Values in Action

I wasn’t planning to post anything, but then I learned today is the 20th anniversary of Paul Keating’s Redfern Speech.

There is so much talk today in politics regarding values and what each political party “stands for” but it mostly comes off as mechanical, fake and superficial.

In a previous post, I went through Lawerence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development in order to categorise values and capture some of their emotional components. There are many sophisticated developmental models I could use in order to go into much more detail in regards to values systems but I find Kohlberg’s the easiest to explain:

Stage 1: Pre-Conventional:

  • A primal need for safety from the big bad world
  • Power for ego’s sake and to hell with everybody else

Stage 2: Conventional:

  • Discipline through obedience to an authority figure
  • Order through a hierarchical structure (follow the leader)
  • Individual Responsibility enforced through reciprocation and the social contract
  • Success and achievement through rational scientific method

Stage 3: Post Conventional

  • Collective responsibility, fairness, equality and social justice
  • Balance from respect and tolerance for all values systems

Each of these stages is developed in order to solve the problems of the previous stage and when those problems are sufficiently solved for the individual or the group, the solutions create new problems leading to the development of the next stage and so on. I go into it in a bit more detail here.

The Redfern Speech is a clear example of Post Conventional values in action. The Conventional response at the time was largely to ignore the deep injustices Aboriginal people endured since European settlement. This speech was an attempt to move the nation from a Conventional stage to a Post Conventional stage of moral development by ending the denial of what happened.

It was proactive. It wasn’t delivered off the back foot, Keating was deliberately setting the agenda. It had themes of collective responsibility, fairness, equality and social justice. The speech recognised and apologised for the wrongs of the past. It painted a clear vision of a better future for Aboriginal people. It defined Australian values and it was connected to Keating’s “One Nation” blueprint for Australia which centered around a self reliant national identity and reassuring the public about where they stood psychologically in relation to the rest of the world.

The elements of this speech I think many so called Labor “hard heads” seem to miss today in any talk about values and identity are the emotional and psychological components.

“It begins, I think, with an act of recognition. Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the diseases and the alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practised discrimination and exclusion.

It was our ignorance and our prejudice. And our failure to imagine these things being done to us. With some noble exceptions, we failed to make the most basic human response and enter into their hearts and minds. We failed to ask – how would I feel if this were done to me?

As a consequence, we failed to see that what we were doing degraded all of us.”

This part of the speech hits many Post Conventional themes and emotions in an extremely deep and profound way.

You can’t make speeches like this from focus group responses. It has to come from emotionally believing in something beyond one’s self. It’s extremely doubtful Paul Keating or Don Watson created this speech by mechanically picking out lines from focus groups or looking at issues polling or using a developmental model like the one I’ve outline above. They actually believed in the ideas that were represented in what was said and what was written in the Redfern Speech.

Without the emotional belief, you get what you mostly see in the national debate today.


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