“Respect Agenda” – seriously?

Recently the Victorian Premier, John Brumby reshuffled his Cabinet and created a new portfolio the “Respect Agenda”.  The Minister with responsibility for the portfolio is ex-footballer Justin Madden.  Very little has been revealed about the agenda, which has been launched after a major international kerfuffle over serious racist attacks against Indian students.  It is likely to be relevant that 2010 is an election year for Victoria.

It is useful to consider these political pledges in the light of the workplace-related suicide of Brodie Panlock in 2006.

Certainly, as a response to violent attacks on an ethnic minority, the Respect Agenda is a very soft option.  But let’s take it seriously and see what the Government has said publicly about the agenda.  In February 2010 one of the  Premier’s media statement says:

“Building respectful behaviour is the focus of a new program being rolled out in government schools to help drive the culture change that will address assaults and alcohol-related crime…

“Our Government is determined to build a culture of respect to help address assaults and alcohol-related crime,” Mr Brumby said. “… I firmly believe that combining this investment and new powers with our Respect Agenda [additional police resources] will provide the right formula to address assaults and alcohol-related crime.

“I want classrooms to become the engine room of the cultural change we need to build more respect in the community.  And I want to foster a greater sense of individual responsibility by encouraging young people to think about the consequences of their actions on the people around them.”

Mr Brumby [said the strategy will] …drive culture change and build on the good work already being undertaken in schools to promote positive behaviour, including values of tolerance, empathy, fairness and respect.”

These statements were made in a school in the Western suburbs of Melbourne, an area which, on 13 February 2010 is holding a by-election.

Media commentators have roundly criticized the Premier for stealing the concept from the former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.  Blair launched his Respect Agenda program in 2005.  Some reports that it quietly faded away two years later, giving all indications that the program was a short-term political program to show something was being done at the time.  There is no indication that the Brumby program is any different.

What Brumby has provided is a political opportunity for his critics to kick him on matters of values and ethics.  And, as the Labor Government has been in power for well over a decade, Brumby can be repeatedly asked why such an agenda was not launched earlier?

Perhaps such a program may have caused the bullies who worked with Brodie Panlock at Café Vamp to think twice before hounding her to suicide.  When the Labor Party came to power in 1999, three of the bullies would still have been at high school.

Kevin Jones

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