John Pilger: 'No more looking on from the side'

John Pilger, recipient of the 2009 Sydney Peace Prize, told a packed Opera House concert hall on November 5 that the time for “looking on from the side” had to end.John Pilger, recipient of the 2009 Sydney Peace Prize, told a packed Opera House concert hall on November 5 that the time for "looking on from the side" had to end.

His wide-ranging lecture, "Breaking the Australian Silence", sharply criticised Western governments, and particularly the Australian government, for hypocrisy on war and the racist treatment of asylum seekers and Indigenous people.

Pilger rebuked the Rudd government's "Pauline Hanson solution" to the current standoff over a small number of refugees in Indonesia.

He contrasted the PM's Monthly magazine essay, which urged people to look to the parable of the Good Samaritan in their treatment of "strangers in our midst", with his more recent line: "I make absolutely no apology whatsoever for taking a hard line on illegal immigration to Australia."

Pilger described his own awakening to the injustices of the world. He described how, as a teenager growing up in Sydney, he was shocked at the poverty he saw in the suburb of La Perouse, on the north side of Botany Bay.

Australia must sign a treaty with Indigenous Australians that "guarantees universal land rights and a proper share of the resources of this country", Pilger said.

What terrifies the ruling powers most, he said, was an awakening of public conscience, as is happening across Latin America.

Aboriginal performer Kutcha Edwards' moving rendition of Sam Cooke's 1964 hit "A change is gonna come" was a fitting end to an inspiring evening.

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