“Do not succumb to apathy: Choose hope.”

Humanitarian and social justice campaigner Tim Costello AO delivered UNSW’s annual Gandhi Oration this year. MANAN LUTHRA reports

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Now in its eighth year, the 2019 Gandhi Oration, kindly hosted by the University of New South Wales, continually reminds us that the best way to combat injustice and xenophobia is with an open mind and a big heart.

Delivering the Oration this year, Reverend Tim Costello AO told us just that. As a National Living Treasure, a man who has dedicated his life to others not only in his current position as the Chief Advocate of World Vision Australia, but also in his activism in the areas of gambling, alcohol and gun violence, Costello was an ideal speaker for the night’s event.

Pic: Jacquie Manning

Much like the subject of his oration, Costello comes from the legal industry; and his activism, like Gandhi’s, draws deeply from his faith – he is a Baptist minister.

In his address, Costello discussed a variety of topics, ranging from the success of the work done by World Vision Australia, the current state of our increasingly globalised world, and the shortcomings of Australia’s investment in foreign aid. Yet, it was his ability to link the old with the new that truly stood out. Costello observed that poverty, hunger, marginalisation, violence and war remain among the forefront of global issues – as they did in Gandhi’s time. And the solutions today, Costello said, might arise from the Gandhian values of ‘self-sacrifice over self-interest, individual obligations over individual rights, renunciation over consumption, and nonviolence over violence’.

We each have a responsibility to ensure a fair and just society, Costello reminded us. “All of us have to be a part of the solution. We all have gifts, privileges and talents to make a difference,” he said.

UNSW Vice Chancellor Prof. Ian Jacobs with Indian High Commissioner Dr A.M. Gondane at the Remembrance Ceremony prior to the Gandhi Oration

His own work in this regard is exemplary: he detailed the outcomes of projects undertaken by World Vison Australia in disaster management as well as transformational development worldwide and within Australia.

The government on the other hand, Costello noted, could be taking its responsibility much more seriously. The startling facts he shared with the audience resonated particularly strongly: “Australia’s foreign aid budget is a mere 0.22% of gross national income, a record low in both our national history and in current OECD data.”

The Netherlands, he pointed out, sets aside 0.77%.

Talking of Gandhi’s espousal of nonviolence and its relevance in contemporary times, Costello said, “I believe, whatever purposes war achieved, it has now outlived all its uses.”

In this context, he derided the current government’s “credit facility for arms exporters to get us in the top ten of the world’s arms exporters – a credit facility equal to our aid budget.”

But it was clear that it was individual agency that was crucial to Costello. He ended his speech with a rousing quote from Gandhi himself: “In a gentle way you can shake the world with the power of your beliefs, with the power of your conviction, with your devotion to the invincible truth. Love and truth… are the only things worth living for.”

To do this, Costello concluded, “We must not succumb to apathy. We must choose hope: then, anything’s possible.”

The sentiment was the crux of Costello’s address. In it, also, we find the very essence – and timelessness – of Mahatma Gandhi.