Be the change you want to see in the world

As Ghandi said:

You must be the change you want to see in the world.

As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.


My thanks go to the congregation of St Matthews for the privilege of delivering this – my third Lenten lecture. Thank you Father Peter for your kind introduction delivered remotely by text. I am delighted that I am allowed to stand here unsupervised!

Think of all the advice we receive about how to change our outer world – new clothes, new makeup, new house, new relationship, new job.

And how much time we spend doing this.

Buying things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.

And how little time we spend changing ourselves.

Because the problem with changing your outer world without changing yourself is that you will still be you when you reach that change you have strived for. You will still have your flaws, anger, negativity and your grievances – usually about other people.

If you change how you think then you will change how you feel and what actions you take. If you change yourself, you can change your world.

But not all forces for change are positive. We forget in this luckiest of lucky countries about the forces of evil

The Christchurch killer wanted to change the world. In a bad way. In the minutes before the massacre, he published a rambling, racist and overtly white-supremacist online manifesto, which called for “violence” against immigrants.  He streamed his horror for a full seventeen minutes on Facebook.

One of those laid to rest was Husna Ahmed, 45, who was shot dead at Al Noor mosque while trying to usher other women out.

Her husband, Farid, said he had “no hatred” towards his wife’s killer, as Islam had taught him to be compassionate.

He is my human brother and he made a mistake and I pray for him that he will learn [from that],” Farid said.

“Forgiveness can bring hearts together, retribution doesn’t.”

Like Gandhi who said:

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong


An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind.

The New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern refuses to give the Christchurch killer the notoriety he seeks by never mentioning his name. We shouldn’t either.

Religious extremists believing in an angry, punishing God, who see themselves as the agents of this God, are sadly to be found in both the Islamic and Christian tradition,

The word that most frequently occurs in the Koran is compassion.

At the heart of Muslim belief is the principal of oneness. This oneness, has been described as that which dominates the mind in Islam, while the heart is intrinsically linked to the concept of compassion. Expressing the interconnected oneness of all human beings, reflecting the oneness and unity of God. Not so different from Christianity or Judaism.

Our own Parliament, our own people seem to have tied themselves in knots over Muslim immigration, the Muslim faith, the wearing of headscarves and so on.

I was sad when a few years ago some people in Albury protested about a mosque. As a co-convener of the Parliamentary Friends of Palestine and supporter of interfaith dialogue, I helped organise an end of Ramadan breaking of the fast in Parliament House. For the first time the call to prayer echoed through the halls of Parliament. Some people were horrified. Some still are.

On the ABC’s Qand A I said the words “Islam is a religion of peace”

My office was deluged with calls from around the country. Vile messages came in.  Commentators accused me of being willfully blind, stupid, misled etc and pointed to an extremist tirade that had issued recently from the Lakemba mosque.  As if I wouldn’t call that out for the hate speech it clearly was!

More recently Pauline Hanson went into the Senate Chamber in a burqa and pulled it off in a dramatic gesture. A stunt of course.  It reminded me of a child running into a room with a sheet over its head, shouting ‘You can’t see me!’

But then I thought of the teenage girl in Western Sydney, already struggling with her identity in a country where who you are is a question you seem to have to constantly answer.. And how this action might make her feel.  How she might feel her faith and her family being mocked in the nation’s parliament.  And how she or her brothers might be encouraged towards more radical interpretations of their faith

The little girls in headscarfs in the Arab countries where I grew up didn’t have to think all the time of their identity. They were accepted. They just were.

We have too many forms of communication. And we can shoot off an email, a text, a smart remark, in seconds. Someone asked me recently why people say such nasty things on facebook or twitter that they would never say in person.  Because if they said them in person, they would be pulled up by a responsible adult.  But there are rarely repercussions for your on line hate speech.

Be the change you want to see in the world. Actions not words.

Mariam Al Mansouri was a teenager in the UAE when she set her sights on becoming a pilot for the Armed Forces.

Born in Abu Dhabi, she graduated from high school with a 93 per cent grade average before joining UAE University for a BA in English literature. Major Al Mansouri said it was her love for the UAE and her passion for challenge and competition that drew her to the field of aviation.

But there was one little hurdle she had to wait several years to overcome – no women were allowed to join up until 2007.

She bided her time by spending several years working for General Command before becoming the first woman to join the airforce when the academy finally opened its doors to female recruits.

As for being in competition with her male counterparts, she said this was never an issue, saying she “focused on competing with herself to improve her skills”.

“Everybody is required to have the same high level of combat competence,” she said. She received no special treatment because of her gender.

Now Major Mariam Al Mansouri, she is the UAE’s first female Emirati airforce pilot. She flew an F16 in airstrikes over Syria, bombing Islamic State.

She became the change she wanted to see in the world.

But lest you think this bright shiny story has a happy ending, it is more complicated than that. Reports are that Mariam’s family disowned her.  Not for being a woman in a man’s world but because she was part of a bombing raid on her Islamic brothers.


You have heard me mention Malala before. Malala who was shot at by the Taliban because she wanted to go to school in a country where girls were not allowed to go to school.  And I don’t mean she happened to be on a bus in a firefight.  The Taliban stopped the bus and asked Who is Malala? And shot her.

She is celebrated internationally, an ambassador to the UN with her message about education: “One book, one pen, one teacher can change the world”. She is amazing!

But in her home country of Pakistan she is intensely disliked in some quarters. She has written a book I am Malala and some teachers have also written a book I am NOT Malala, such is the antipathy towards her.

Mariam and Malala are just two examples of how difficult it is to bring about change when you are going against ‘your people’.

I certainly felt this when proposing my phase out of live sheep exports, in the face of farmers facing drought and tough times who were bewildered by my actions and asked me what on earth I was doing?

This has been a week where guns have been in the news. The changes we made were often called John Howard’s gun laws but I saw them as Tim Fischer’s gun laws because it was Tim Fischer who really had to persuade his people – rural Australians – to land where the nation eventually landed – which was that the people of Port Arthur had more right to live than you or I will ever have to hold a gun.

When you know in your heart what you need to do, know that the course of action you take and the case for change you make, can and do come from a position of strength.

And I will end with a final quote from Gandhi who I think like me was ever the optimist:

You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.

Be the change you want to see in the world!