Transcript

Centre for Dialogue with Joe Camilleri


You can also listen to the interview (MP3 15MB).

Matt Smith:

Welcome to the La Trobe University podcast. I’d be your host, Matt Smith. Good morning, good afternoon and good evening; it does all depend on where you’re standing.

Joining me today is the Director of the La Trobe University Centre of Dialogue, Professor of International Relations, Joe Camilleri. Thank you for joining me Joe.

Joe Camilleri:

My pleasure.

Matt Smith:

So, the Centre of Dialogue…

Joe Camilleri:

We got going about three-and-a-half years ago, but in fact we’ve been working at it for a while prior to that. First and foremost, of course it’s a research centre so our job is to do a lot of investigating and research and writing, but we also are involved in a lot of educational and training work and some development of new policies and engaging with the community. They’re the types of things we do now.

As the Centre for Dialogue, we are primarily interested in thinking through relations across religions, cultures, civilizations, political systems, how those relationships develop, the factors that make for conflict, in some cases violence, and the factors that might make for what we would call dialogue.

The way we define dialogue is quite complex and many people when you speak to them and say to them what you understand by dialogue, they will tell you it’s just an opportunity for people to come together and have a chat or talk and of course that is not just what dialogue is about.

Dialogue is primarily about listening, secondarily about speaking. You speak that others may be able to listen. Now of course that’s just in the physical sense. But you can look at this in a much more profound way when it comes to governments, policy makers, when it comes to education what you do in the classroom and if I can just take one minute to explain.

You could be a student. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a school or university and you might be studying, it doesn’t matter what it is. Let’s say, it was China. You are studying another language. Now, you can come at it knowing your experience, your side, your religion if you have one, your country, its traditions, its customs, its language, what all the things that you used to that are part of you and you can be looking at this thing that you're supposed to be studying almost exclusively from where you’re coming from or you can try and enter into the mindset of the country, the society, the culture, the religion, the language that you’re supposed to be dealing with, and that is an extraordinary leap to be able to do that.

Matt Smith:

To see it from their perspective.

Joe Camilleri:

To see it from their perspective, to think as others would think, to feel as others would feel, to imagine the world as others would imagine the world, and of course you don’t how Chinese might imagine the world. It would take a lot of doing it. It would take a lot of listening. Now, the listening need not be physically listening to words that are spoken. It could be listening to words that are written. It could be looking at an image, a painting, listening to music. It could be a million things.

So, that’s what is meant by dialogue. The ability to empathize, to enter into the thinking, the vantage point of what we call the other whoever the other happens to be. The other of another religion, another political system, another country, another civilization, another culture, an other, some other and to be able to relate to it. On some relationship of approximate equality with one is not regarded as superior to the other.

Matt Smith:

Well, is there any need to take into account how that other person would see you or anyone else in the world who has got their own qualities?

Joe Camilleri:

Absolutely. And that of course is very difficult. What I’m saying sounds nice and may be you could recreate that in a place like a university, should be possible, but of course when you’re in a middle of conflict situations, that’s much more difficult.

So to try and get this kind of dialogue as I’ve just described it, to get it going between groups that are in strong, bitter conflict with each other, of course very difficult and to do it with those that are actually engaged in physical violent conflict against each other is unbelievably difficult and even more difficult when that conflict, violence has been going for a long time. But nevertheless, it is possible.

And let’s say our centre is interested in creating opportunities, amongst other things we do in bringing people together whose positions are diametrically opposed to each other.

Matt Smith:

So how would you go about starting to establish a dialogue like that? You need to find a common ground for the two to establish that and they’ve got to be at least willing in some ways to talk and have that conversation.

Joe Camilleri:

Yes. The first thing you do you have to consult widely. You have to become a little bit knowledgeable about the groups, who they are and of course we say, Palestinian, we say Israeli or Jewish. But of course, they’re not monolithic. They don't all think the same way, approach the issues the same way. There is diversity of positions. And that’s often something that only comes through once you develop a dialogue process.

Not all Australians think the same way about everything. So you might say something which is something we’re trying to do we are trying to establish an Australia-Malaysia dialogue and Australia-Indonesia dialogue about how we see the future of Asia. Okay? But of course the moment you start doing that, you realize not all Australians think the same way, not even all Australian experts think the same way, not all the Australian academics think the same way and similarly Indonesians.

So there’s diversity of positions and views and the dialogue helps to bring that out. We tend to think of conflict situations in which one is pitted against the other, but in practice, there is not one and the other. There are several ones and others. And the dialogue makes that murky, messy reality come alive. And it’s a very good thing to happen because then you understand that there are differences of view within your own group and somehow you’re able to live with that, but comfortably, and therefore difference between your group and another group should also be able to be lived through quite comfortably if one knows how to do it. But easy said and difficult to do. But that’s what the centre is interested in promoting, the idea and of course the practice and researching all of that.

Matt Smith:

Do you have any examples of things that Centre has achieved recently?

Joe Camilleri:

The most immediate things that we’ve done is what we’ve completed - a year long process of consultation and then actual dialogue bringing Tamils and Sri Lankan communities together over an intense period. Of course, they come out from completely different positions. With the view to seeing, one, whether they can maintain a proper conversation between them. Number one, that’s very important and to do it over long period of time. Not just one hour and it will work out.

And then to see whether there is any commonality of view about anything that they can extract from that process and whether there can be some agreement to it. We have found that there was a willingness to at least attempt to do a couple of things together which is quite extraordinary if it comes to past which we hope it will. So we are now trying to do the same thing in the case of Middle East. So that’s one thing.

Closer to home in the sense of La Trobe University. We’re trying to establish in the northern region of Melbourne bringing in five municipalities, joining municipalities including Darebin, which is where we’re situated. Whether we could establish what we call an interfaith, intercultural network for the northern region of Melbourne so we have been investigating that possibility of researching it, consultation processes, focus groups, questionnaires, and so on. And we’ve now reached the point when we are able to make a series of recommendations of what such a network and brings together roughly one-fifth of the population of Melbourne, so it's a big chunk of Melbourne. 700,000 people, but who could establish a viable lively dynamic networking bringing people from different religious and cultural backgrounds, not just to talk about their differences. In fact, not primarily to do that at all, but to see whether they can engage in socially useful projects. Projects that respond to the needs of the community whether it be within to do with environment or employment or education or health or domestic violence, whatever it is, to identify some areas where the network can become active in cooperation with existing initiatives that can be strengthened rather than weakened by this.

So that’s something very concrete, local, that the Centre for Dialogue is working on. So we go if you'd like from the very local, very close to where we are as a university geographically to literally doing things that are global, different countries nothing to do specifically with Australia in some cases.

Three of us are going to the Middle East to explore possibilities for partnerships between ourselves at La Trobe University and other institutions, university centres or institutes. So developing partnerships whether they be research or educational training partnerships is a very important part of the centre’s work, which in itself is an exercise of dialogue.

Matt Smith:

True, true it is. And Steve Bracks who recently become the chair of the Centre for Dialogue. What sort of experience would he bring to the centre?

Joe Camilleri:

Well, he was premiere for seven or so years. And during that time, one of I think his very important contributions was to give a much higher profile to issues to do with multiculturalism. He was a very strong advocate of a vibrant - the creation of a vibrant multicultural society of course especially Victoria because that’s where he had direct responsibility. And there was legislation on several fronts in relation to this plus the strengthening of government agencies working in this area including the Victorian Multicultural Commission.

So he brings a very strong commitment to that and as a matter of fact, he played an important role while premier in assisting the centre to establish itself and in assisting us to get access to government funding for particular projects.

He brings that commitment and interest and enthusiasm and we think that it will be good not just for the centre, but for La Trobe University.

Matt Smith:

With Australia’s population, have been diverse as it is multiculturally, does it provide a sort of miniature version of the world in far as you’re trying to open up dialogue within the country?

Joe Camilleri:

Well, you raised a very interesting question. If I can take a minute or two to answer it because I think it’s absolutely crucial question.

Australia is uniquely placed. There is no other country like Australia. It’s absolutely unique and the sad part is that few Australians know about it. It’s strange but few Australians are conscious of what a unique place this is. But the moment you think about for a moment, you’re struck by it. It has the world’s longest coast line.

In one sense, it’s in the middle of nowhere. There is no large concentration of people in close proximity to Australia. In that sense, it’s in the middle of nowhere. Our history meaning White Australia and we need to be conscious of this, takes us to another part of the world which is Britain and Europe, which is literally as far away from Australia as it is possible to be on the planet. It is literally 180 degrees.

So, there is attention in Australia between our history which is a long way and our geography which at one level puts us close to nothing and at another level, the closest Asia. So we have an unusual combination of history and geography plus of course if we had a little bit the original Australians, terribly important, which have a longest history of any uninterrupted history of any group anywhere in the world.

So this is an extraordinary mixture and on top of that something has happened, that there has been continuing migration to Australia connected in part to our history, lots more people coming from Britain, and as time went on different parts of Europe, and as time is going on different parts of Asia, and now the Middle East.

So our history and our geography have combined in extraordinary ways in the Australia of the last 50 or 60 years since the Second World War to create an Australia that’s unique by nature of its heritage, the aboriginal connection, the indigenous connection, the migrant communities, and then our proximity. We have a strong emotional, political cultural connection with Europe, Britain on the one hand and with the United States or North America on the other but we have a very practical strong connection now trade in many other ways with different parts of Asia.

And all of that represented inside the country. All of these communities are represented inside the country -- their religions, their customs, their languages, and so on. No country in the world has this unique situation and therefore we have a terrible responsibility -- one to make it work and to make it work, one, our to advantage and to the advantage of communities around neighbourhood and indeed to the world as a whole.

So if Australia does end up for instance becoming a member on the Security Council which we may or may not succeed in doing but our Australian Prime Minister is very keen on doing. We hope it will do it by bringing to it the insights and the perspectives of this rich multicultural mosaic that we are.

Matt Smith:

Just a fact that we are still here probably means that we’re good at dialogue on some level as well.

Joe Camilleri:

Yes, though we can do a lot better and we’ve got to make it better.

Matt Smith:

Okay, Professor Joseph Camilleri, thank you for your time today.

Joe Camilleri:

My pleasure.