Governor’s Prayer Breakfast 2002 – Keynote Address

Thursday 31 October 2002

by His Excellency Lieutenant General John Sanderson, AC
Governor of Western Australia

As always, it is a great joy to join you at the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast. It is a well established annual event – a tradition in fact, and now my third since becoming Governor some two years and two months ago. Time goes very fast when you have a very intense program to keep you busy and are enjoying yourself. As I often say to those who ask how I am enjoying being Governor in my home state, “it would be a terrible job if you didn’t like people”.

Fortunately, both Lorraine and myself do enjoy meeting people, and we find ourselves at large gatherings – often several times each day. We particularly enjoy getting out into the country as often as we can. Over the past year we have met many of those who travel from the country to attend this prayer breakfast. All of them have expressed strong support for this special event.

While the attendance grows each year, I know that this is not simply a question of popular demand. The organising committee under the Chairman, Kevin Minson and his wife Margaret do great work to get us all here, and to gain the commitment of inspirational speakers. I know they are motivated by both a strong sense of community and an awareness of the powerful link between prayer and the healing and comfort sustained by the presence of the Holy Spirit in action in our land.

People here come from many regions of our great State, all walks of life, and many Christian groups. We are a truly ecumenical gathering, drawn here by the opportunity to worship together with leaders of our community.

So let me welcome you all, and express my wish that you find the occasion both inspirational and rewarding. In this complex and dramatically changing world of ours there is certainly much that has happened since we met here last year to draw us towards God, to seek his guidance, and to ask for his blessing.

Last year I said that September the 11th was only just the beginning. That Osama Bin Laden had invoked the threat of a holy war by drawing the whole world towards Islam through an act of terrorism of such brutality that left us all horrified at man’s inhumanity to man. In my Australia Day speech this year I said that I was concerned that our strategic circumstances had changed dramatically in the first years of the 21st Century, and that the decade ahead could be very testing as a consequence. I also said that, “there seems to be a conscious effort to understate the costs and consequences of these engagements – which means that the Australian public is ill prepared to make whatever sacrifices may be necessary should the outcomes be more encompassing and enduring.”

Even though the rest of the speech was upbeat in nature, and a celebration of our nation’s many worthy achievements, the principal reason why I chose to include this cautionary vein in an Australia Day speech this year is because of my belief that 2001 provided us with much evidence that there is a need to begin a new strategic dialogue within our community. This is because national unity, our primary strategic asset, is more fragile than it once was and, in these days of great global turmoil, demands our fullest attention.

At the time I made this speech some suggested that it was too dark and ominous in nature. Although it gives me no satisfaction, I think the events of the last few weeks vindicate my concern. It is not so much the confusion and anger that directly surrounds the Bali bombing and its aftermath, but the sense of loss and fear that has been brought into clear focus by these events, and the growing awareness of our dependency on each other. We have to take this threat seriously and, in doing so we have to question our values, what we stand for, how this has come about and where we want to be at the end of it. The key questions are, what will be the source of those shared values, and how will we give expression to them?

Australia has been, and continues to be, a precious land of opportunity. Not everything has been good about our past. Much work needs to be done to reconcile our people and heal our land. Remembering that we have come from many lands to share this place with the traditional owners, the success of our great multicultural experiment is quite remarkable. We know there are those who remain afraid of it, and of course their fear would have been amplified by what they have heard and seen since the horrifying terror of Bali.

The international scene and the issues surrounding terrorism are of course, very complex. Who decides who is right and who is wrong in this environment, and do you punish whole peoples for the crimes of their criminal leadership – for that is what war does? But this complexity pervades almost every area of human endeavour from genetics to health priorities, to ageing, to education to crime and punishment. As new knowledge and new factors emerge, building up layer upon layer, the rates of change seem to be way beyond our capacity to respond, and we are immobilised as one solution after another tend to create problems elsewhere. As a result of this we see some of our people lapse into haze of materialistic hedonism.

Others of course seek to provide leadership in response to this confusion – to move people away from mind numbing fear about the future to an environment in which they are confident about their relationship with each other and with God. From my own observations of this emerging complexity in so many areas I have become convinced that knowledge is one thing, but the only responses that will work are those that come from a spiritual and a moral foundation.

One of those people who is working hard to provide this leadership is Brigadier Jim Wallace, a former colleague of mine who enjoys a well deserved reputation as a man of courage and high moral integrity. Jim is deeply respected in military circles as a strategic thinker and an operator, but he has always been a dedicated Christian, to my knowledge bearing a strong witness when in uniform, and now as an advocate for Christian values in the development and pursuit of public policy. We are very fortunate that he and his wife Poppy have been able to join us today.

We need to share a vision of what we want our country and our State to be, and we need to draw inspiration in this from the example and the messages of our Lord Jesus Christ. One of those clear messages is about the love of God and the power of prayer – and that is why we are here today – to join together with leaders in our community to pray for our land and its people.

Thank you for being here ladies and gentlemen.