It is something straight out of a George Orwell novel: the Victorian government has appointed a member of parliament to become “Minister for Respect”. This has to be a national first, perhaps a world first, but — and with all due respect to the minister himself — it has to be one of the weirder ideas to emerge from our socially ambitious government.

Orwell, in his celebrated novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, had four ministries in evil Oceania: the Ministry of Love, the Ministry of Peace, the Ministry of Plenty, and the Ministry of Truth. They were part of the totalitarian apparatus of Big Brother, meant to keep the populace in check.

The motives of the Victorian Premier are hopefully more benign, but the same concerns arise here: a Ministry of Respect? Isn’t that pushing us a little too hard? Could we not settle for a Ministry of Niceness, or a Ministry of Friendliness, or a Ministry of Let’s Just All Get Along? Even a Ministry of Silly Walks — at least it would give Victorians a good laugh.  

Don’t get me wrong – I am all for good behaviour. Who doesn’t want a little respect or a little friendship? The question is, whether such positive dispositions can simply be produced by government decree, by the click of a minister’s fingers.

Certainly we need remedies for the flood of violence, racial attacks and criminal activity that are plaguing the streets of Melbourne. And sure, if we all respected each other crime and anti-social behaviour would lessen. But not even the new minister himself, Justin Madden, seems to have much idea of how to make this happen.

The truth is, respect has to come from within; it cannot be imposed from without. In other words, social peace and calm can be achieved by only two means: conscience or cops. Either we heed the moral compass within, or we pass more and more laws without, to keep society functioning harmoniously and smoothly.

However, all over the Western world, as we become more secular and hostile to eternal truths and realities, our inner moral sense is becoming more and more dulled, if not extinguished. When we are taught repeatedly that there is no God, that there are no absolute moral values, and that everything is relative, then it is hard for conscience to function properly.

When we are taught that we are mere accidents of nature, without meaning, purpose, a clear beginning or a certain end, then morality – both private and public — becomes increasingly hard to maintain and encourage.

If we are just accidental blobs of tissue living in a purely material world where right and wrong are at best mere social conventions, and at worst, non-existent myths, then why try to live morally? Why bother trying to show some respect? Why bother trying to be good at all?

When we abandon in wholesale fashion a worldview which holds to transcendent truth, including the truth that we are moral beings living in a moral world created by a personal moral God who will one day be held accountable for our moral decisions, then we can only expect that Aretha Franklin’s complaint about getting no respect will only increase.

And given that the Victorian government has been at the cutting edge of radical social engineering, much of which is aimed directly against the Judeo-Christian worldview, and its expression in the public arena, then you have to ask, “Who are you to talk about respect?”

All sorts of decidedly disrespectful pieces of legislation have been passed by this activist government. Consider just one: Justin Madden, along with his Labour colleagues, effectively railroaded through a bill which makes Victoria’s abortion laws the most liberal in the nation, and amongst the most liberal in the world.

A baby’s life can now be snuffed out with impunity at any time in its first nine months. How can you talk about respect when the ones deserving the most respect – those who cannot defend or protect themselves – get the least respect, and are subject to draconian death legislation? Some 20,000 of these innocent and unprotected babies are killed in this state every year.

It seems pretty hard to instill respect into the citizenry when we do the exact opposite with our most vulnerable and most defenceless. If the Victorian government can say everything is hunky-dory when we wipe out unborn babies in their tens of thousands, why be surprised when so many Victorians seem to show no respect for each other?

Mother Teresa long ago said abortion is the world’s greatest disturber of the peace, the most ruthless act of violence. If we can legislate to kill helpless babies, then I don’t see how appointing a Minister for Respect is going to even remotely impact the growing levels of violence, crime and anti-social behaviour swelling in our state right now.

If the state is really serious about showing some respect, why not start showing it to those who are most worthy of it – those who cannot speak up for themselves? But somehow I don’t expect the radicals running this state to make this sort of connection.

I fear they will simply continue to offer cosmetic solutions to entrenched social problems, with an ever-expanding bureaucracy, complete with even more Orwellian titles. And as long as they send out these mixed signals, I can’t see how such new ministries will do the slightest bit of good.

Bill Muehlenberg is a lecturer in ethics and philosophy at several
Melbourne theological colleges and a PhD candidate at Deakin University.

Bill Muehlenberg is Secretary of the Family Council of Victoria, and lectures in ethics and philosophy at various Melbourne theological colleges.