Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Irene Khan Book Launch 16th November

On the 16th of November I found myself wandering around the roped off sections of the Art Gallery of NSW in preparation for Irene Khan’s book launch of the Unheard Truth. I was just one of around a dozen volunteers who checked off RSVPs, directed people around the gallery, explained Amnesty International Australia’s campaigns and asked people to take part in actions in line with our Demand Dignity campaign.

The theatre began to fill and there was an electric buzz throughout the gallery as we anticipated Irene’s arrival. We volunteers were a little worried that Irene’s plane would be delayed and we would be forced to entertain the masses with some form of interpretive dancing routine. However, thankfully everything progressed with no hiccups. Nicole Bieske, the National President Amnesty International Australia opened the event and introduced Irene and journalist, Tony Maniety. I really loved how the book launch was organised – Tony and Irene basically had a chat about her book and her recent visit to the centre of Australia.

It was pretty informal and hence a lot easier to listen to and engage with. Professor Stuart Rees, Director of Sydney Peace Foundation (with a possible future future in comedy) also spoke on the book, Irene’s work and her “optimistic” hair do. I’m not sure whether her hairstyle is optimistic but Irene herself undoubtedly is. It is not impossible, it is not out of our grasp; poverty can be overcome!

What really shook me was when Irene said that she witnessed in Australia one of the starkest differences between rich and poor people. On her three hour flight from Brisbane to the centre of Australia, to the ironically named Indigenous community of Utopia, Irene said she felt as if she had travelled from the first world into the third world.

"For a country which, by human development standards, is the third most developed in the world and one which has emerged from the global financial crisis comparatively unscathed, such a level of poverty is inexcusable, unexpected and unacceptable."

Australia is named the lucky country. And it is true, the majority of the people who live here are very lucky. However there is another group; often forgotten, excluded, voiceless and powerless who do not enjoy the same luxuries as we do. In her book, Irene Khan emphasises that more money will not fix the problem of poverty, what is necessary is empowerment of disadvantaged people. “Unless and until we address the human rights abuses that impoverish people and keep them poor, we will fail to eradicate poverty.” This link between poverty and human rights connected with me and with the audience of over 300. Following the event, one third of the people bought Irene’s book which I hope has inspired and empowered them to take action on behalf of disadvantaged people. If you haven’t bought a copy already, it is available for purchase on our online shop for $29.95

To take action on the devastating Unheard Truth in the heart of Australia please visit

"Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. And overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life." Nelson Mandela

Amanda Atlee

NSW Community Campaigns Intern

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