The dirt unit could have scarcely scripted it better. Sheik Hilali overstayed a tourist visa, made racially and culturally inflammatory comments but avoided deportation because heavies from the Labor right – heavies including Paul Keating and Leo McLeay – were worried about how it would all wash in their electorates.

Everything from weakness in the face of terrorism to ethnic branch stacking reaching right to the top of ALP. It’s all there – or the suggestion of it all is simple to create.

And at the same time there’s the school chaplains announcement – planted in the Sunday Telegraph:

Prime Minister John Howard will today unveil details of the $90 million national chaplaincy program, which also aims to give support to students during times of grief…

Today’s announcement follows last weekend’s fatal car crash near Byron Bay which killed four teenagers from Kadina High School.

We’ve reminded readers in the past that “values voters” aren’t all necessarily evangelical Christians – let alone zealots.

As we’ve said before, dismissing these people as the “the religious right” is simplistic – and wrong. They are plenty of values voters who don’t believe in God, but still send their kids to church schools because they believe the standards and discipline are better.

Bob Carr knows this. That’s why, as premier, he also understood the importance of dropping by Hillsong. But he’s been critical.
“What if parents at a majority Islamic school want to choose someone who’s absolutely abhorrent to the Government because he, as a preacher at a Muslim prayer hall, has jihadist views?” he has said.

“What if a parent body ends up being split or bitterly split between someone with fundamentalist and someone with liberal religious views?

“Are we going to revive Catholic versus Protestant arguments?”

And he’s had a warning: “There will be a steady diet of anti-discrimination actions as a result of this piece of Federal Government policy.”

Carr’s points are all good, but he also knows that this is nothing but political shorthand. Standards and discipline – and a few racist subliminals. He pitched at exactly the same market himself.

Of course the issue is fraught – sheiks in schools, anyone? – but what are details when votes are at stake?

PS. Peter Costello’s prayers are being answered. At last night’s celebration of 100 years of the Anglican Province of Queensland held at St John’s Cathedral in Brisbane, the congregation lustily sang (thanks to an extra “r” in the second last line):

Fading are the wordling’s pleasures
All their boasted pomp and show
Solid joys and lasting treasurers
None but Zion’s children know