Governor’s Prayer Breakfast 2011 – Keynote Address

Friday 12 August

Keynote Address by
His Excellency Mr Malcolm McCusker, AC CVO QC
Governor of Western Australia

It is both a privilege and a pleasure to welcome you to this, the 19th annual Governor’s Prayer Breakfast.

I have attended a number of these Breakfasts over the years, but this is my first attendance as the recently appointed Governor and Patron.

The number attending here today – over 1000 I understand – attests to the significance placed on this event by the WA community, and I compliment Trevor Stiles and his Committee for the splendid work that they have done, all voluntarily, to organise it.

Looking back over past years, I was struck by the frequent recurrence of references to tragedies and disasters that had taken place in the preceding 12 months.  Sadly, this year is no exception.  In the Foreword which I wrote some weeks ago, I commented on some devastating natural disasters.  In Australia, cyclones and floods on a cataclysmic scale, on the Eastern seaboard, floods in Carnarvon, bushfire in the Perth hills, all disastrous, but at the same time bringing out the best in people who rallied to help, in many different ways.

I referred also to the tragic earthquakes, fires and Tsunami in Japan.  Australians again came forward, with financial help.  I recently met Mr Ido, the Japanese Ambassador from Perth’s sister city in Japan in Hyogo.  He spoke warmly and appreciatively of the generosity which Australians had shown towards his country, in its time of turmoil and need.

The radical reformer of the 18th Century Tom Paine wrote:  The Rights of Man, said: “My country is the world.  My religion is to do good”.  That, I think was the attitude of the thousands of Australians (whatever formal religion they professed, if any) who were only too willing to “lend a hand” to the many who needed one in those troubled times, in whatever country those persons might live.

That is, of course, part of the Christian ethic.  Jesus Christ preached “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”, and “therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even to them” – or, more simply, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

It is not an ethic unique to Christianity but, I believe, one basic to our essential humanity: To help others less fortunate is a natural human impulse.  To obey that impulse benefits not only the receiver of generosity and help, but also the giver.  As Shakespeare’s Portia said, of the quality of mercy, it blesseth him that gives and him that receives.

A World Wellbeing Index was produced by a Gallop Poll not long ago.  The Poll found, as did the Australian Wellbeing Index which focused on Australians as individuals, a strong correlation between wellbeing, or happiness, and helping those in need – far more than there is between happiness and material wealth.

I am told that a growing number of corporations and businesses are beginning to realise that their employees – especially those in the bracket tagged “Gen Y” – are likely to feel more fulfilled and contented, and hence to remain with the employer, if the employer is seen to be doing more than making profits, but is also providing benefits to the needy in our community.  And, despite our comparatively affluent society, there are undoubtedly unmet needs which a just society should not ignore.

Governments cannot do it all.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with a Prayer Breakfast?  I would answer, “A great deal”.

This event is not simply an occasion for praying for our lives, or the lives of others, to improve.  It is an opportunity to reflect, and to ask ourselves whether we are doing whatever we can, to help those in need, and to consider what more we might do, whether it be voluntary work, or financial support, or both.  Can we do more, and in so doing enrich the lives of ourselves, create a better and more conscientious community, and set an example to our children and those around us.

Prayer, alone, is not enough, but if it focuses our minds and our hearts on what we ought to be doing, and is followed by action, that will prove the “power of prayer” is real, not just words.

In the West Australian newspaper this week, there was an obituary for a man called Horrie Smith, who died aged 91.  He had a strong Christian faith, and in his Church some called him the “Prayer Warrior” because of the many hours he spent praying for many others.  But he also helped them, in whatever way he could.  He put his Christian ethics and beliefs into practice.  He was what Disraeli called a “muscular Christian”.

So as we spend this time together, in prayer and companionship, let us all consider what we might do to make a difference, and then (after we leave) show that there is much more to prayer than mere words.

I referred, earlier, to the troubles and the turmoil that each year seems to bring.  At times, we may be brought close to despair, as (for example) in the case of the very recent and shocking riots in England.  I note that one of the Bible readings today to be given is from Matthew; quoting what Jesus said: “Ye have heard it said that ye shall love your neighbour and hate thine enemy; but I say unto you “Love your enemies… do good unto them that hate you and pray for them which despitefully use you”.

That is a difficult precept to follow, for the victims of such savagery, but I believe the message is that although we must protect society and punish those who threaten it, we must also ponder what the causes may be, and in our own community try to eliminate problems, such as homelessness, lack of youth activities, alcoholism, drug-taking, binge drinking by young people and soon – the myriad things which, alone or in combination, may bring about such senseless destruction.

If we unite in tackling these issues, this Prayer Breakfast will have achieved much.

This morning we will be hearing an inspiring address from James (Duke) Aiona, who with his charming wife, Vivian, my wife Tonya and I met yesterday.  Your Organising Committee has served us well in year after year persuading such inspiring people as James all the way to come to Western Australia to speak at this function.

Tonya and I, like you, look forward to hearing from him.  We hope that you will enjoy and benefit from this occasion, and that you will return next year having made a positive difference to the lives of others, and thereby to your own.