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Wednesday, 22 June 1994
Page: 1854


Senator ABETZ (12.59 p.m.) —I rise in the debate on matters of public interest to discuss the erosion of our national integrity. Members of the Australian Labor Party really cannot help themselves. They have to destroy, belittle and object to all our unifying national symbols and structures. Their attack on our flag is well known. Labor ripped it out in its campaign as part of the pro-republic push of our Prime Minister (Mr Keating). They say that the flag is unAustralian. Let me ask the fundamental question: who designed and approved the flag? Of course, the answer is that it was by Australians for Australia.

  It is a proud flag and it is our unifying symbol. It is an attractive flag. It has a great heritage and history behind it. Indeed, young backpackers from Australia sew it onto their packs and jackets as they travel the world. Young and old alike use the flag at important sporting functions around Australia and display it with a degree of enthusiasm that shows the great degree of support our flag has. In excess of 60 per cent of Australians fully endorse our flag, 20 per cent do not, and 20 per cent cannot really make up their minds. There is a clear majority in favour of our flag, yet the Australian Labor Party seeks to undermine it because it is somehow unAustralian. Does that mean that 60 per cent of Australians cannot determine what is Australian or that the 20 per cent minority is somehow an elite that is to advise the majority what the flag ought to be? If 60 per cent of Australians identify with the flag, it is clearly a symbol of national unity and a symbol which is Australian.

  The Labor Party's real concern is that there is a small Union Jack in the top left-hand corner. That is the real reason for its objection. But the Union Jack, which is only a small part of our flag, is a very great part of our heritage and foundation as a modern nation. It would be akin to the Prime Minister telling his parents on his 18th birthday, `I'll change my name because I've grown up and I need to make my own way in the world.' He did not do that. Undoubtedly, the reason for that was that he was proud of his parental heritage, name and origin. Why should not Australia similarly keep that small symbol on its flag that represents Australia's heritage and origin? There is no logical argument for change or support among the general population for a change, yet Labor desperately pursues its goal of destroying the flag.

  Let us turn to the national anthem. The lesson to be learned from that is a very interesting one. We changed our national anthem with less than 50 per cent support. Advance Australia Affair received 43.2 per cent support in a poll some 10 to 15 years ago. It became our national anthem in 1984 by official proclamation of His Excellency the Governor-General, Sir Ninian Stephen. Now, only 10 years later, we have prominent public figures, prominent well-respected Australians such as Allan Border, Geoff Blainey, even Joan Kirner and Peter Hollingworth, expressing their dissatisfaction. The change in the late 1970s and early 1980s concerning our anthem caused great controversy at the time.

  I simply ask the question: ten years later, where are we? We are still confused and dissatisfied with our anthem. Surely we as a nation need to be more mature in determining our national symbols. Surely we will not change our anthem every decade. The anthem exercise clearly warns us: move in haste, repent at leisure. Similarly with our flag, change for the sake of some unexplained desire for change is not sufficient reason and will result only in Australians rejecting and feeling indifferent to those symbols that ought to be above politics and a unifying force and focus of bipartisan attention.

  I turn to our constitution. Our constitution and system of government have withstood the test of time. Indeed, it was most ironic that the Prime Minister of Australia told the French President in France that he had this desire for a republic. In speaking to Francois Mitterrand, the Prime Minister was speaking to the President of the fifth republic of France. The French have had four attempts and failed; they are now on their fifth. Compare that system of government with the British monarchy and the Westminster system and our own home-grown and developed constitution, which is a unique and dynamic federal system of government. The stability of those two systems is the envy of the world, yet the Prime Minister dishonestly seeks to undermine the great document. Allow me to quote what he said in recent times:

Learning about the Constitution apprises people of the fact that we've got a Constitution which was designed by the British Foreign Office to look over the Australian Government's shoulder.

That is clearly false. That comment by the Prime Minister indicates that the wheels are falling off the republican bandwagon and therefore the Prime Minister needs to resort to greater and greater distortions to try to get his message across. It also indicates clearly that the Labor government will stop at nothing. Those opposite have no moral code by which they conduct themselves in public debate. If they want to get a point across, they will use any technique.

  In relation to the Prime Minister's statement, it is wrong, wrong, wrong. Let me point that out. First, the Australian constitution was framed by Australians for Australians and on Australian initiative. The document was drafted by Samuel Griffith, who had lived in Australia since the age of nine, along with Kingston, Clark and Edmund Barton, who were all native born Australians. Does the Prime Minister think that somehow these native born Australians were less Australian than he is?

  Let me move on. The British Colonial Office played no essential part in framing the Commonwealth constitution, and the Foreign Office, to which the Prime Minister referred, had nothing whatsoever to do with the matter. That is not a matter of opinion; that is a matter of historical fact. So we have a Prime Minister who either deliberately lied or is completely and utterly ignorant as to the constitutional history of our great country. Ultimately, the constitution was adopted because Australians voted for it by a plebiscite, by a referendum. When suggestions were made that the Australian constitution ought to be altered to allow the interpretation of the constitution to be determined in London, it was argued in Australia, and successfully so, that the Australian High Court ought to have the final determination in that matter.

  I am very glad that I have had the opportunity today to try to set the record straight in relation to the Prime Minister's distortion. Labor supporters around this country must be absolutely embarrassed by the performance of their Prime Minister. The real tragedy is that, while the Prime Minister fiddles with the flag and constitution, our nation is being undermined by the Prime Minister's `moth to a candle' obsession with international treaties. As he flies closer and closer to the wonderfully bright light of the candle, he does not recognise that behind the bright light is an all-consuming flame which will devour our nation's sovereignty.

  In recent times my home state of Tasmania has witnessed debates on the involvement of the United Nations in our domestic law. Firstly, we had the Toonen submission, which contained lies and falsehoods yet was embraced by the United Nations as the truth. Tasmania was denied the right to defend itself and to test the accuracy of Mr Toonen's evidence. The United Nations Human Rights Committee seeks to tell the people of Tasmania that its democratically elected government, chosen by the people of Tasmania for the people, ought to change its laws. At the same time, the committee breaches every basic rule of natural justice, such as the right to cross-examine your accuser, the right to a fair hearing, the right to an open and public hearing, the right to have an unbiased tribunal determine the matter—the list goes on. The United Nations is a laughing stock, with its pathetic attempt to tell peace-loving nations like Australia and the state of Tasmania how to conduct themselves.

  Secondly, in recent times Tasmania has had a blast from the past from the former Labor leader in Tasmania, Mr Wriedt, peddling flower power theories on child discipline and threatening to go to the United Nations. No wonder Mr Wriedt never became the Premier of my state. He was willing to give away the rights of Tasmanian families, teachers and schools to administer loving discipline to an unrepresentative body in Geneva. My wife and I want to make decisions about discipline of our children for ourselves, not have those decisions made by bureaucrats sitting in Geneva, on the other side of the world.

  Criminal law and discipline of the child are just two examples of areas where international conventions impinge on Australia's sovereignty. Also affected are the areas of industrial relations and environmental law. These matters are now all being dictated out of Geneva. I am very proud to be a member of the parliamentary Liberal Party, which has as its leader Mr Alexander Downer, who so publicly opposed the abuse of these international treaties as being some credible form of domestic law making.

  A further cornerstone of our great nation is its democratically elected parliament. Yet even this is being undermined by the Labor government by its outrageous use of the guillotine. The facts speak for themselves. The current Labor government has avoided the scrutiny of bills passing through parliament by a technique known as the guillotine. The guillotine was originally used to enable legislation to be considered quickly in emergency situations. To do this, a time limit was placed on debate. This procedure is now being used to the level of abuse by the Keating Labor government. Mr Keating has guillotined 257 bills in his first 2 1/2 parliamentary years as Prime Minister. During the 11 years of federal Labor government from 1983 to June 1994, 666 pieces of legislation were guillotined. In comparison, there were only 218 bills guillotined for the entire period between 1901 to 1982. This Labor government's total represents more than three times that number in one-seventh of the time. Australia needs a desperate and urgent change of government to unify our nation once again behind the institutions and symbols that ought to be beyond politics.