Wednesday, September 13, 2006

COMMENT: Exclusive Meteorites in Kiwistan?

It seems Allah/God/G-d/Yahweh isn’t happy with the Kiwis. Yesterday a large object from outer space swept across South Island, reaching top speeds of around 40,000 km per hour. The meteor apparently entered the earth’s atmosphere, making a loud booming noise and causing the ground to shake. The meteor disintegrated before falling into a field.

Pity the poor sheep.

Fairfax ’s Christchurch-based paper The Press described it as Boom time in the sky. The Auckland-based New Zealand Herald described it as the “Daddy of all booms”.

So why are the gods throwing meteors at the Kiwis? Perhaps the prayers of members of the Exclusive Brethren sect have come true. Yesterday’s NZ Herald reported Kiwi PM Helen Clark’s attempts to limit secret political donations. She admits her Bill is aimed directly at secret donations and independent campaigns supporting the National party.

Apparently, the Brethren have told Kiwistan’s electoral commission that they wish to spend a whopping $1.2 million to support the National Party. Presently, Kiwis are allowed to make anonymous donations without political parties having to declare the source or donations of upto $NZ10,000. Clarke wants to reduce this threshold to donations above a mere $NZ250.

Of course, the Exclusive Brethren donors didn’t donate on behalf of their church but did so as private individuals.

Nats have dismissed any suggestion of collusion with the sect. They haven’t ruled out supporting the Bill but say they want to see the detailed Bill first.

However, one question remains unanswered. Was it really a comet that hit South Island ? Or was it Pluto exacting revenge over a long distance? I doubt even the sheep will be able to answer that question.

COMMENT: Where the bloody hell are our values?

As if the Australian Tourism Industry isn’t having a hard enough time. First they spent $180 million getting Cronulla beach-babe confused foreign tourists with her question: “Where the bloody hell are you?”

At the time, Tourism Australia’s head Scott Morrison claimed it was a “uniquely Australian invention” while Tourism Minister Fran Bailey referred to the offending word as “the great Australian adjective”.

Now Federal Labor leader Kim Beazley wants to out-do them all. He wants tourists to answer questions like “What the bloody hell are you doing here?” and “Why don’t you bloody-well sign here and agree to our bloody values?”

It’s hard not to be cynical about the ALP’s latest attempt to look more like John Howard than John Howard. Certainly Federal Labor MP’s aren’t impressed, especially the ones in marginal seats with substantial migrant populations.

But even discarding the politics, you’d have to agree that the whole idea of getting holiday-makers to sign a statement agreeing to Aussie values is a little silly. Perhaps the only values these people are interested in is discounts at Duty-Free stores and souvenir shops.

Certainly Aussie tourists haven’t shown much concern for values such as democracy, respect for women and mateship even when inside Australia. Some of Diane Brimble’s fellow passengers on that cruise could learn a thing or two about respect for women.

Recently I visited Indonesia and Malaysia as part of delegations on DFAT-sponsored exchange programs. At Indonesia, I obtained my visa at the airport. I filled out a form and signed on the dotted line where I promised to follow the laws of Indonesia. I then gave them my visa card.

When I was leaving Indonesia, I almost got mugged by some dude at Jakarta’s international airport. One of my delegation colleagues was Australia’s first female police officer to wear the hijab (a traditional Muslim headscarf). As the dude started to hassle me, I managed to text my colleague.

I’ve never seen a woman (with or without a headscarf) run so fast. It was like watching a re-run of an episode of the Six Million Dollar Man (without the slow motion). The thief saw her and ran away even faster.

Yep, Australian values in action. That Indonesian thief knew what would happen to him if he didn’t respect this all-Aussie woman!

That was Indonesia. The Malaysians didn’t even insist on a visa. And the High Commission staff assured me I’d found lots of values at the Masjid India market in KL.

Seriously, this entire episode shows just how futile the debate over values is. When John Howard preaches the values of gender equity, he should perhaps turn his attention to his own backyard. Confused? Read on.

I grew up in John Howard’s federal seat of Bennelong. One of the state seats inside his electorate is Epping. Members of John Howard conservative wing of the NSW Liberal Party (of which I was a member for some 10 years) are currently showing their support for gender equity by refusing to preselect a woman who has spent the last decade fighting to remove structural inequalities for Australian women.

And what kind of candidates do these conservative Liberals prefer? Their preference is for candidates who want to limit the availability of abortions to women.

When I first joined the Liberal Party in 1993, I signed a form that listed a range of Liberal values. Among these was “The Rule of Law”. By the time I started stacking branches for Mr Howard’s faction, the membership form had changed. It was just a minor change. Just one word.

It no longer referred to “The Rule of Law” but rather “The Role of Law”. So Liberals in John Howard’s home state believe that the law has a role but it doesn’t necessarily rule. That might explain the logic behind the government’s recent assaults on civil liberties.

I’ve always understood generosity to be an Australian value. Especially generosity within the understanding of what Mr Howard refers to as our Judeo-Christian traditions. But try telling that to mainstream churches and welfare groups struggling to keep up with demand for their services as a result of the new “welfare to work” laws.

So there you have it. One side of the House wants 1% of non-compliant Muslims to abide by Aussie values. The other wants tourists to sign off on Australian values. Both of them are happy to pass legislation that compromises not just our values but centuries of legal and political democratic consensus.

And the way our politicians are harping on about the issue, perhaps the people who really should sign off on Australian values are our politicians.