Friday, 24 February 2017

Address To The Australia Day Council (VICTORIA) Inc, Annual Dinner - 25 January 2017

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Thank-you so much for that kind introduction.

It is a privilege to speak to you this evening on the eve of Australia Day. I would like to acknowledge the Chairman, Norman Kennedy, all of the patrons, my parliamentary colleagues, David Hodgett and Bernie Finn, and our New Australian of Year Julien Leyre.

At a personal level I acknowledge our good friend Fran Henderson, who has done so much to support you and me over many years.
Can I also particularly welcome two of my former staff, Brent Crockford and Andrew Hallam.

After listening to me talk for so many years, it is both touching and surprising that you have actually paid to do so tonight.

When Arthur Phillip raised the Union Jack at Sydney Cove 229 years ago tomorrow he did so at a critical moment in time for the British Empire.

Between Cook's discovery of our great southern continent in 1770 and January 26 1788, the British Empire had been scarred by the American Revolution.

The massive British force on a multitude of ships that assembled outside New York quickly took that city in the days after the Declaration of Independence, but lost the long war over the next seven years with the help of the French, I must say Julien.

This had necessitated a major reassessment of approach and attitude on how things would work in their latest convict settlement.

The American experience demonstrated that they could not win against a large and determined population in a faraway land.

The British Parliament had been divided over the war of independence, and in its wake, was clearly determined not to repeat the American experiment.

Phillip himself personified this new approach.

Before his voyage he said there would no slavery in the new settlement1, and once here, ensured that the convicts were not only punished but also given the chance to reform in equal measure.

In this way the timing of the settlement set us on a course that enabled so many advances, unique advances, something I will elaborate on a little later.

Because our Colonies developed and progressed to nationhood both peacefully and incrementally over the course of the next 113 years, Australia Day through history has evolved in importance.

The anniversary of the landing was always recognized in New South Wales, but less so the other Colonies as they developed.

We know the 50th and 100th anniversaries were recognized with events and celebrations, the latter with representatives of the colonial legislatures coming together.

But these anniversaries were not for 'Australia Day' as we know it today; but for 'Founder’s Day' or 'Anniversary Day'.

Indeed following the landing at Gallipoli, a national 'Australia Day' was declared for July 303, belatedly not to celebrate the anniversary of the landing at Sydney Cove, but to raise funds for the war effort.

These Australia Days occurred in late July every year of the war. Some would see this as a repudiation of the anniversary we celebrate tomorrow, but I don't.

The first AIF brought together our first mass national volunteer force, which engaged in our first major battle of our recently federated nation on foreign soil. Every community of every State was affected, and as such it was a national event of devastating, yet unifying significance.

The real question is why Australia Day has grown in significance through our lifetimes, steadily and steadfastly.

I believe we can find the answer in the founding and all that followed. I have mentioned the importance of the timing of our founding.

Another was the pioneering spirit that was required for survival and success in the new foreign, harsh and unfamiliar Colony.

In this climate the seeds of mateship and fairness were born, but so too were the courage to settle new regions, the ingenuity and adaptability to cope, and through all this the birth of a different Australian outlook that would sneer at pretension, bring forth a laconic sense of humour, unique sayings and phrases.

Without a pioneering spirit the Endeavour would never have left Plymouth4 in search of a new continent. And without it the fledgling new settlement would have failed. Over generations this pioneering quality saw the development of a harder, stronger particularly Australian outlook.
Both convict and free settler had adapted by necessity, and in adapting, our forebears needed to walk their own path.

But adapting didn't mean abandoning so much of our British heritage, as the Americans needed to do as a consequence of their war of independence.

And here the intersection of a more enlightened British approach to the Australian colony combined with the daily necessity of pioneering survival and development provided the ingredients for the creation of a formidable nation.

Both the enlightened British approach and the pioneering necessity demanded by the fledgling Colony crafted the foundations of our new nation.

The more accommodating post American revolutionary British outlook combined with the growing independence and self-sufficiency born of the pioneering spirit led to any early yearning for self-government.
Both had become mutually reinforcing.

The pioneering spirt saw our vast continent explored and further settled. Hume, Hovell, Flinders and so many others mapped and explored and made the new colonial settlements possible.

While the first settlement in this State at Sorrento in 1803 failed, it led to the new settlement in Hobart. Melbourne was founded later of course, in 1834. The remarkable thing is that within a decade the push was on to separate from New South Wales,5 which was granted by both New South Wales, and then Westminster by 1851.

By 1860 all colonies except Western Australia had their own constitutions, parliaments and laws.

This wouldn’t have been possible without early establishment of the Legislative Council in New South Wales in 1823 to advise the Governor. Of course by 1843 24 members were elected, making it the first form of representative government in Australia.

Not only were pioneers exploring and opening up our vast country, they were pushing quickly to establish democratic principles.

Here in Victoria the secret ballot was born in 1856, which was followed by broadening of the franchise and eligibility for election to the parliament.

Those provided the ingredients for the birth of federation, which is best known for being a long and arduous process through the 1890s.

What it should be best known for is its national and democratic ambition.

For the Colonies to agree to seek to combine and create a national parliament that would have a Capital, as our Constitution states, not less than a hundred miles from Sydney was hugely ambitious.

Canberra had to be chosen, then constructed, with the first temporary Parliament opened not until May 1927 – 90 years ago in a few months.

All of this before air travel made the trek to Canberra relatively quick for Members of Parliament like me.

As incredible as it is, it should not be surprising that our national Capital would be founded in such a way. It was simply following in the pioneering footsteps of those who had made the settlement survive and succeed, which in turn enabled the establishment of our Colonies which could later combine to create a nation.

This ambition and determination to build a national capital and national parliament in a new place that all Australians would own, was matched in equal measure by the determination to craft an individual Australian democracy.

The federal fathers were never going to carbon anything. They chose a House of Representatives instead of a House of Commons, and an elected Senate instead of an appointed House of Lords. In their inspiration was the United States, not the United Kingdom.

But they chose a Westminster form of government, with Ministers of and accountable to the Parliament.

But, they chose three year terms for the House instead of the five year terms for the House of Commons at Westminster; one area where I believe our early colonial parliaments and the federal fathers erred.

But even once the federal fathers and the colonial parliaments had agreed, there could still be no national parliament until a majority of the people of Australia had agreed.

And in colonial referendums in 1899 and 1900, a majority in each colony agreed. Our nation was born by a vote of the people; a first at that time.

Born not of cannons, but consensus. The only shots fired were in celebration.

Uniquely amongst the English speaking world, Australia arose in peace, not war. And when the first parliament was elected and in session, the first electoral act abolished all property qualifications for the franchise, something that would not occur in Britain until after the First World War.

It also gave women the right to stand for parliament and to vote, again something women would be denied in the United States and the United Kingdom, until after the First World War.

In a short period of time, compulsory enrolment was legislated, which was followed by compulsory voting in 1924 in order to maximize participation – a rarity in any democracy still today.

Of course, by our standards there was more that we would have done, but by world standards they were pioneering and ahead of the pack.

What was achieved between the first Australia Day and the first day of the federated nation on the first day of the last century was truly extraordinary.

Its consistent orderly and successful progression enabled a new nation to evolve in the new world that was a democratic beacon to the old.

But evolution is never as dramatic as revolution. At school I studied History of Revolutions.

To my knowledge there has never been a subject devoted to History of Evolutions.

The Americans celebrate the day they declared independence from the British, that was only achieved years after a protracted war. Their national anthem is a beautiful summary of the symbolism of repelling the British in the war of 1812. That our history has none of this doesn't mean it is less interesting or should be less admired by any Australian.

As a strong supporter of the United States and all it has done for the world in the last century, I would rather have our history with all its imperfections than theirs, with their struggle for independence, their history of slavery and their subsequent civil war, which was waged in the age of Lincoln, but not really settled until the Kennedy-Johnson voting rights came into force a century later. So while their national beginning can be identified on a single day, ours is spread over a longer period.

But even so, Australia Day has grown from a sporadic low key affair to an ever- growing event of pride and achievement.

And when we ask why, the answer is we are celebrating more than just the day, we are celebrating all that we have created, all that we have become and all that we want to be.

On this day tomorrow we celebrate the builders and contributors across our great land who follow in the footsteps of and are imbued with the spirit of the pioneer, and the most personally and genuinely gifted welfare in life of a fair go and a helping hand.

From the Australian of the Year to the community volunteers who we will recognise and thank. We do it tonight and tomorrow.

As well as being volunteers day, Australia Day has also become new citizens day. As a member of parliament, welcoming new citizens is always a privilege. But for the 16,000 who will join us tomorrow as Australian citizens, they will especially remember becoming Australians on Australia Day.

They will join the more than 5 million who have taken the same oath or pledge since the legal commencement of citizenship.

And they are here taking that step because they want to be part of what our forebears have created.

A democratic society of opportunity. Still a place where anyone has a chance.

A nation where we will always be striving to do better, a nation where all of us can point to flaws, and we shouldn't shy away from them, but nor should we let them overshadow our incredible success.

We will have our political differences of opinion because we have a free and open democracy.

But despite this, we should have no difference of opinion at all that since the first Australia Day our forebears and those generations before us have created a truly special nation that is the envy of so many in the world.

From the pioneers who gave birth to the 'can do' attitude to the volunteers whose threads combine to provide the tapestry of community participation.

Our values that are enshrined in our democratic outlook and approach that leapt ahead of the old world; values we advocate to all, and defend in conflict when required.

That in my view is why Australia Day is growing and not shrinking. Happy Australia Day.

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