Politics and Universal Ethics South Australia Launch

Hon Stephen Wade (Liberal), Shadow Attorney General, Parliament of Western Australia

It’s a pleasure to cosponsor today’s book launch and I’m very much looking forward to what Rabbi Cowen has to say. But perhaps the most important statement is that he is here with us in Parliament today at all. There are members of this Parliament as Lisa mentioned who say that religion has no place here, that Parliamentarians should leave their faith at the door. So gathering to hear Rabbi Cowen today, we are respectfully asserting our legitimacy of faith-based values in public debate. We are affirming that our faith infuses our values and our service. We’re also affirming our respect for different views.

Rabbi Cowen’s book is based on universal ethics. His book asks us to see in the diversity of ethical expression, the unity of its voice. If we get distracted by the diversity we often miss the unity. As a practical politician I think that one of the best declarations of that unity I recall is the role of Rabbi Sacks in the Sunday trading debate in the United Kingdom.  Since 1986 the United Kingdom Shopping Act, the “Keep Sunday Special” campaign, has been campaigning to preserve Sunday as a shared day of rest. Of course the campaign is rooted in the Christian heritage of Britain. But Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth has actively supported the keep Sunday special campaign for years. Rabbi Sacks asserts that religions affirm the value of a shared day of rest.  The Sabbath of Jews lasts from Friday sundown until the appearance of 3 stars in the sky on Saturday night. And for Muslims Friday prayer and rest. The rest days appear in most religion traditions for cleansing of the mind and to make time for contemplation. In a Times article (called, ‘Has Europe Lost Its Soul to the Markets’) in December 2011, Rabbi Sacks wrote, “The Bible explains what happens when people cease to see gold as a medium of exchange  and start to see it as an object of worship, the cause of the Golden Calf. The antidote is the Sabbath. It’s one day in seven, when we neither work nor employ, shop or spend. It’s dedicated to things that have a value not a price: family, community and thanksgiving to G-d for what we have instead of worrying about what we lack. It’s no coincidence that in Britain, Sunday and financial markets were deregulated at about the same time”.

I belong to a secular political party, which affirms the dignity of each human being. For us that dignity is expressed by choice and is supported by free markets. But Rabbi Sacks and other religious leaders challenge us to be aware of where markets no longer guide the self-interests of the common good and become a god in themselves. We need faith voices in the public square. In the same article, Rabbi Sacks said “the task ahead of us is not between Jews and Catholics, or even Jews and Christians, but between Jews and Christians on the one hand and increasingly ever aggressively secularising forces  at work in Europe today on the other, challenging and even ridiculing our faith”.

Rabbi Cowen’s book highlights universal ethics, objective values as a platform for conversation.  A conversation which draws on and respects a range of religious and philosophical perspectives.  People of good will will come to different conclusions of good through that conversation, but affirming shared values and affirming the legitimacy of values, including religious values in political and policy debate, is vital for this Parliament, this State and this Nation.