It was largely described as a political stunt, a point of view seemingly justified by the appointment of business academic Ken Wiltshire and education consultant Kevin Donnelly as reviewers. Both are regarded as outspoken conservative culture warriors with links to the Liberal party and Donnelly has had educational connections with the tobacco company Philip Morris . Donnelly has also published education articles for News Corp’s The Australian newspaper, the most revealing of which was a muddled tirade entitled Conservative values need championing. Regarding Wiltshire, there will be more later.
Immediately after the announcement, a startling element of religiosity entered the discussion. Donnelly, who runs a one man Education Standards Institute committed to "Christian beliefs and values", announced in an ABC TV interview that government schools needed more emphasis on religion and more recognition of Australia’s "Judeo-Christian tradition". When it comes to religious emphasis, I shall leave Donnelly’s comment to supporters of Australia’s secular public school system. On the subject of our putative Judeo-Christian heritage, this "tradition" simply does not exist. It is actually a neoconservative fiction with a long history of political exploitation.
First used by early 20th century biblical scholars to describe the scope of Old and New Testament studies, it was reused by president Franklin Roosevelt in the early 1940s to signify US solidarity with Europe’s persecuted Jews. It was recycled after 1945 by Christian apologists anxious to convince surviving Jewish communities that the Holocaust was a ghastly cultural aberration.
The concept all but disappeared until the 1980s when it was revived by Ronald Reagan, amongst others, as Moral Majority, the Cold War Christian rhetoric against the (godless) Soviets. After a 1990s hiatus, the Judeo-Christian tradition was more recently given the kiss of life by the US religious right as anti-Islamist sloganeering. Borrowed willy-nilly from these US sources, where it is code for Christians against Islam, the phrase has now become constant theme in Australian neoconservative rhetoric, but it is a theme with at least two massive issues for many Jews, as well as for knowledgeable Christians.