So on my day off I went to a Human Rights Education conference at Melbourne Uni. Partly because I was interested to hear what people said, partly because I was stupid enough to volunteer to present a workshop, on engaging students in human rights. Daft, daft… fortunately I was only giving a 20 minute spot, and doubly fortunately I was presenting in the same 45 section as my Dip Ed history tutor, which was brilliant because he’s a top bloke and very encouraging.
Anyway, the day started off with two keynote speakers. They were in the Charles Pearson Theatre, which made me have serious flashbacks to first-year Classics lectures in that same place – I think I sat in about the same spot as back then – but it’s so small! Much smaller than I remembered, Anyway, the first speaker was Malcolm Fraser, whom I knew would be interesting after hearing him last year (and I got a text from my mother that evening to say she thought she’d seen me on the news, because for some reason Fraser speaking in Melbourne made the news in Adelaide…). He pretty much spoke on the same stuff as the lecture last year – went on a lot about David Hicks and the new anti-terror laws. Made the interesting point that when Pauline Hanson said we should turn the boats around in the 90s, she got howled down; when Howard actually did it, he got re-elected…. There were a couple of cringe moments, as he made comments talking about Australians where he clearly meant white people; I guess it’s pretty hard to completely change your mentality.
The second speaker was John von Doussa QC – Chancellor of Adelaide Uni, judge in the Supreme Court, and President of HREOC. He mostly spoke about HREOC’s work, which was fairly interesting. He was very careful to talk about “paid work”, when discussing the issue of family and work, but I was a bit uncomfortable with him referring to the burden of family responsibilities. Not a very nice way to describe your kids or elderly parents.
This whole thing once more made me think about the issue of whether our (Australian) conception of human rights is a peculiarly Western, maybe Christian (-influenced), idea. How can they be reconciled with other cultures and different ways of thinking about people? Someone asked a question about this later in the day, but it wasn’t answered universally, just for Australia – like if you want to live here, you can’t practise female genital mutilation (was the example used). But the speaker steered clear of whether it should be allowed even in the Horn of Africa… and I have absolutely no answers either,
The first session I went to was about the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. It was fairly interesting. Except for the one bloke who insisted on hijacking the discussion a number of times, dragging it off in unrelated and uninteresting (to teachers, the majority of the audience) directions. Anyway..
I wagged the second session, after morning tea (which was disappointing, but then I think they were on a tight budget). After all, it was my day off…
The third session was thinking about how the different stances of Charity, Human Rights, and Privilege can change our way of looking at the world. The difficult part was that when the speaker wanted us to think from the Privilege point of view, she actually wanted us to think from the non-privileged point of view, which was a bit difficult for well-educated mostly white folks – and also difficult because it wasn’t entirely clear how she wanted us to do it. She also said something I think I disagree with: that it is impossible simultaneously to combat injustice and hang on to privilege. I think that by ‘hanging on to privilege’ she means keep thinking that you deserve to be better than everyone else, but I think I still disagree. Has Bill Gates negated his privileged position by donating an enormous amount of money to combatting disease?
The there was lunch, which was heaps better than morning tea. Then there was the fourth session, which was mine, and I think it went OK,
The afternoon finished with Barry Jones, Julian Burnside, and Garry Foley (whom I heard at the HTAV conference last year, I think it was). I missed the first 15 minutes because I was catching up with John, my old tutor. The three of them were pretty interesting, though – it was definitely a good finale to the conference.