is a core social part of what we believe as Christians.

The Jesuit Lenten Seminars began in 1999 and concentrate on issues of social justice. Matters to do with social conscience, morality and public policy are discussed. The 2003 seminars entitled "Muslims and Christians… Where do we all Stand?" incorporated Christian and Muslim speakers. This year’s theme was "A Fair Go in an Age of Terror" and looked at countering the terrorist threat to human rights and the Australian identity.

Next year’s Uniya Jesuit Lenten Seminars are entitled "Honesty Matters – the Ethics of Daily Life", highly topical, as the director of Uniya, Sister Patty Fawkner points out given the daily spin and evasion that we have been bombarded with from HIH, "Children Overboard", the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and James Hardie, to name only a very few. The speakers will include Julian Burnside QC, Productivity Commissioner, Robert Fitzgerald AM and journalist Morag Fraser AM.

Lent will be early next year, Ash Wednesday falls on February 9, so anyone interested in finding out more about the 2005 Uniya Jesuit Lenten Seminars can contact Uniya by visiting www.uniya.org or calling (02) 9356 3888.

Anyone interested in purchasing a copy of A Fair Go in an Age of Terror (ISBN 1 86355 107 7, RRP $18.95 incl GST), can also contact Uniya.


Please contact Uniya for permission to republish this report in full or in part. The author is Suganthi Singarayar, journalist and volunteer at Uniya.

A Fair Go in an Age of TerrorA Fair Go in an Age of Terror
Papers from the Lenten Seminars, Muslims and Christians - Where do we all stand?, and A Fair Go in an Age of Terror.
 Read book excerpt
 Download brochure/order form pdf
Publisher's media release pdf

Honesty MattersJesuit Lenten Seminars 2005 - Speakers and National schedule


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