Continent of Australia

Charter for Compassion in Australian Parliament

CharterforCompassionParliamentBill Arnold, Bhante Sujato, Rabbi Dan Avital, Ngunnawal Elder Agnes Shea, and Australian Amassador for the Charter Danielle Lauren

by asawebmaster on June 28th, 2010

On 24th June 2010, the Australian Government became the first national government to formally adopt the Charter for Compassion. The Charter is an initiative by religious historian Karen Armstrong, which aims to place compassion back at the heart of religious and public life.

Australia’s leading politicians signed the Charter, and a plaque with the Charter’s text was accepted by Senator Ursula Stevens and a welcome to country by Ngunnawal Elder Agnes Shea. Bhante Sujato lead the group in a meditation on compassion.

The emotion of the event was palpable, and was heightened by the fact that, as the meeting was progressing, we were losing a Prime Minister in extraordinary circumstances and gaining Australia’s first female Prime Minister. The atmosphere at parliament was electric, with hundreds of visitors pouring in. We could see first hand the pain and struggle of the politicians as they kept about their civic duty under tremendous stress.

The ASA hopes that the everyday reminder of the Charter for Compassion will bring a little more kindness and gratitude into those halls of power.

Compassion Australia on Fire

Sergey Novikov Dreamstimecom
© Sergey Novikov, Dreamstime.com

Terry Ayling, Cities Coordinator for Compassionate Australia writes about the on-going devastation in Australia and in a shared conversation he had with the Charter's Religion, Spirituality and Interfaith sector:

“It’s been an unprecedented event that’s taken us all very much by surprise. And I think it’s going to profoundly change and reshape the Australian psyche, the environment, and our sense of community. It is triggering obviously a lot of wonderful outpouring of compassion, breaking people open from a sense of “me” to a sense of “we”. You know, people are doing all sorts of amazing and courageous things locally, in families that are distant from the fire events, but in communities all across the country.

And so on one level, the Australian Compassion Council, Dr. Lynne Reeder who is our Chair and myself, the Compassionate Cities lead on our team, have been working towards 21 September 2021 as a day that we would celebrate Australia as a continent of compassion. But there’s probably no other experience in our history that has opened the national psyche to such a devastating kind of event. And we’re seeing such incredible outpourings of compassion that in some ways this already is a recognition that Australia is a compassionate continent.

However, it also highlights as we are aware of the natural disaster, its impact on people, property, on wildlife, on agricultural stock, impact on business, its impact on peoples mental health and physical well-being. It’s had an enormous and long-term effect where we are just at the front end of. There’s a natural inclination to kind-of do something here and now. And of course, there are people that have very pressing and immediate need. They need protection, they need support, food, clothing and shelter and those other things.

So the outpouring of compassion locally and nationally and globally has been so great that the agencies are saying, ‘Please don’t send any things any more. We can’t cope with any more water and toiletry items and perishable food things.’ That’s a logistic problem in itself. And often we can’t get things to where they’re needed because the roads are closed and it’s not safe. So they are saying please send money to the recognized agencies, the government approved agencies, the Red Cross, the humanitarian groups, the groups that are working with wildlife, because they’re the ones that can make wise decisions about how best to invest that money. So we’re very conscious of the compassionate actions happening all across the planet. We’re very conscious of people’s prayers and support, very conscious of people’s generosity.

It’s important for us at the Australian Compassion Council to realize that this is a long-term issue. It highlighted a lot of significant issues. Certainly the issue of climate change, our treatment of the environment, the knowledge that our first people can offer in terms of land plan management, sustainable practice. And, the broader issue of how we create compassionate community that can be supportive of people in the midst of a crisis. Not only at the front of the crisis, but in the long-term as they rebuild.

We’re in that crisis space at the moment. It has been very intense. The weather conditions have changed a little bit. We’ve had some rain, cooler conditions, the wind is less. The fire-fighters are getting in control of some places. People are returning to their homes. They are starting to scope the extent of the devastation and its impact. But, this is going to be a long-term rehabilitation process. It will raise lots of issues along the way, and I think the role of the Charter for Compassion and its partners will to be as responsive as we can at the front end, but to continue our work creating compassionate community, because that can be really supportive and attentive to peoples well-being—physically, mentally, socially, spiritually for a long time to come. And, if it’s a catalyst for our global discussions around climate change and environmental management and the involvement of our first people, that would be a very helpful contribution out of a very tragic circumstance.

“I think the whole thing around tree planting and environmental management and re-generation is going to be really, really important. We have a national tree planting day here in Australia, which I think will take special significance this year. And I think that what would be helpful for the Charter for Compassion and its partners to be wise about the way that we partner the good things that are already happening, rather than arbitrarily taking action to model the fact that there are other partners locally and nationally that are doing good things. And to work out how we can partner with them and perhaps bring a fuller understanding about what compassion looks like.

Often people use the term compassion but they don’t really understand what it means. At one level, we’re seeing a great outpouring of peoples sympathy—but compassion is actually more costly than that. We know that empathy involves a feeling connection with people and compassion is that feeling connection with action. So there’s an opportunity for the Charter for Compassion locally and globally to work in and with and through this crisis in a way that can be truly transformative and educational as well.

“We talk about compassion being the response that naturally arises in response to another persons’ suffering. Sometimes what happens is that by giving money or doing things it is a compassionate act but it doesn’t actually engage us in some ways. It kind-of makes us feel good about what we’ve done but it doesn’t actually cost us anything, and so what I guess we’re trying to do is use this as an education process where we can say look, these things arise in us. And it would be possible to use that analogy, give somebody a fish. But actually, what’s going to be really helpful is to teach people how to fish.

One of the things that’s happening the Easter week here on the Gold Coast, and the city where I am on the Gold Coast has been designated a Compassionate City. And quite independently, some local people have said, ‘Well, why don’t we have a Convoy to Community?’ Basically, what’s

happening, they’re doing a road trip. They’re going to six places along the coast that have been really affected by the bushfires, businesses impacted and things like that, because it happened in the height of our tourist season. A lot of our businesses are tourist related. That’s when they earn the bulk of their money for the whole year. So that has been a disaster in terms of the business.

What this convoy of communities is going to do is visit these communities, fill up their vehicles with fuel, stay in the caravan, book accommodations, buy meals, buy food and then go to the next place and do the same thing. Businesses need to continue to operate. We’re buying gift vouchers that live in those communities so that can perhaps have some respite from the trauma and go and support a local business that’s dependent on hospitality or something like that.

We posted on the Austrian Compassion Website that compassion is like a two-winged bird. We need compassion and wisdom. So we’re seeing a natural outpouring of people’s compassion, but we need to be wise about how we express that. How we give, how we engage, and to make sure that we’re not fixing a problem in the moment when there’s deeper issues around the environment, climate change, and those sorts of things that we really need to pay attention to.

So the real gift of this broken openness could be by paying attention to those things and being wise with our compassionate action and making transformative change for the future. The tree planting concept is one very practical way we could do that because the environment has been devastated. Millions of hectares have been burnt out. Farming land and impact on agricultural industry as well as our tourist industry, prices for fruits and vegetables are all going to go up. Their availability is going to be limited, stuff like that.

“The other thing that I should mention is that if people want to give to the work of the Charter for Compassion globally, the work of the Religion, Spirituality, Interfaith Sector, or to the Australian Compassion Council in the same way that the direct services that can respond to the crisis, we can use that money wisely to develop our work here. And because this is the Religion, Spirituality, Interfaith Sector, the role of religious and faith groups is really important. And as we’ve seen in other parts of the world it has often been historically Christian and other faith groups that have responded. It has been very noticeable to us in the media this time that the Islamic community has been very much on the front. Here on the Gold Coast we had a telethon at the local Mosque which raised about $35K among multi-faith and multi-cultural community. That profiling of the compassionate, humanitarian work of the Islamic community, I think it’s going to be very, very important in terms of their acceptance and integration into the Australian community in a very real way.

“Often it’s natural disasters as we’ve seen here and in other parts of the world that break open religious communities that have become conservative. It breaks open a compassionate response in terms of how we be present to people in the hurts and hopes they’re experiencing. And, what is our unique role in that? What is the place of ritual? How do we help people through trauma? How do we help people make a sense of meaning about what’s happening, and find hope in the midst of tragedy? So, there is a part for all of us to play and compassion is our naturally arising response to that, but we need to apply wisdom in the way that we exercise that as well.”

Terry Ayling is a member of the Australian Compassion Council and a facilitator for Compassionate Gold Coast. He welcomes opportunities to broker individual and organizational connections in his local, national, and global work. Terry has a role in the March 21, 2020 launch of the Compassion Tree Project from the Charter for Compassion’s Environment Sector and the Religion, Spirituality, and Interfaith Sector in partnership with the Nan Tien Institute in New South Wales, Australia. Contact Terry at

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