Thursday, February 15, 2007

Brendan's Brethren

Back in May 1995, I was one of 200-odd Liberals sitting on what was without a doubt the preselection of the year. Former AMA President Dr Brendan Nelson took on the Opposition’s spokesman on superannuation and retirement incomes, David Connelly, in the federal seat of Bradfield, a seat Connelly had held for years.

Some weeks before the preselection, Nelson had kept me on the phone for an hour, providing me with all sorts of reasons to vote for him. He must have made certain presumptions from my name, and proceeded to slam Israel for its ongoing occupation of the West Bank. He also slammed what he saw as a far-Right cabal within the Liberal Party who seemed to be opposing his chances at winning.

What someone had forgotten to tell Nelson was that I was at that time part of the same cabal! Indeed, I was one of the people busily spreading the fatwa issued by Sheik David Clarke (now MLC) that Nelson was way too wet for good "mainstream" conservatives to support.

Today, of course, Nelson has jumped into bed with that same cabal. He recites all their mantras about Australian values.

In August 2005, as Education Minister responsible for the funding of independent schools, he blew his dog whistle hard, publcly lecturing Muslim independent schools to teach Australian values or "clear off".

Nelson’s suggestion? During a doorstop interview in August 2005, Nelson reminded these schools to display the

... National Framework for Values Education, superimposed over which is a silhouette of Simpson and his Donkey, which is at the heart of our sense of national emerging identity.

Some months prior to this, it was revealed that Nelson had specifically written to Muslim independent schools reminding them of the need not to teach extremism (as if they needed reminding).

Now we know from today's The Age that hardly 12 months earlier, Nelson was providing schools run by the Exclusive Brethren with exemptions from testing computer literacy for Year 6 and Year 10 students, despite this being made a condition of Federal Government independent school funding.

Once again, a Howard Government Minister has been caught doing dirty deals with the Exclusive Brethren and bending law and government policy to assist them with non-integration. Nelson obviously thinks it’s OK to provide $6.6 million in funding to schools that teach their students that computers are instruments of the devil.

Here's how The Age reported the matter ...

The Education Department has confirmed that, during 2004, Dr Nelson had representations from the Brethren, and agreed to give them an exemption from testing the computer literacy of year 6 and year 10 students.

That year, computer literacy was made a condition of Federal Government funding of private schools, but at the time the Brethren shunned computers, believing them to be instruments of the devil.

I challenge Nelson and his staff to find one Muslim school which forbids teaching of computing. I also challenge Nelson to find one Muslim school which stops its pupils from mixing with children outside their denomination. Nelson has clearly shown blatant hypocrisy. He has one rule for Muslims and another for fringe Christian groups.

Then again, given Nelson's rather simplistic view of Austrlan values, his admirers from this non-integrated sect might have a point. After all, Simpson and his donkey never used computers.

An edited version of this appeared in the Crikey! daily alert on 15 February 2007.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007