Our Education Minister Brendan Nelson wants to see some "essentially Australian" values introduced into our schools – "understanding, tolerance, inclusion and responsibility, care, compassion, reaching out to others, doing your best, pursuing and protecting the common good, treating all people fairly, enterprise, respectfulness, fidelity, comradeship and endurance." And if people don't want to "accept and embrace" those values, he says, "they ought to clear off."
What to make of this.... Cameron thinks that Nelson is "way out of line"
"That isn't what this country is about. That isn't what democracy is about. The minute that you have one group of people forcing their values or beliefs on another group of people, you don't have a democracy any more - you have a form of fascism."
I don't completely disagree.
But I do reckon that people living here should "accept" our values in the sense of obeying by the laws that embody them – we demand that of all Australians. Now that doesn't mean that they have to agree with them. Any Australian is entitled to object to any of our values, our laws or our institutions, and they even have the right to try to change them, provided they do so within the confines of the law.
However, forcing our "values"on people, whether they are immigrants or not, would be a futile exercise at best, and potentially dangerous and divisive at worst. Particularly when Nelson's and his values smell more like something out of the 1950's than contemporary Australia. But I don't find anything wrong or offensive in asking immigrants to gain a wider understanding of Australian Culture and history.
Putting that argument aside, it's interesting that value debate has entered the Australian political arena. We are used to it happening in the United States, where their whole political system and decision making is centered around sphere of values, but it never really happens like that in Australia. Mark Latham tried to focus on values during last years Federal Election (remember the "Ladder of Opportunity") but was steamrolled John Howard's economic agenda.
I wonder what our values would have been if Latham had been elected?