Hopes Are High For the End of Polio

Among its myriad of images, Lagos, Nigeria with its teaming masses, grinding poverty and ceaseless frenetic activity, one never ceases to shock: it is of the young men with twisted and wasted limbs who wheel in and out between the cars on homemade skateboards, begging and hustling for survival. They are a potent reminder of the severity of disability that polio inflicts; of its capacity to twist and paralyse limbs, to cause pain, lifelong suffering and material hardship. Hopefully they may be among the last to suffer its calamitous effects.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) was first launched in 1988. Channelling support from a number of sources, notably UNICEF, WHO, Rotary and the Gates Foundation, it made remarkable progress. By 2011 it had managed to slash the incidence of the disease by 99 per cent. But in four countries, however, three of them from the Commonwealth, (Nigeria, Pakistan and India), outbreaks were still being reported and there were real fears that their success would be short-lived.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard recognised the urgency of the problem and made polio eradication one of the central initiatives of the 2011 Perth CHOGM. She persuaded her fellow leaders to pledge over $100 million in new funds to the cause and it remains one of the Commonwealth’s central commitments. In 2017, a mere handful of cases have been reported. The GPEI believes the end is in sight but much remains to be done to ensure that the virus is completely eradicated.

In April this year, a delegation—including the Head of the GPEI Michael Sheldrick and representatives from WHO and Global Citizen—visited Canberra to lobby for funds to complete the task. At a meeting with RCS Council members delegates expressed their gratitude for the support they had received from the Commonwealth; Council members warmly encouraged them to continue to maintain and strengthen their links with the Commonwealth and its many civil society organisations.

Angela Neuhaus

Angela Neuhaus, former Hon. Treasurer of the Commonwealth Nurses & Midwives Federation, has spent many years in Africa, including Nigeria, on postings with her husband, Matthew Neuhaus, whose most recent post was as Ambassador to Zimbabwe.


Commonwealth Day Celebrated in Canberra

Members and friends of the RCS ACT Branch celebrated Commonwealth Day this year with a variety of events starting with the Multi-Faith Celebration in the spirit of the Commonwealth theme for 2017, A Commonwealth for Peace, followed by our annual Commonwealth Dinner and ending in a cricket match.

The Multi-Faith celebration at the Centre for Christianity and Culture in Barton on Commonwealth Day began with the tolling of the great bell in the Centre’s forecourt, once for each of the Commonwealth’s current 52 member countries. As guests took their places, unaccompanied singing from a Pacific Islands choir filled the hall. A procession of honoured guests and participants followed, led by Lieut. General John Sanderson, former Governor of Western Australia and Deputy Chair of the Centre. Then there were readings of three messages to mark the day, the first from HM The Queen, as Head of the Commonwealth, from the Prime Minister, the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull and from HE General the Hon. Sir Peter Cosgrove, Governor General of Australia, our RCS ACT Branch Patron.

Following an address by General Sanderson on the theme A Commonwealth for Peace following by a performance of Irish dancing, a joint statement was made on behalf of ACT Faith Communities, with parts read by Mr Dean Sahu Khan, the Venerable Tempa Bejanke, Deacon John Lim and Mrs Deepali Jain.

As the celebration drew to a close, the Woden Valley Youth Choir sang, a Punjabi Dance group performed on stage, the National Anthem was sung by the congregation, and, as guests left the chapel, Pacific Island voices were again raised in a farewell song. 

A few days later, members and friends of the RCS gathered for the annual Commonwealth Dinner at the Commonwealth Club in Yarralumla. The guest speaker was the British High Commissioner, HE Mrs Menna Rawlings, who gave a wide-ranging address on the importance of Commonwealth relationships.

A cheque for $5000 was presented to the winner of the 2017 Phyllis Montgomerie Award, Mitchell McMaster, by RCS president, Colin Milner. Mitchell, a PhD candidate at the ANU, received the award for his research into mild cognitive impairment and whether it can be halted or reversed in those affected by interventions such as diet, exercise and intellectual stimulation.

Gareth Evans Delivers Inaugural Anthony Low Lecture

An inaugural lecture in honour of the late Professor Anthony Low, former Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University and historian of the Commonwealth, was given by the University's current Chancellor and Australia's former Foreign Minister, the Hon. Gareth Evans, to a packed audience in the ANU’s Hedley Bull Lecture Theatre in October 2016.

Professor Evans’s lecture concentrated on what has become one of the Commonwealth's proudest achievements: its role in hastening the end of apartheid in South Africa, and the central part—from the beginning—played by Australia in the Whitlam and Fraser governments of the 1970s and later by the Hawke government, in which Gareth Evans served.


Principally through the use of sporting and trade sanctions— which were progressively lifted as the apartheid system ‘unwound’— as well as international pressure for change, and what Professor Evans described as ‘the ever-mounting internal tension’ combined with ‘white political leadership clearheaded enough to grasp the moment’, opportunity came in February 1989 when FW De Klerk replaced hardliner PW Botha as President. One year later, the dismantling of apartheid had begun, with the new government willing to negotiate on democratic and non-racial constitutional reforms, lift the bans on the African National Congress and importantly, release from prison, after 27 years, Nelson Mandela.


‘I am sometimes still asked,’ said Professor Evans, ‘why it was that successive Australian governments … committed so much effort to resolving a South African situation so little of our making. My short answer has always been that it lies in that instinct for good international citizenship which I continue to believe is part of our national psyche…

‘The enforcers of apartheid, proclaiming their superiority to others on the basis of race alone, were not just another unpalatable regime, but beyond the civilised pale. If we had washed our hands of the struggle against them, we would not only have failed in our humanitarian duty, but would have debased the very values which are at the core of our sense of human dignity.’

The biennial Commonwealth Lecture, sponsored by the Commonwealth Round Table in Australia of which Professor Low was Founding Convenor, will now be known as the Anthony Low Commonwealth Lecture.