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Monday, 1 December 2003
Page: 23315

Ms KING (3:10 PM) —The Flags Amendment (Eureka Flag) Bill 2003 amends the Flags Act 1953 to include the Eureka flag. I want to begin by saying what this bill is not about. The bill is not about paving the way for the Eureka flag to replace our national flag. The inclusion of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags in the Flags Act did not do this; nor is it the intention of this bill to do so. This bill is also not about flying the flag from the main flagpole over Parliament House. This bill, if passed, means that the Eureka flag can be flown from an appropriate flagpole within the parliamentary precinct on the commemoration of the Eureka rebellion and at other times deemed appropriate by the Presiding Officers.

This bill has come about because, on the 148th anniversary of the battle of the Eureka Stockade, I wrote to the Presiding Officers requesting that the flag be flown from a suitable flagpole within the parliamentary precinct. I thought it would be a simple request. I was advised that, as the Eureka flag was not proclaimed under the Flags Act, it could not be flown. I have since been advised by a past member of this House that it was actually flown in the 1970s at Old Parliament House. I subsequently wrote to the Prime Minster, asking that he write to the Governor-General requesting that the Eureka flag be proclaimed under the Flags Act 1953. The response, whilst understanding the importance of the flag, unfortunately did not agree to have the flag recognised.

There is a lot of misconception and hysteria about the Eureka flag—much of it, I have to say, coming from people who have not studied or read much about the history of Eureka. I strongly recommend that people interested in this debate read Professor John Molony's book Eureka. The flag has a unique and important place in our history and should be recognised as such. Much of the hysteria and fear about the flag comes from a perception that it has been appropriated by the trade union movement. It is true that some unions use the flag to symbolise the labour movement's struggle for better working conditions, but it is also true that many other groups across the political spectrum utilise the flag. Many of my South Australian colleagues see the flag not as representing trade unions but as representing National Action, a right-wing anti-immigration organisation. The private sector have utilised the flag as well to promote their business. Currently we have Grocon building the Eureka Tower in Melbourne, and Ballarat itself has a proud array of businesses with Eureka and the flag in their title.

We live in a democracy, and an organisation's or individual's use of the Eurkea flag is not for me or anyone of us to dictate. However, to have the Eureka flag recognised in its correct historical context, it is important for the parliament to recognise it. It is a bipartisan issue, and I want to remind members on the other side of this House that even Menzies himself said that Eureka was an earnest attempt at democratic government.

I want to put into Hansard a little of the history of Eureka. In 1854, anyone wishing to mine on the goldfields in Victoria was required to pay a licence fee of 2 every three months. Many miners queued up in the early days to pay the fee, expecting improvements to roads and health and education facilities. These improvements were not forthcoming. The licence fee was considered by many as unfair as it fell upon everyone, regardless of their ability to pay. The issue of taxation without the basic democratic right of representation led to a number of meetings of miners, where concerns were expressed about licence fees and the policing of the licence fees. The most significant of these meetings was the meeting of the Ballarat Reform League on 11 November and the `monster meeting' at Bakery Hill on 29 November 1854, when 10,000 people gathered—about one-third of the then Ballarat population. The diggers then marched from Bakery Hill to the area chosen to establish the Eureka stockade. Tensions came to a head in a pre-dawn raid on 3 December 1854, with police and soldiers joining forces. At least 16 nations were represented at Eureka, with 28 people dying and a number more being unaccounted for.

A century ago, Mark Twain visited Australia and said of Eureka:

It was a revolution—small in size, but great politically; it was a strike for liberty, a struggle for a principle, a stand against injustice and oppression. It was the Barons and John, over again; it was Hampden and Ship-Money; it was Concord and Lexington; small beginnings, all of them, but all of them great in political results, all of them epoch-making. It is another instance of a victory won by a lost battle.

With the 150th anniversary of the Eureka rebellion next year, I want people to look at the Eureka flag and think about our history, about our democracy and the fragile nature of it. I want them to look at the flag with pride about our achievements and recognition that in 2004 we have come a long way from the struggles on the goldfields in 1854, that our history is something to be proud of and that our Eureka flag is something to be proud of. I commend the bill to the House.

Bill read a first time.

The SPEAKER —In accordance with standing order 104A, the second reading will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.