The Malta Independent 15 April 2021, Thursday

If you dislike change, you’re going to dislike irrelevance even more

Owen Bonnici Friday, 5 March 2021, 07:33 Last update: about 2 months ago

It is common knowledge that the 40th President of the United States of America (and one of my most favourite politicians of all time) Ronald Reagan,had a passion of creating and constructing punchy quotes to be then used in his speeches.  He had a collection of 4x6 note cards personally written by him and it was not for nothing that history refers to him as “the Great Communicator”.

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Upon leaving office at the end of the eighties, President Reagan made it clear that he wanted to be remembered for more than being a superb master in communicating the message.  “I wasn’t a great communicator,” he had said, “but I communicated great things”. Things, he had said, which were gathered from ““our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in principles that have guided us for two centuries.”

Reagan originally took the political world by storm with his 1964 speech“A time for choosing” which is indeed a masterpiece and although he did not save Goldwater from losing big time against LBJ many consider that speech as being the speech.  For instance, what impresses me is the choice of words used in what I believe is a crucial piece of advice against the rise of“administrative Governments”and arguably – for want of use of a term very much in common contemporary parlance - “technocracy”:

 “This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government, or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.”

Reagan’s time for choosing is considered to be one of the greatest speeches ever delivered in the US, along with Abraham Lincoln’s Cooper Union Address, William Jennings Bryan’s Cross of Gold and Barack Obama’s keynote address to the 2004 Democratic convention.

But back to 2021.

Communication has changed drastically, as have the means of communication.  Whatsapp has proven itself to be an extraordinary invention which has drastically changed the way we relay messages to one another.  Like many other people, each morning I get inundated with all sorts of messages, quotes and all sort of links to this and that website. I have realized that I am spending the good time of my breakfast time answering messages that would have been delivered to me in the previous hours.

So it happened that on a particular morning last week a friend of mine, much wiser than me, sent me, on whatsapp, a picture of a quote attributed to Eric Shinseki who said as follows:

If you dislike change, you’re going to dislike irrelevance even more.

This quote set me thinking.  It is indeed a beautiful string of words which harnesses a fantastic message.

It so reminded me of Ronald Reagan and I am sure that, had he be still around, he would have used it in one of his speeches had he known about it.  Indeed, it brings to the fore the essence of progressive thinking: that change is crucial.  But it is not only that.  It begs the absolute need to communicate change through great actions, great things.

This week we debated a piece of legislation which will change for the better another piece of legislation which brought about marked progress in our country.   Let me explain.

In 11 days time, it would have been exactly ten years since the Labour Opposition at the time successfully pushed forward a motion on the divorce referendum question with two Government MPs at the time, Dr Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando and Mr Jesmond Mugliett voting in favour of the motion.

The referendum was subsequently held on the 28th May 2011 and 73% of the voting population cast their vote.  As we all know the YES vote won the day with a difference of 14,576 votes.  The present Leader of the Opposition Dr Bernard Grech actively campaigned against the introduction of divorce.

At the time I had actively spoken in favour of the introduction of the right to divorce and gave a lot of energy to the mission.  As a sitting MP, then, I played an active and major part in the drafting of the law itself which was voted upon on the 25th July, 2011 and entered into force on the 1st of October of that same year.  It was a pleasant experience indeed and I believe that the introduction of divorce greatly changed  Malta as we knew it for the better.

At the time, I greatly admired the professionality shown by then Attorney General Dr Peter Grech who showed his trademark diligence throughout the whole process, even when it meant working up till 4 am.  He had thought me at University before but it was the first time that I had the pleasure of working with him so closely.

Truth be told, the referendum campaign was very tough and many of the people who voted yes knew in their heart of hearts that it was going to be very difficult to bring about such an important change in our country which at the time was perceived to be very conservative. And yet, change came and I am so glad it did.

People were worried that divorce was going to be used freely and irresponsibly.  The drafters of the referendum question believed that one way to ally the fears of those who genuinely were concerned that society would run into a brick wall if the ayes had it was by introducing a chilling period of four years in the last five years before a separated couple (legal or de facto) could ask for divorce.

What that meant in practice was that separated couples had to wait for four long years before being able to bring their unhappy situation to a close and be able to marry again.  Most of those separated would have entered into another relationship anyway before the passing of four years and some of them even bore children from the new relationship.  But the law simply did not care. 

So what was the reason for keeping the four year waiting period any more?  Does it make any sense today, ten years after the passing of the divorce law when now even the staunchest opponents of the civil right to divorce are admitting that the law did not bring about the societal catastrophe they had forecasted?

And this is what led Prime Minister Robert Abela to pilot an important piece of legislation which will considerably decrease the waiting time from four years to six months or one year depending on whether there is consensual agreement between both parties or not.  In the case of parties who are legally separated, the waiting time is being completely brought down to zero.

I took a look at statistics and found out that in the last ten years,  6, 334 people obtained the right to enter into a new marriage by the divorcing from their previous one. This is a right which was therefore exercised by a lot of people and we owe it to them to make sure that any hardship is alleviated.

Again, the Labour Government is proving itself to be the force of progressive change on the island. 

I, for one, have no inkling to taste irrelevance any time soon.

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