GEMMA TOGNINI
GEMMA TOGNINI

The topics Australia needs to put back on the table

I STILL remember when my mother decided it was time for "the chat."

Yep, THE talk. Birds, bees and feminine hygiene products. The girls in my class and I had pretty much settled on what we agreed was an adequate working knowledge of such mysteries, so let's just say the conversation was unwelcome. I've blocked out the bulk of it (there were diagrams) but clearly remember telling my mum "that stuff is gross and has nothing to do with me."

No sane person likes difficult conversations. Truth is though, the difficult ones are usually the most important. Without the courage to face, discuss and resolve those things that vex, we inevitably slide, accidentally towards social change, rather than walk confidently to an agreed destination. It's the societal equivalent of that guy who stays the night, then six months later you're wondering how you got into that relationship and how to get out of it.

Last week, Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge suggested new migrants should be assessed against Australian values, a pretty reasonable, almost pragmatic proposition. Much along the lines of, if your values include the freedom to wear denim cut-offs in summer, don't be moving to Tehran.

So, what could be more important and fraught to discuss, especially at a national level, than values? The intangibles that make us who we are.

Anthony Albanese seems keen to avoid the difficult debate around immigration. (Pic: Mick Tsikas)
Anthony Albanese seems keen to avoid the difficult debate around immigration. (Pic: Mick Tsikas)

Ahh but we don't need to talk about our values, we don't need to see if new Australians align with them, according to Opposition Leader in waiting, Anthony Albanese.

He told federal Parliament all is well.

"Walk into any primary school in the country and what you'll see is little kids of different backgrounds who don't see colour, who don't see religion, they just see other little kids."

He's right but only in the sense that the problem is not with children, it never is.

My respectful counter to this "nothing to see here, move along" posturing is this. Things that count need our attention and deserve our considered conversation.

Without it, the risk is that change comes like a thief in the night, unchecked and unchallenged, and the next minute colonisation is being blamed for domestic violence and a person walks free after using religion as an excuse for defying an Australian court. Those values manifest in actions, are they are not Australian values. We don't need apologists for them.

But wait, there's more.

Legal action was taken against Sam Rahim for not cutting a girl’s hair in his barber store. (Pic: Adam Yip)
Legal action was taken against Sam Rahim for not cutting a girl’s hair in his barber store. (Pic: Adam Yip)

When was it okay to teach 12-year-old girls to send sexually explicit pictures of themselves and for those lessons to take place in schools? Do we not value a parent's right and responsibility to canvass sensitive issues with their kids when they feel it's appropriate? Some parents may prefer to counsel their daughter, sweetheart, you're a child still. Keep your kit on and don't take pics of your naked body and send them to another person, and here are some darned good reasons why not.

Difficult conversations. We need to have them, respectfully and robustly. Men and women, being treated equally. Equally! That doesn't mean that we address the wrongs of the past with wrongs of the present. Men are part of the solution and shouldn't have to resign themselves to the fact that it's become rather a shit time to be a bloke because, history. That thread of the gender conversation could hardly be called welcome, but it is equally as important.

Oh, and how about this one? A wonderful, admirable Australian value is one of self-reliance. Reward for hard work. Helping out your mates. Celebrating their wins, weeping with them when they mourn life's cruelty. If any of our values is under threat, it's this. Because, victimhood is cool, haven't you heard?

Currently, it seems Alan Tudge is one of the only people willing to have a difficult conversation. (Pic: Mick Tsikas)
Currently, it seems Alan Tudge is one of the only people willing to have a difficult conversation. (Pic: Mick Tsikas)

Oh, yes. Being a victim (of practically anything you'd care to mention; it's a long bloody list) has become something to aspire to, something to be proud of, worse still, something to propagate like a flower from some foreign garden.

When a person can be financially compensated because they were refused a haircut at a men's barbershop (because the bloke was, you know, not qualified to cut girl's hair) something ain't right. When this first world problem is deemed a violation of human rights, we risk being so woke we're morally broke.

And, this. A taxpayer funded body produces a report that says (among other things) that domestic and family violence is not just a bad thing when it is perpetrated against white women by white (ish) men, it's the fault of colonisation when it happens to indigenous women at the hand of indigenous men.

I would wholeheartedly say that it's an Australian value that beating up the missus is not okay. Never okay. No matter your skin colour, your postcode or your ethnicity.

We can't complain about subtle yet problematic shifting sands if we don't talk about them. There's no point bitching about not getting a beer if you don't turn up to the BBQ.

Yes, difficult conversations are exhausting. Especially because it seems we've lost some of our knack for civilised, respectful public debate. I tell you what's more exhausting. Waking up one morning and realising we've allowed changes to the fabric of who we are, because of laziness and complacency.

Gemma Tognini is a communications executive and a regular Sky News commentator.



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