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Monday, 20 June 1994
Page: 1733

Senator O'CHEE (4.48 p.m.) —This is an interesting debate, when the other side of the chamber believes that we are proposing no change at all in this country. We on this side of the chamber do propose change, but we propose a change that will see this country led by statesmen. We on this side of the chamber propose a change that will see this country led by people who are proud of its history. We on this side of the chamber propose a change which will see this country represented overseas by people who are willing to stand up for the principles, for the morality and for the history that made this country great. That is why we on this side of the chamber seek to have this matter of public importance debated in the terms in which it has been put.

  The terms in which this matter of public importance has been put are very simply these: we are thoroughly opposed to the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) attempting to rewrite history and continuing to distort Australia's constitutional history and, more particularly, continuing to distort our constitutional history when he is overseas.

  This country deserves better—better than the rabble on the other side of the chamber and better than the rabble which passes for our Prime Minister today. This country deserves to be led by statesmen. We on this side of the chamber have the statesmen in Mr Downer and Mr Tim Fischer, who can do that job. The other side has somebody who thinks that the concept of leadership is best personified by grovelling on bended knee to the French and by denigrating our country and our country's achievements overseas and here in this chamber.

  A lot has been said in the past about how this country has to change because of ethnicity. You, like me, Mr Acting Deputy President, claim some Irish heritage. I also claim an Asian heritage, of which I am very proud. It is interesting to hear those on the other side of the chamber say that we should accommodate Asia while changing our constitution. It might be useful to explain why my family is in this country. My family, like the thousands of Asian families who live in this country, came here because we could see in this country, in this Commonwealth, a freedom that was worth living under and fighting for—

Senator Chris Evans —And not in the constitution.

Senator O'CHEE —And yes, a constitution that was worth fighting for and preserving. The reason why my grandfather came here was that he recognised that there was more opportunity for our family to succeed in this Australia than there was on the mainland of China. Mr Acting Deputy President, I assume that the reason your forebears came here from Ireland, as opposed to going to the United States or many of the other places to which they may have gone, was the freedoms and the privileges granted by our constitution, by our parliament. Yet people on the other side wish to tear that down, wish to destroy the fabric of Australian society. As the only Asian in this parliament I think I am in a better position to talk about what will cut the mustard in Asia than any of the rabble on the other side of the chamber. When I went to Singapore and Brunei they were all surprised that our head of state would denigrate our country overseas. They said that when their head of state went overseas he only promoted his country. It is a matter of great shame for me that this man who purports to represent our country, this Prime Minister, every time he goes overseas seeks to destroy the great achievements which our country can be proud of.

  For example, the suggestion is that this country is not a country of maturity. This is a very mature country. Unlike the people in Yugoslavia, in the United States and in Korea, we do not have riots in the streets. We do not have people at each other's throats. We do not have ethnic cleansing. We do not have the intolerance which we see frequently even in Europe, and even amongst the French, to whom the Prime Minister would have us aspire. This is a very mature country. That is why it is a country in which people of so many ethnic backgrounds can live together in peace and harmony, united by the principles of a free nation. What the other side of the chamber would have us do is rewrite that history, and rewrite it erroneously.

  The Prime Minister said that he was in favour of education about the constitution because if people were educated about the constitution they would realise that it was written by the British Foreign Office. This constitution was written by Australians. If that is the basis of the education which this so-called statesman, this so-called Prime Minister, would foist upon the Australian people, then I ask: what sort of education are we going to get? Are we going to get education which is based on truth and which is the basis of freedom of speech, or are we going to get some sort of lopsided, bitter, twisted view of history which supports a particular partisan point of view but which is not supported by the facts? If that is the sort of history, the sort of education, which the other side of the chamber would give us, then we know what constitutional education is all about as far as they are concerned.

  Constitutional education so far as the Labor Party is concerned is about propaganda and about the introduction of a thought police—that anybody who disagrees with that point of view is somehow less than an Australian. We on this side of the chamber say that the Prime Minister is welcome to his misconceptions but that when he misrepresents our history, our constitution and our country he should be brought to heel.

  Senator Schacht complains that originally there was a provision put into the constitution—which, of course, has been amended and removed—that provided for appeals to the Privy Council. But did I hear Senator Schacht complaining when this government provided for appeals to the United Nations without any amendment to the constitution at all? No, I did not, because Senator Schacht, the internationalist, was right at the forefront of that crusade. Unlike the Labor Party, those of us in the National and Liberal parties are proud Australians and proud Australian nationalists. We say that issues of Australian law should be resolved in Australian courts and not before the United Nations. We say that we should not go on bended knee to unelected bureaucrats in the UN but that Australians, and Australians alone, should decide the future of this country.

  That is why we on this side of the chamber are very suspicious of a Prime Minister who says to the French that we have a lot to learn from them about constitutional history and a tolerant society. The French have had five goes at putting together a republic. These are the people whose first republic ended in a bloody tyranny and whose second republic replaced the restoration of the Bourbons. Then we had Napoleon's great-nephew who was appointed a dictator for 18 years until the Germans came in and gave the French republic another kick in the backside, another chance of life. Then we had the collapses under the Vichy government and now we have the fifth republic. Is this the sort of republic that these people on the other side of the chamber would have us have? Is this the sort of stable democracy that they want to see? Of course it is not the sort of stable democracy that we on this side of the chamber would like to see brought to fruition. We believe that we have a very stable and very proud democracy now.

  I suppose the final point to be made is simply that this chamber has a right and a responsibility to stand up for this country, to stand up for the achievements of previous generations of Australians. If I spit on this country's flag, if I dishonour its history, if I dishonour the freedoms which this country has fought to create, then I do myself a disservice, I do my country a disservice and, most importantly, I do a disservice to my grandfather, who brought our family to this country, who saw a vision of freedom, who saw a vision of equality and who saw a vision of democracy which exists now under this constitution. But we know not whether this would exist under a constitution which the other side would seek to foist on the Australian people.