Politics and Universal Ethics Western Australia Launch

The Hon Michelle Roberts MLA (Labor), Parliament of Western Australia

It’s actually quite a rare thing in this Parliament for those of us on different sides of the house to come together for an occasion like this or even to come together and actually focus on statements on which we actually agree. Yet, I think if prodded, you find that a lot of politicians who sit on opposite sides of the chamber agree on some quite fundamental points. We agree on things such as that good government has a duty to ensure that the basic needs of people in the community are met.  We agree that good government has to be honest, open and accountable on a matter that is on public record. We agree on things like freedom of press, freedom of speech and freedom of association. We believe in universal franchise. We believe generally that the democratic process is the best way to relieve conflicts in our community and to provide governments that support a broad community consensus or at least I suppose, as Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all others”.

There is a temptation, though – in democratic context where so much is negotiable, so much is contestable –  to believe somehow that everything is negotiable and everything is contestable. This is a temptation which Rabbi Cowen’s book suggests we shouldn’t yield too. Rabbi Cowen makes it very clear that communities are founded upon a fundamental truth with which we must not meddle. Even if we disagree upon matters in terms of emphasis to a degree there are certain truths which in the words of Thomas Jefferson are self-evident. The strength of this book lies in its clear foundation in the truth but also in understand that the truth is not a sectarian one but a universal one. The values which it inserts are in fact universal, they are not for negotiation or adulteration.

I think it’s a book Rabbi that all legislators should read. I think you draw very strongly upon not just your own tradition, but upon the tradition of Western philosophy to advance a common ethical foundation to advance political life and practice. Your arguments remind us I think of the importance of political courage, of standing sometimes against the interests of one’s own political parties for what we know is right. I’m certainly glad to recommend this book today to all of my colleagues and to legislators in other parliaments, whether in Australia or elsewhere. I think it’s a very worthwhile contribution and ones that’s worth all legislators reading.