Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2005 Week 01 Hansard (Thursday, 9 December 2004 2004) . . Page.. 292 ..
was instrumental in precipitating change, and the extent to which change was inevitable and imminent in any case remains a point of contention.
Eureka has been adopted as a symbol not only by the left but also at times by groups of the radical right, as I mentioned earlier. The Eureka affair has been variously characterised and mythologised as the cradle of Australian democracy, and I think that is what has happened.
This enduring, if ambiguous, legacy was not apparent in Ballarat in the years immediately following the Stockade battle, and I think that is worthy of note. On the contrary, it seems that, for a generation after, the inclination amongst the officialdom and the Ballarat community alike was to forget the whole incident.
Mr Speaker, I do not in any way wish to degrade an important historical occasion, but I do question the way in which this event has been interpreted and I do question the importance being given to it as the supposed basis for democracy in Australia. I think that the developments that led towards democracy were far more complex. I am a descendant of a state minister and, later, a senator who played an important role as we worked towards creating a commonwealth system. From the extensive reading I have undertaken on those deliberations, Eureka was not cited as one of their motivations. In fact, the real issues of the day were the postal service, gambling, lotteries going through the post, international trade because the states were considering themselves sovereign states, subsidies and the granting of what powers they were going to extend to the commonwealth. They were the main issues foremost in their minds.
There are much more competent authorities than I, Mr Speaker, to speak on historical matters in the time I have available. I think it is worthy of noting what Professor Geoffrey Blainey said when he noted that nearly every political party in Britain and Australia has claimed a special link with Eureka—the Labor Party at times, the Liberal Party, the now defunct DLP, the Nationals, communists, republicans, the multiculturalists.
He goes on and talks about the fact that the goldminers were demanding a fair go, and it was a powerful democratic movement with genuine grievances. He said that governments of the day did not listen attentively enough and did not act quickly enough, and there is a lesson for modern governments today. Whilst I do not condone violence, there is a message about the reaction of groups when you have excess regulation and overzealous governments in terms of applying taxation and removing the freedom of people who are self-employed business people. There are parallels.
I think that what Professor Blainey advises us is important in terms of how we should interpret Eureka. What he says—these are important words and I would urge the Labor Party to consider what he has on offer—is that we should celebrate Eureka and its democratic process as a landmark event in Australia, but we should not go too far in celebrating the battle itself, exciting and tragic as it was. The main lesson of Eureka is that debate, negotiation and compromise are far more effective and humane than an appeal to arms.
Mr Speaker, this is an event that, sadly, has been totally politicised. I would urge the Labor Party to reconsider the way in which it has approached this event. The inclusion of