October 5 2006
Australia's values debate looks increasingly insular, anal and of a diminutive nation from afar
John Howard and Kim Beazley have been trying to out muscle one another recently on Australian values and immigration. I have not heard a clear definition of what these values are. I have heard welcome references to fairness, tolerance, respect for women and compassion from leaders pushing the “values” barrow. These seem like pretty reasonable things of us to demand of our intending migrants. So why am I so repelled by the discussion?
There are a number of reasons.
The first is the notion that these are Australian values? They are without doubt some of the finest of human values and they are to be found in all cultures to varying degrees. The notion that these values are uniquely Australian is absurd and points to an increasingly delusional and inward looking political culture confused about the nation and its role in the world.
Secondly, how successfully do we as a nation practice these “Australian” values? John Howard has presided over the most dramatic abandonment of values of fairness, decency and compassion of any political leader of my lifetime. A values test might prevent “valueless” outsiders coming in, but what can we do with those already here in our Anglo community that do not meet these standards – e.g PM Howard, Minister Ruddock et. al.
And here in India, it all looks so damned irrelevant to the real challenges facing Australia. No matter what your position on migrants and their English language skills, Australia’s status as a mono-lingual nation is a disaster for our future. Those that peddle some fanciful insular mono-cultural, mono-lingual view of Australia condemn the next generation to an ever diminished role in an international community where the Chinese, Indians, Russians and Brazilians rub shoulders with our traditional US and European cultural companions. Australia is less prepared by the day for a role in the not too distant future. The manner in which our leaders on both sides of the political divide conduct the debate drags Australia in a regressive direction that is immensely damaging to our future.