By Loz Lawrey
I constantly hear the word “values” bandied about in public debate. What are values? The label commonly refers to moral and ethical principles or standards of behaviour, but what do the politicians who pepper their rhetoric with the term really mean by it?
If you google the term you’ll lose yourself in a plethora of examples and definitions of “core” and “personal” values, but according to Department Of Home Affairs Fact Sheet 07, “Life in Australia: Australian values” are:
- respect for the freedom and dignity of the individuals
- equality of men and women
- freedom of religion
- commitment to the rule of law
- parliamentary democracy
- a spirit of egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, tolerance, fair play, compassion for those in need and pursuit of the public good
- equality of opportunity for individuals, regardless of their race, religion or ethnic background.
That sounds OK to me and resonates completely with my own progressive views. It reassures me that beneath all the bluster Australia just might be at heart a modern, forward-looking nation, doing its best to learn and grow with the times. But do the priorities and policies of the (currently Morrison) Coalition government reflect those values?
Most applicants for Australian visas are required to acknowledge this “Australian values statement” as part of entry application process:
Perhaps this requirement to understand and acknowledge our society’s values should also apply to those who seek public office, because it’s clear that some of our federal parliamentarians subscribe to values sets of their own, ones that bear no correlation to the Home Affairs definition. What are these people even doing serving as representatives of the people?
We’ve often heard Pauline Hanson bandy the term “Australian values” about (they’re “Judeo-Christian”, according to her) as she advocates for her divisive hate-driven white supremacist agenda.
Where do her priorities align with the Home Affairs template, if at all?
We’ve heard Peter Dutton wave the “values” flag as he has, on multiple occasions, sought to whip up communal antipathy towards Somali youth (“African “gangs”), Lebanese Muslims, refugees and anyone who dares to contradict him or call him out.
When he was Prime Minister, Tony Abbott (remember him?) would refer to “Team Australia” and its “values” whenever the ABC’s reporting irritated or embarrassed him. His own sense of self-importance would take a hit when the reportage mirrored the facts, rather than his simplistic sloganeering. Like Pauline Hanson, he also used “Australian values” to support a “ban the burka” (read “anti-Muslim”) motion put forward by Nationals MP George Christensen.
The war on welfare recipients conducted by the Coalition was hardly rolled out under the banner of “a spirit of egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, tolerance, fair play, compassion for those in need and pursuit of the public good”.
Values? “Equality of opportunity for individuals, regardless of their race, religion or ethnic background” clearly does not apply to those desperate refugees who came to us by boat. They get abuse and torture instead, as they are driven to insanity or suicide on Nauru by the Coalition’s calculated cruelty.
Shouldn’t values inform our public policy-making? Shouldn’t they be the overarching first principle of government? Sadly, “values” is now officially a weasel word, an often racist dog whistle of the political right. It is a useful tool in the conservative arsenal, a term that somehow implies an unearned moral superiority. It is often used to silence dissent and shut down debate. After all, who would dare argue with or call “values” into question?
We live in an age of spin, a time when political messaging often has more to do with expedience than honourable leadership. Our current Prime Minister (this week) happens to be a former marketing man, a salesman. He embodies the Coalition’s preference for salesmanship over substance. It never occurs to them that electoral rejection of their policies may be based on the shortcomings of the policies themselves rather than the way they were “sold” to voters. From their perspective, Barnaby Joyce’s skills as a “retail politician” made him an excellent Honourable Member and Deputy PM. (Pause for laughter).
Scott Morrison keeps saying things like “what Australians want is …” or “the Australian people want us to …” as if he actually knows what we, the Australian people, value.
He clearly does not. If he did, we’d have a clear policy for addressing climate change and reducing emissions. We would be endorsing renewable energy as the only way forward. We wouldn’t have the cruelty and abuse of offshore detention. We wouldn’t see the dismissal, with the Coalition’s customary contempt, of the concerns of Indigenous Australians. We wouldn’t have been subjected to a divisive plebiscite on same sex marriage.
And then there’s religion. Ay ay ay! What can we say? I intend no disrespect to people of faith. I believe that we are all people of faith one way or another, not just those who embrace Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna, Guru Nanak, the Flying Spaghetti Monster or any other deity. At the end of the day, we all believe in something, even if it’s sport, sausage sizzles, Scientology or Dale Carnegie’s self-improvement for salesmen program.
We each live by our own understanding and concepts, regardless of how we came by them. The fact that so many belief-systems exist is surely the greatest argument for secular government and the separation of church and state there can be. A secular system is the only place, the only platform upon which many differing faiths can co-exist. Without it we’re living back in the time of the crusades and the inquisition, not here in 2018.
I have no problem with religion but I do object to the endorsement of homophobia as a “value” by religious institutions. A weasel word in itself, wrapped in the weasel-skin cloak of “religious freedom”, the term “values” is put forward as justification for an agenda of discrimination against a minority not on any proven, scientific or evidence-based grounds, but on outdated, archaic prejudice and bigotry which should have no place in the modern world.
According to Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies, however, “Church schools should NOT be forced to play by secular rules. It goes to the very heart of religious freedom that religious organisations should be able to operate according to their religious ethos.”
What is he actually saying? The subtext appears to be: “We religious folk are special. We are superior.
We can flout the laws of the land. We will use funding from secular taxpayers to promote our agenda of homophobia and social control. We will claim tax-exempt status while doing so.”
“Religious ethos.” Now there’s a weasel term! You could endorse any hateful agenda to divide and conquer with that one.
Scott Morrison became, just a few days ago, the latest in the conga line of inadequate Prime Ministers to lead what is apparently now known as the ATM government, a failed government which has now wasted years of Australia’s precious time.
In the name of “leadership” we have, over several years, been force-fed slogans and catch-cries, lies and misrepresentations. Ideology seems to be the problem. This Coalition ATM government simply does not subscribe to the values promoted by its own Department of Home Affairs.
The “public good”? “Mutual respect, tolerance, fair play, compassion”? Forget them, they are “leftist values”, part of a “leftist agenda”. Remember Peter Dutton’s warning that “a single act of compassion” could destroy the cordon of cruelty his government has erected in the name of “border security”?
“Leftist” or otherwise, our country deserves a government that values values. Not weasel pretend-values, not a list of definitions to be ignored but actual heartfelt real dinky di ones that truly define our aspiration to become the best, most humane society we can be.