*Pic: Fraser Anning’s Facebook page

I find Fraser Anning’s comments re banning Muslims from Australia, and the implied intolerance driving them, most distasteful. But even more so, I find his ignorance frightening.

The only point I could (sort of) agree with him on is that Australia is likely to function better as a nation if we all agree on certain basic things. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” – it’s an old saying but it made a valid point.

There’s the arrogant ignorance of claiming that “Australia should be of a European Christian background” – no, it’s not, this country has a proud history of the longest, most stable civilization in the whole world, and there is much that we ‘mongrel’ contemporary immigrants could learn from the Indigenous.

However, it is currently a fact of life that our governmental structure is created and run by exactly that bunch that Mr Anning considers his own, with much inequality and dissonance being the result of it. And yet, if a better job were done of it, it’s not a bad system (suggest a better one that actually delivers?), and in any case, it is what we must work with.

So, if banning people of a particular ethnicity or persuasion results in dissonance and inequality, how can we marry together different ideologies and races into a harmonious whole that works for everyone?

This is where the Roman bit comes in: people who come here must, in their every day activities, fit in with what happens here. And the best way to do this is to stop having separate schools, usually permitted for ‘religious’ reasons, which are the breeding ground in which ‘otherness’ is entrenched.

I am not against religion (on the contrary, I am an active Quaker) and I have no problem with anyone else having whatever religion they wish, including Islam. But if we wish for all comers to Australia to have a fundamental agreement about daily behavior, then the best way to achieve that is to have fundamentally secular schools that teach the basics of Australia to everyone. I have seen the huge Islamic schools in West Melbourne, and personally know some families whose children attend there. (My daughter lives there, and I visit frequently.) Lovely people in themselves, but their separate-ness from the Aussie way of life is very profound. Let them practice at home, and go to the mosque on Fridays if they wish. Let Catholics, Presbyterians, Sikhs and anyone else do the same – but don’t bring it into the school system.

As a believer in God, I would once have said that having religiously-based schools was a desirable thing. But the evidence before me tells me that it just doesn’t work, if a harmonious multicultural society is the aim. There was a time when state schools had a specific period set aside for religious teaching (with choices as to which kind), which seems a nice idea, but given that the curriculum is now so appallingly poor and inefficient at teaching even the basics of what it should, I think it would be best to leave religious teaching to those parents who wish to impart it – an activity that is done in the home. As long as we retain a religious freedom clause, is there any reason why that can not work perfectly well?

There is one country that has succeeded better than most – the much-quoted Finland.

I am unable to judge the merits of its curriculum (although it does sound pretty good), but am concerned here with a more fundamental principle that operates there: all schools are state schools, and all children go to them. There are no private schools and no religious ones either. The consequence is that the government pours much higher resources into education, and thus the overall quality is much better. The result is an equality for everyone (who makes the effort to learn). There are no privileged elites. There are no factional divisions. The children, no matter what background or religious persuasion, are all the same – citizens of Finland.

Our government, and our educational system, leaves much to be desired, as we all know. But if we want to improve on things, then the best way is to make real use of the energy and intelligence of our multicultural world, to teach everyone in an equal manner and give everyone of any background the chance to become an Australian with a good understanding of what that means. And then we can start changing the system from the inside. It is indeed entirely absurd, in our multicultural country, to have most of the MPs, including the Mr Annings, from that ‘European Christian’ background, when we could such a vibrant mix – more women, too, and more Indigenous, Africans, Asians, Iranians, etc. It would help us have less divisions, less security issues, and much, much better relations with other countries. It is also much less likely that we would get crime gangs in, say, Melbourne that are of a specific ethnicity.

For all his claims, I really don’t think that Mr Anning’s remarks are particularly ‘Christian’. Did Christ not challenge us all to be welcoming of the stranger? And what better way to do that but to include them all, on an equal basis, in our most basic system, that of education?

*Elizabeth Fleetwood ‘came to Tasmania in 1982; with her husband ran dairy farms, and then managed two retail businesses in the area while raising 3 children. Later, in Hobart, she ran a tourism business and is also the author of A Crying in the Wind, a history of Tasmania. Her biggest concern is the future of the next generation in the face of impending climate destruction, and what we should be doing about it.’

Senator Whish-Wilson calls on Bob Katter to expel Anning from his party