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Wednesday, 5 March 2014
Page: 1794


Mr HUTCHINSON (Lyons) (19:30): An unassuming document with faded lettering, in a discrete display box, tucked away in a corner of this very building, is Australia's rare and direct link to the birth of modern democracy. Australia has one of the few surviving copies of Magna Carta. Another lies alongside the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States in Washington DC. This ancient document is rightly regarded in the English-speaking world as a symbol representing the freedom and rights of the individual as they exist under the law of the land. Magna Carta states that free men can only be judged by their peers and that the people stand above the government.

Magna Carta, translated from Latin as Great Charter, was sealed under oath by King John at Runnymede on the banks of the River Thames near Windsor on 15 June 1215, and 2015 is the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta. The Australian government purchased a 1297 copy of Magna Carta in 1952 from King's School, in Bruton, England. It cost 1,250 pounds, yet was valued at more than $40 million only a decade ago. The ink-on-vellum document is one of only four of the final versions of the historic charter that has survived.

You may ask why I bring mention of this 800-year-old document to this place in 2014; for many, the words of Magna Carta may seem strange in our modern world. But as I said to students from the Mole Creek Primary School in my electorate of Lyons when they visited this place: the parliament sits in the hill, not on the hill. This suggests that as elected representatives we are indeed the servants of the people that put us in this place.

What Daniel Hannan, member for South East England in the European Parliament describes so eloquently as 'this secular miracle' is, for the English-speaking people of the world, perhaps, our Torah. In practice, Magna Carta did not generally limit the power of kings in medieval times. By the time of the English Civil War it had become an important symbol for those who wished to show that the king was bound by the same laws as his subjects. In turn this influenced early settlers to the New World, and the ideals and sentiment of Magna Carta inspired later documents, including the constitution of the United States of America.

Written in Latin, much of the charter at Runnymede was painstakingly copied by hand, nearly word for word, from the Charter of Liberties Henry 1 issued when he became king in 1100. My interest and passion for Magna Carta is not for the document itself. Although interesting, to me its significance lies in the relevance of its sentiment and meaning in respect of the freedoms that we sometimes take for granted today. The freedom of the individual to choose, to own property and to be judged only by his peers according to the law of the land, are a fundamental tenet of this document and also of the party which I am a member.

The Liberal Party is the party of choice and the party of freedom. If we stand for nothing else, we stand for a system of government that elevates the individual to a place above the state. It was this notion, conceived so long ago, that set the English-speaking people of the world apart, and charted the course for the rights and freedoms that we take for granted today. Look around the world we live in—be it in Europe, Asia, South America or Africa, we have dictators, we have despots, we have regimes that seek to control their people through fear and threats of violence and abuse by the state. Edmund Burke said, 'All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.' By elevating the individual above the state, protected by the law of the land, we empower them to rise up and defy the dictator, defy the despot, defy the tyrant. Long may this be so in our great country. Australia's precious, surviving copy of Magna Carta is displayed in a glass box on the first floor of Parliament House to the right of the entrance to the Great Hall. Please take the time to reflect.