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Monday, 20 June 1994
Page: 1727

Senator KERNOT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (4.22 p.m.) —Yes, history is important; and, yes, the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) got his history on the writing of the constitution wrong. But Senator Kemp got his history wrong today, too. And what does it matter? I will tell Senator Kemp where he was wrong. He said that New Zealand was the only country to provide rights to women equivalent to ours, in 1894—the right to stand for parliament and to vote. The fact is that although New Zealand allowed women the right to vote in 1893, it would not, until 1919, grant women the right to stand for election. So he got it wrong, but the sky has not fallen in. I am not saying that history is not important; it is. But of all the matters which could constitute a matter of public importance to be discussed here today, when looking at this issue, why not talk about something more meaningful such as the long-term effects of global economies on national economies, the long-term effects of global economies on national borders and national symbols? We might not even have any in the near future.

  The second part of Senator Kemp's proposal refers to the Prime Minister's attempt to advance his radical plans to tear up our national symbols and to overturn our constitution. Senator Kemp knows that Mr Keating cannot tear up or rewrite the constitution, even if he wanted to. He knows that a referendum is required; nevertheless, the scare campaign continues. That is all the more reason why we need better education in our schools—so that Australians can have this shield of information protection and immunity from scaremongering. The question about the education kit is: who has responsibility for the content?

  The coalition accuses Mr Keating of having radical plans, but what I think the coalition fails to acknowledge, for the cheapest of political reasons, is that society is not static. It is not a monolithic entity. Change is inevitable; change has happened. Let us look at a couple of really obvious changes: 27 per cent of Australians have non-English speaking ancestry; regionalism dominates our economic and trade policies; Australian investment in Asia has grown fivefold in the last decade; and we have witnessed massive changes in family life because of the entrance of women into the work force. We cannot stop change; we cannot ignore it. But national symbols, important as they are, have to be symbols that embrace us all and reflect that change. They have to reflect the new realities of Australia as we move towards a new century.

  Over the past decade we have been updating some of these national symbols that Senator Kemp is worried about. We have changed the national anthem; we have changed the oath of allegiance; we have abolished the British knighthood system. They are hardly radical changes. Many Australians speak of the need for a new flag. Yesterday Archbishop Hollingworth spoke about the need for a new anthem. For goodness sake, let us not be afraid to at least discuss these things. But the bottom line is that there should not be change without a vote of the Australian people.

  The matter of public importance submitted by Senator Kemp talks about overturning our constitution. I have to ask members of the coalition why they are so afraid of national debate on the important question of possible impediments to Australia's progress as a nation. The answers do not all lie in the failure of micro-economic reform. Why cannot we as a nation discuss in a mature fashion whether our constitution is equipped to cope with the information—

Senator Kemp —We are discussing that.

Senator KERNOT —No. Senator Kemp says that the answer is already predetermined and that no change is required. Why do we not look at the impact of the information revolution? Why do we not look at the blurring of our national borders if we are going to talk about national symbols? Why are those opposite so afraid to embrace change? Why do we not have a mature discussion over at least the next six years about the appropriateness of the powers currently enjoyed by our three tiers of government? Are they the most appropriate for 1994 and will they take us into the next century?

  Why do we not ask: is the so-called new federalism working? On how many issues in this country do we come to an absolute full stop when state cooperation is required? Some recent examples that I can think of include labelling laws, immunisation programs, environmental protection, human rights abuses, implementation of the recommendations of the deaths in custody report, treatment of the mentally ill and state laws on homosexual behaviour. These things point to the need for a bill of rights. That is something else that we should be talking about as a nation.

  Rather than speaking about overturning the constitution, we should be looking at building on it and improving it. For example, in the preamble to our constitution should we have acknowledgment of the prior occupation of this country by indigenous Australians? Our founding fathers could not have envisaged the destruction of our natural environment by successive generations. They could not have envisaged the challenges posed to law making by the technological revolution, particularly with respect to the whole notion of telecommunications ownership and content. Our constitution is incapable of thinking through the challenge of those things in the next century.

Senator Kemp —Do away with this teacher's approach.

Senator KERNOT —Senator Kemp, these are things which do not respect state or territory boundaries. We need to be thinking of the future and not always of the past, which Senator Schacht says the coalition seems to be stuck in. A new national perspective is necessary. Constitutional change may also be necessary. This is not a radical thing. This is responsible government for all Australians.

  I conclude by also quoting from the article by Mary Kalantzis and Bill Cope. It goes back to the wording of the matter of public importance submitted by Senator Kemp. It talks about history; it talks our national symbols. The article reads:

  If we know our history, it seems that more change is due, and this is why we need to be discussing and debating which ways change might occur. Pragmatism and commonsense—

which were the messages of Mr Downer—

do not mean that we have to resist change.

. . . . . . . . .

  The debates about the flag, the republic and Australian identity are not mere figments of the ideological imagination. They are based on the old and new realities of our history.

This is a history of looking ahead; it is a history of inclusiveness. It is not a history of scaremongering and ripping up constitutions; rather it is about building and improving on what we have as we start a new century.