WALKING WITH THE EXCLUDED
Opposing points of view on subjects of national importance are not always debated in the most respectful way, but a significant event in Sydney on Wednesday 26 July showed that divergent standpoints on vital topics can still be discussed meaningfully and courteously by experts.
Buttressing the time-honoured Jesuit tradition of discernment, St Aloysius’ College in Sydney recently gave students and staff the chance to listen to two key spokespeople representing divergent points of view on the upcoming referendum on the Voice to Parliament.
Former politician Warren Mundine AO, a prominent No campaigner, shared the microphone with Jesuit priest Fr Frank Brennan AO, a Yes advocate, eloquently presenting both sides of the debate on the proposed constitutional amendment.
Principal Mark Tannock, quoted in the national broadsheet newspaper The Australian the next day, said: “We wanted the boys to hear different perspectives of the referendum proposal. They’ll be inheritors of the decision that’s made in the referendum.
“They’ll be the future citizens of Australia who either need to work with a constitutional Voice to Parliament, or indeed, will have to work with the fallout from the failure for that to be established.
“We made it clear to them that while they may not have agency in this decision, they will have agency in other important decisions in the future of Australia as voters.
“We don’t teach them what to think. Instead, we endeavour to give them the skills of how to think and how to think well. We ultimately think it’s up to the individual using those skills and their character and their intellectual gifts to determine what is right and what is true and what is just.”
As reporter Noah Yim wrote in his report in the newspaper’s print edition, headlined ‘Future Citizens’ challenged in Voice debate, the school was “taking a leaf from its Jesuit tradition”. The report also mentioned the principal’s belief that it was important for students – even though the vast majority would not be old enough to vote in the referendum – to develop an understanding of the conversation.
The reporter also sounded out the two key speakers after the event, and quoted Mr Mundine as saying the “curliest question” he fielded was about what will happen after the referendum. His response was, “We should be all pulling together as a nation, whatever the result is.”
Fr Brennan said his intention was to tell the students, “We don’t know what the shape of this sort of debate will be when you are adults … but because you are here to get a good education, you are in a good position to be able to assess the various arguments that you’re hearing. And we would hope that you would do better than some adults you know well in being able to give a respectful listening to all viewpoints and then make an informed decision.”
On the evening of 26 July, the college said in a Facebook post: “St Aloysius’ College was honoured to welcome two powerful speakers who took part in a Conversation on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament. This occurred via two events, with students attending an assembly during the day, and the College’s Campion Lecture being held this evening in The Great Hall, with members of the College community in attendance.
“Principal Mr Mark Tannock had this to say to both assemblies, “As a Jesuit school we don’t tell you what you should think. Instead, we believe in offering each of you young men the intellectual skills and character development which allow you to decide what is right and what is just and what is true. No, we don’t tell you what to think, we try and teach you how to think.
“Fr Frank Brennan SJ AO is a proponent of the voice. He brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to the conversation, having worked alongside indigenous communities for many years. Well-known indigenous figure and advocate for indigenous affairs, Nyunggai Warren Mundine AO, brought a powerful personal perspective to his support of the no campaign. While both men presented differing viewpoints, their high regard for one another’s work was evident as they presented to the students and community, and they clearly respected and acknowledged one another’s viewpoints.
“This mutual respect and willingness to hear another’s perspective aligns strongly with our Jesuit tradition and the College is proud to have had the opportunity to host this event.”