March 10

Commonwealth Day, 2008



…Commonwealth Day celebrations…

Commonwealth Day was celebrated across the world on 10 March 2008. 

The celebrations in Sydney at Parliament House were organized by the NSW Commonwealth Day Council, chaired by Graham Drayton.  That morning, guests, as well as a large number of tourists and passersby, were entertained in the forecourt by the rousing strains of the pipers and a parade of all the flags of the Commonwealth, including the Commonwealth Flag (pictured). 

 Her Excellency the Governor of New South Wales, Professor Marie Bashir, with her husband Sir Nicholas Shehadie, inspected the student honour guard of Commonwealth Flag bearers, and was then piped into the main dining room, the Strangers Room, where a large assembly had gathered, including members of the consular and diplomatic corps as well as office bearers from the various Commonwealth societies. 

Well before the luncheon, a student debate was held in the Parliamentary Theatrette between teams from the Combined High Schools and the Combined Associated Schools.  Although both were excellent, the Combined High Schools won. The prize was donated and presented by the Honourable Max Willis, a former president of the Legislative Council.  The subject, that disruptive environmental protests are justified, was timely and led to a lively exchange.  I had the great honour of chairing the debate. There would not have been a more appropriate adjudicating panel- Lloyd Cameron, Professor Ian Plimer and the Hon Max Willis, with Patrick Caldwell as a very efficient timekeeper, a position which is absolutely crucial in debates.

During the following lunch, students provided the singing of the National Anthem, and a wonderful musical interlude.  

The keynote speaker was Professor Ian Plimer, Professor of Mining Geology in the University of Adelaide. He spoke on climate change in the life of the earth, an area of science in which he is an expert.  In a lively, amusing and controversial address, delivered without notes, he warned the young that science does not work through consensus. He called for students to be sceptical about current orthodoxies on climate change.


….Her Majesty’s message…

Before this, the Governor was invited to present The Queen’s message.  Before Her Excellency read the message, she mentioned that she had been greatly moved when she read it. 

 “Last year, Commonwealth Heads of Government met in Uganda on the edge of Lake Victoria and agreed to an Action Plan for tackling climate change. It was an appropriate place to do so: from there, the waters of the River Nile begin a three-month journey to the Mediterranean. 

 “The Nile, throughout history, has served humankind in many ways. But for all its impressive size and importance, this river is a fragile eco-system; and its vulnerability grows with the number of people dependant upon it, so that a single incident of pollution upstream may affect the lives of countless numbers downstream.  

"The example of the Nile illustrates many of the challenges facing the global environment as a whole which cannot alone sustain our lives as once it did. The competition for fresh water by a growing population is itself becoming a source of potential conflict. Our own attitudes to the environment, and the use we put it to, may have consequences for people on every continent and for every ocean and sea. 

" The impact of pollution falls unequally: it is often those who pollute the least – notably in the world's least-developed nations – who are closest to the razor's edge: most affected by the impact of climate change and least equipped to cope with it. 

 “And it is important to remember that the environmental choices available in some countries may not be an option for others. In some parts of the world, for example, fossil fuels can be used more sparingly and buildings can be made of more efficient, sustainable materials; but it is far harder to expect someone to adapt if he or she relies on the trees of a local forest for fuel, shelter and livelihood.

"If we recognise the interests and needs of the people who are most affected, we can work with them to bring about lasting change. Happily, this approach has always been a strength of the Commonwealth, and awareness of environmental issues is now widespread, with a determination that future generations should enjoy clean air, sufficient fresh water and energy without risking damage to the planet.

" Few are more aware or energetic in confronting climate change than young people, and we should support them. 


“In the Commonwealth, governments, businesses, communities and individuals should each strive to match words and good intentions with deeds. Every contribution has its part to play.

" Whatever we do, wherever we live, our actions in defence of the environment can have a real and positive effect upon the lives of others, today and into the future.”

The Queen’s message may be seen on The Royal Channel.


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