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Oh, for a government that values values

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.

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  1. Terence Mills


    Thank you for your article.

    Something that was graphically illustrated last week was the way the coalition members in the senate blindly voted as a herd in favour of Pauline Hanson’s motion. An absolute condemnation of the party system.

    It is a powerful argument in favour of true independents like Phelps, McGowan and Wilkie who will actually read the motions and Bills before they vote and then use their best judgement to reflect the public good.

  2. Robert Mutton

    Excellent article, which every Australian should read. You are a true social democrat and the type of person that we need more of and hear more from in this country that sits on the brink of going down the ‘gurgler’.
    Thank you for your foresight, it made my Sunday!
    Rob Mutton.

  3. DrakeN

    You have written my opinions for me very precisely, Loz.

    “By their deeds shall you know them.”

    The values which these creature proclaim, and the values to which they attain, are beasts of completely different species.

  4. New England Cocky

    For some unknown reason the computer refuses to post this comment.

    Loz, your header says all the ideals that the Liarbrals reject. Egalitarianism is too difficult to spell let alone practice.

    AS for Anglican Archbishop of Sydney “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.”

    Perhaps Davies will explain why his predecessor was allowed to escape scot free from his trustee responsibilities when the Sydney Anglican Diocese LOST about $200 MILLION in the GFC real estate market. Then there is the on-going matter of reparations for the too wide practice of priestly pederasty of poor parishioners progeny by clerics including Anglican pastors.

  5. Michael Taylor

    Cocky, for some unknown reason your latest comments have been caught up in the system. We check out back every few minutes, so don’t worry if they disappear as they’ll be cleared within minutes.

    I’m trying to identify what the problem is but I haven’t had any luck. Given that it’s happening to other commenters too over the past couple of days, I’m guessing that it is probably just a temporary hiccup in the system.

  6. ChristopherJ

    Thank you Loz. Just a little more kindness and empathy would be great, given the most recent crew.

    Thinking people are rare. We face a lot of opposition to rise to the top and it’s difficult to even get in the race without selling something of yourself. Has been that way my entire adult life.

  7. Kyran

    Talking of ‘values’ and this ‘government’ is truly a bridge too far. The weekends lesson is a ‘government’ characterised as chronically and completely deaf saying it ‘heard the people’, but steadfastly, resolutely refuses to hear the people.
    Over in the good ol’ USA, ‘fact checkers’ used during the ‘Trump debates’ gave up part way through the debates because they simply couldn’t keep up with Trump’s lies. We now have the global phenomenon of any critique of liars being decried as fake news, with a concurrent demand to call out their lies. ‘BS’ meters across the globe have proved incapable of keeping up, self combusting due to their rampant abuse. The daily ‘demand’ for news is now satiated with the lies, the value of truth a distant memory.
    Obviously, Australia is not immune to such abuse of the truth. The only way to keep your sanity is to apply your own values to the propaganda relentlessly foisted upon us. It can hardly come as a surprise that, having dispensed with truth, they now seek to ‘redefine’ values, to ‘massage’ the meaning and corrupt the application.
    Today will see an apology to the ‘survivors’ of institutional abuse. Not surprisingly, Scummo, an alleged marketing genius, wants to build a shrine or memorial so we will never forget. Any forecasts as to whether he references the ongoing abuse of children in our overseas gulag, or the ongoing abuses inflicted on ‘juvenile offenders’ in our criminal system? Or the unlucky coincidence they just happen to be predominantly our First People’s children? What about the children in our school systems across the country who are now the subject of ongoing mental abuse due to their perceived sexuality, with their only assistance being afforded by ‘chaplains’, the perpetrators of that mental abuse? Will our intrepid feckwit bring up the increasing suicide rates amongst our youth due to bullying, in the real world and in the cyber world, which is now institutionalised due to the behaviour of him and his cohorts?
    The royals are currently out here for the Invictus Games, which state their values as ‘strength, honour and optimism’. These are games designed to highlight the suffering of people engaged in various military and emergency services. Will this ‘feel good display’ of values change anything to do with their ongoing suffering?
    The last time the royals were out here it was for the Commonwealth Games, a whole PM ago. The values of the Comm Games were specifically directed to indigenous peoples in the commonwealth after the Delhi games. The values?
    “Humanity- Humanity embraces all Commonwealth athletes, citizens, communities and nations.
    Equality- Equality promotes fairness, non-discrimination and inclusion in all that they do.
    Destiny- Destiny combines high-performance sport with performances that have the impact.”
    You may recall, protesters such as Dylan Voller were arrested at the Comm games for trying to highlight the hypocrisy.
    One of the articles on Ms Phelps’ win over the weekend claimed she had campaigned on the basic values of ‘decency, integrity and humanity’. She seemed to do alright on that. The proof will be in the pudding as to whether she treats them as the expediencies of the political class or she is one of those rare beasts – a politician with the courage of their convictions.
    Andrew Wilkie is introducing a private members bill today on the kids on Nauru, which is ironic given the apology to be delivered. How will Ms Phelps vote?
    Thank you Loz Lawrey and commenters. This by-election, like the other dozen or so since this ‘government’ came to power, highlight the respective values of the people of Australia and their ‘representatives’. Not even Evel Knievel would try jumping that void. Take care

  8. Diannaart


    Well stated.

    Morrison actually sounded far more statesmanlike than he has thus far, his apology speech sounded sincere … but, the children held in detention in Australia’s offshore gulags?

    Where is their apology? Apart from the abuse which is indefinite incarceration, can anyone claim these children are safe from sexual predators?

  9. helvityni

    No apologies for asylum seeker children, not from our statesman-like leader…they can die slowly on any island…

    “…and soon we have to keep eye on that Kerryn lady, isn’t she one of those LGBTIQ people, we don’t want anyone causing disunity on our side….by the way I’m sending my children to a safe school…”

    Sincere…? I have principles; if you don’t like them, I have others….

  10. Diannaart


    I think you will appreciate the latest from Helen Razer, calling it like it is:

    ‘I Call ‘Pigsh*t!: Helen Razer On The ‘Historic’ Wentworth Win

    Kerryn Phelps is a gift to the corporations whose taxes she has sworn to cut. Her neoliberal prescriptions are a gift to no-one but the few. And, yes it’s nice she sounds less like a ruling class bigot and more like a ruling class apologist. You can call the pigshit merde de porc, but it tends to taste the same.

    Also, the win in Wentworth hardly counts as a win for the people given Labor’s 10 %, for that matter did the Greens even get a vote?

  11. Diannaart


    The ruling classes have values … for sale.

  12. Patrice

    Schools in NT have to identify core values and measure each of their policy actions against these values. It would be interesting if the government was held to the same level of accountability.

  13. auntyuta

    Life in Australia and Australian Values

    You say: “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?”

    I couldn’t agree more with this. I took the time to reproduce the fact sheet about these Australian Values plus I copied some of what you said and added it in the comment section of my post with reference to your post:

    Fact Sheet – Life in Australia: Australian Values

    As to what happened at the Wentworth by-election:
    It looks like there are now some independent progressive thinking people going to be in our parliament. So I hope the balance of power may have shifted slightly. Yes, there is much to learn. Maybe some of the independent women can help to point to directions that are suitable for our modern and hopefully a more and more humane age! Anyway, we should all aim at being as humane as possible towards all human beings, especially towards people in our care. If we cannot look after people in our care, what hope is there for mankind?

  14. Loz Lawrey

    I’d like to thank all of you for your comments. I always learn from your feedback.
    And thanks for reposting the messsage auntyuta.
    Best regards to you all,

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