Page 249 - Week 01 - Thursday, 9 December 2004

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Many different groups in the Australian community—the labour movement, politicians of all sides and the republican movement—have all at one time or another laid claim to the mantle of Eureka. Some say that it was about a small business struggle. Mr Smyth has said that today. Others say that it was about a workers’ rebellion.

Mr Gentleman is right to call on the Assembly to recognise the significance of the events of Eureka to the development of Australian democracy because, whether you think it was motivated by a labour movement, small business or something else entirely, Eureka represented democratic ideals through the attainment of suffrage and fairer representation. More simply, it represented democratic ideals through the miners’ fight for equal rights and a fair go.

The events at Ballarat in 1854 are open to debate and I am pleased that the raising of flags in Canberra has helped trigger this debate locally. As Gough Whitlam said in 1973, the importance of an historical event lies not in what happened but in what later generations believe to have happened. That is why I was disappointed that the Prime Minister of Australia refused to take part in the official celebrations for the 150th anniversary of Eureka and it is why I support the third part of Mr Gentleman’s motion, which calls on the Assembly to express its disappointment with the federal government’s lack of willingness to engage with the ongoing debate of Eureka.

Mr Howard would say that he prefers substance over symbolism. He does not understand the simple fact that it is the symbolism that gives meaning to the substance. Debates about our past are vital as Australia looks towards the future. History helps us understand the present. Events like the Eureka Stockade help us to understand the formation of our national identity.

The final part of Mr Gentleman’s motion calls for the ACT government to ensure the continuing commemoration of the Eureka stockade in the ACT by the introduction of a calendar note. I am very supportive of this call. By being included in the official calendars, the day will not be a public holiday, but it will be marked in a similar way to days such as Mabo day. I understand that the government will be pleased to mark the day by raising the large flag on City Hill on 3 December each year. I understand also that schools will be provided with flags that they can raise to mark the anniversary.

I would like to say in finishing, Mr Speaker, that before last week and the raising of the Eureka flag around Canberra I had not really gone into the debate about the Australian flag. The Union Jack does not cause me a great deal of offence, but there are times when I do not think that it is necessarily the symbol that we want to be putting out to the rest of the world. We are not a colony of Britain; we are our own country. Certainly, the Queen is still the head of state. I am a republican and I would like to see that we get our own head of state one day, but I have never had a huge argument about the flag. I do not think it is worthy of debate. I think there are other things which are more important.

But I have to say that as I have driven around the town in the last week it has given me a buzz to see the Eureka flag raised on flagpoles. I think the argument about the symbolism of the Eureka flag being important is a worthy one. I commend Mr Gentleman for his motion.

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