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Think morally - rejecting the coercive adoption of Aussie values

By Mirko Bagaric - posted Thursday, 21 September 2006

The Labor party must have an inside tip that the Federal election is closer than we think. That’s one of the main messages to be drawn from the fact that Kim Beazley has now taken a clear lead over the Federal Government in the race to the bottom when it comes to the thorny issue of racial value convergence. This is no small effort on behalf of the opposition leader following recent comments by the Prime Minister and Federal Treasurer encouraging the Muslim community to become a bit more Aussie in their outlook.

Beazley surged ahead in this regrettable contest when last week he proposed that all visitors to Australia should be required to sign off on a value statement in their visa form which commits them to Aussie values, including respect for mateship and hard work.

This is obviously grim news for prospective tourists and other immigrants who just want to enjoy a bit of solo time lounging around on one of our hundreds of superb beaches. The message is even grimmer for the vast majority of Australians who want to live in a socially enlightened and tolerant community, which embraces and adapts to value sets from a range of cultures and religions.


Sure, we should all be moving towards a particular set of universal norms. But these aren’t necessarily good old Aussie ones.

It is misguided for the government to talk about entrenching a provincial value base which has developed by historical accident, at times fuelled by intolerance and bigotry. Remember the stolen generation. Think now about the fact that gay people are still prohibited from entering the union of marriage.

Instead of slavishly and reflexively victimising future generations with cultural norms which fuelled morally offensive practices, like all nations, we should be working towards achieving a morally enlightened cultural mindset. This would provide a concrete framework around which an entire community can be forged and live harmoniously as a result of a fair allocation of opportunities, benefits and burdens.

Within that framework people would be free to express themselves and engage in any activities or projects of their choosing which did not unfairly interfere with the rights of others to do likewise. This would result in cultural dilution and enrichment, as opposed to cultural hegemony.

It is universal moral truth that our politicians should be encouraging the community to embrace, instead of trying to coerce people to entrench relativistic values into their psyche.

To this end, our politicians need to heed the fact that there is now a slow, but evident, convergence in the moral judgments that people endorse across most cultures and we are getting closer to unlocking the complete list of objective ethical truths.


Ethics has been the hot ticket item for philosophers over the past few centuries. They have gone around in a lot of circles, but finally we are getting some convergence regarding the moral principles that apply to all cultures. The list is short, but important:

  1. don’t kill or otherwise violate the physical integrity of others;
  2. don’t steal;
  3. don’t lie (this includes keeping promises); and
  4. assist others in serious trouble when assistance would immensely help them at no or little inconvenience to oneself.

None of these rules are absolute. The closest thing that we get to an absolute moral principle is that we should pursue the course of action that maximises net flourishing, where each person’s interest counts equally.

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About the Author

Mirko Bagaric, BA LLB(Hons) LLM PhD (Monash), is a Croatian born Australian based author and lawyer who writes on law and moral and political philosophy. He is dean of law at Swinburne University and author of Australian Human Rights Law.

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