Some examples of sectarian prejudice

In the mid-1960s, my family moved into a new housing development on the less-popular northern edge of the city. When we had settled in, my wife invited the 5 neighbouring women to morning coffee. All of them accepted. The day before the coffee gathering, a priest (driving a VW) visited all 5 homes. By evening, all 5 women had withdrawn their acceptance. There was no suggestion of any future relationships. My wife happens to be a fifth-generation Australian, with a sound genetic infusion of German and Italian genes.

The local representative of Rome had obviously done his duty to keep his flock pure of any social contamination. These women were probably of Irish descent. When, a few months later, my wife became bed-bound, I had to come home from work during the day to tend to her, while our little daughter was being minded by a former neighbour (an immigrant from Europe) at the other end of the city. Were the priest and my neighbours Australian or some tribal intruders?

In the 1970s, I was told by a member of my team how he had been selected as a graduate entrant. After being assessed according to the selection criteria, he had been asked about the school he had attended. It was a parochial (ie. church) school. He was satisfied that this unwritten selection requirement was on-going practice. Then, there was a chairman of a promotion appeals committee who used to ask certain candidates about the school they had attended. I did not then know why. These tribal preferences were subterranean.

In the 1980s, a very senior official visited the immigration representative of the Roman Catholic Church. Unlike the representatives of all other churches, neither he nor any of his underlings ever called on the Immigration Department. Lo, and behold, for reasons which were never explained, Australia then suddenly accepted, as humanitarian entrants, Poles living within their country of nationality. Customarily, refugees and humanitarian entrants had to be living outside their country of nationality, and with a genuine fear of official persecution (for refugees) or discrimination (for humanitarian entrants) on return! The then Polish Pope must have had a great pull on Australia’s administration.

Yet, we Australians claim to be living in a secular nation. This is now contradicted by a widespread belief that the federal administration is controlled by a minority religious sect. This may do no harm, except on the issues of voluntary euthanasia (when much needed compassion available to family pets is denied to fellow humans), and the rights of women (where the edicts from a desert society of about 2 millennia ago continue to apply). Restricting the freedom of choice of those who do not subscribe to the religion of certain politicians and public service clerks in power is certainly not compatible with the concept of a multicultural and open society.

Australia is not the democratic society it claims to be, especially in terms of codified human rights. Yet, I have faith in its propensity for continuing along the path of maturity (its recent record proves that). Its egalitarianism, its ‘fair-go’ ethos (manifest in so many ways), and its generally laid-back society, auger well for a future as a societal beacon for our neighbours.