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The religious Right cannot hijack values

By Kevin Rudd - posted Tuesday, 18 January 2005


Second, the Coalition increasingly implies that it is the natural party of family values. Family values would have to be the most used and abused term in Australian politics. The Coalition seeks to give this term some sort of religious gloss.

Labor, consistent with its secular tradition, argues that if we are going to have a debate about family values, then surely a family's ability to put food on the table is a family value; surely a family's ability to afford proper health care for its children is a family value; and surely making sure our children have access to a decent education is equally a family value.

The attempt by the Liberals to hijack the term into the ill-defined ether of quasi-religious language is designed to mask the fact that so many Liberal policies are anti-family in their effect.

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Ask any working family whether they think the collapse of bulk billing is pro-family or not?

Parallel to the family values phenomenon is the broader moral values debate.

Here again we see the attempt by the Coalition and others to define this term as narrowly as possible - usually in terms of sex and sexuality.

But if our starting point in this debate is supposed to be Christianity (and therefore a Christian view of morality), then my challenge to the Coalition is as follows: isn't our preparedness to feed the hungry and give shelter to the homeless a moral value; isn't our preparedness to respond humanely to those who seek refuge in this country from political oppression elsewhere a moral value; and is not our response to the 1.5 billion people around the world in abject poverty also a question of moral values?

Once again I fear that the Coalition's political strategy is to define moral values as narrowly as possible in order to mask its inaction across a much wider social and economic agenda which should equally command our moral attention.

One of the great divides in Australian politics and Christianity is whether or not our responsibility to our fellow human beings is a matter of private, discretionary choice - or whether that is something which requires the collective intervention of society through the state.

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There are many fine human beings in all our political parties who are great givers of their time and money to those who need help.

Labor has a view that if social justice were to rely entirely on individual acts of charity, there can be no guarantee whatsoever that all those in need are provided with humane levels of universal care.

Those of us who are Christians within the Labor tradition are not about to readily concede the ground to those who chant the mantra of family and moral values but who are disturbingly silent when it comes to taking action through government to relieve the burden of those who cannot properly fend for themselves.

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First published in The Courier-Mail on December 13, 2004.



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Kevin Rudd is Prime Minister of Australia.

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