Leading article Australia

To the core

28 May 2015

1:00 PM

28 May 2015

1:00 PM

Whilst John Howard struggled with his ‘core’ and ‘non-core’ promises, it may well be core and non-core values that end up defining his successor, Tony Abbott.

Explaining the decision by Cabinet to pursue tougher citizenship measures designed to combat Islamist radicalisation and home-grown terrorism, Philip Ruddock maintained that ‘there are certain core values that enable our society to work’.

In this he is, of course, correct. But the tricky bit comes when you try to define them. So many words – loyalty, democracy, tolerance, freedom, individuality, assimilation, patriotism, national pride – have become either dramatically devalued or dangerously infused with political baggage. On top of which, getting the broad Islamic community and other minority groups who are often suspicious of political motives to sign up to such values, or even words, is fraught with problems.

At one extreme, Hizb ut-Tahrir, still operating with impunity despite the Prime Minister’s promise to ‘clamp down’ on them, were quick to denounce government plans to teach modern, presumably ‘core’, values to Islamic children as ‘deplorable’. The group, quite correctly, see core western values as antipathetic to their cause; being the establishment of a non-democratic state beholden to a murderous medieval legal system. Ironically, given that the word Islam literally translates as ‘submission’, Hizb ut Tahrir claim anti-terrorism measures being put in place are there to ‘beat the Muslim community into submission.’ Pots and kettles spring to mind.

At the other end of the spectrum, the so-called moderates of the Islamic community wring their hands and loudly complain of the ‘alienation’ that young Muslims suffer at the hands of mainstream, non-Muslim, Australia. Although it is unclear what the ‘core’ values of the moderate Muslim community are in respect of women’s rights, homosexuality, freedom of religion, Jews, and other contentious issues, what is unquestionable is the overt sensitivity many Muslims have to any form of criticism. This appears to translate as an excuse for a failure to integrate to the same degree that most ethnic and religious communities of immigrants have managed to over the decades. One young headscarf-wearing woman, speaking to the Australian, best summed up what appears to be a common view of moderate Muslims when she complained that: ‘People aren’t willing to listen and learn about Islam and yet they expect Muslims to learn the Australian way.’

Such ‘moral equivalence’ is ludicrous. Most Australians have no interest in learning anything about Islam and there is no reason why they should, any more than they should show an interest in learning about Dickens, Dostoevsky or Deuteronomy. But, yes, we do expect all Australians to learn the Australian way, the better to live in a peaceful, democratic society. That is indeed a core value.

Tampon Joe

‘Joe Hockey alone on Q&A. Bravest pollie in history. Credit’ said the tweet, ten minutes into the Treasurer’s solo outing with Tony Jones on the ABC’s most notorious show. It was a valid point. Facing an hour of relentless leftist probing required, one imagines, nerves (and other body parts) of steel. One lady’s question: ‘At the risk of sounding aggressive…’ elicited an amused response from the Treasurer: ‘There is no risk in this audience.’ Alas, he was wrong.

The accepted political wisdom – which originated in these pages – is that Mr Hockey’s ‘selling’ of the 2014 budget was its major flaw. Recalling such oddities as ‘poor people don’t drive’ would have had Tony Jones’s team salivating at the prospect of some equally newsworthy verbal folly springing from Mr Hockey’s lips. They weren’t disappointed.

Despite coming across as warm, confidant, enthusiastic, well-prepared and in good humour, Mr Hockey briefly stumbled; the inevitable booby trap taking the shape of a giant tampon. Keen to curry favour with the crowd, Mr Hockey made the mistake of agreeing that further exemptions to our already overly-complicated GST could be considered. The following day, all hell broke loose.

Yet Mr Hockey should be commended. He ‘sold’ his budget well to a difficult crowd. And after all, if exemptions already exist, and until there are plans to overhaul the GST, it is merely democracy-at-work when individuals challenge him over such anomalies.

Prince Charles once imagined himself as a tampon. At least Joe only agreed to debate one.

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