Seven years ago, humanity entered the 21st Century to face unprecedented challenges. Global population expands, life expectancy, even in the developed world, lengthens and consumption levels rise unsustainably.

Earth’s raw materials are finite. Water, forests, arable land are under increasing pressure, compounded by “a massive experiment with the system of the planet itself”* causing climate change and extreme weather events. Rich, powerful nations strip resources from weak, paralysed states.

Now we are engaged in a great global conflict of values. Gaps between inconceivable wealth and desperate dispossession creates political instability, encouraging terrorism and fundamentalism.

Although science and technology have annihilated boundaries, mankind retreats from global goals of compassion, reconciliation and mutual understanding, nations turn inward, reinforcing tribal values. Racism, nationalism, militarism, religious hatred, democratic populism, suppression of dissent, using propaganda, resolving problems by violence, promoting fear of difference, attacking organised labour, weakening the rule of law, using state violence, torture and execution, remain widespread. All reject rationality, replacing evidence-based policies with faith-based policies.

The great tasks before us are to overcome fear of differences, recognise that environment and economy are inextricably linked, and act accordingly. The human condition is fragile and we must abandon rigid thinking which confuses prejudice with principle.

Our priorities must be planetary, not national. The planet comes first, then Homo sapiens, then other species, national interest well down the list, tribalism even lower. With courage, generosity, imagination, vision and creativity we can break from the slavery of locality, body, habit and mind to guarantee planetary security and individual liberty, to ensure that our species, and the noblest aspects of its culture, shall not perish from the earth.

* The words in inverted commas are from Margaret Thatcher (1988). There are four echoes of Lincoln’s text in mine.

Write a speech for Australia 2007 — something like the Gettysburg address, that defines the Australian moment and projects our nation into a new unified destiny — in 272 words. If 272 words was good enough for Abraham Lincoln … Send your small gem of timeless rhetoric to [email protected]. The eventual winner (we don’t want to set a deadline just yet) will be performed by former NSW premier and orator supreme Bob Carr on Radio National’s Late Night Live.