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Wednesday, 31 August 1994
Page: 662

Senator TAMBLING (1.10 p.m.) —I would like to take the opportunity today to refer to the official opening of the new Parliament House for the Northern Territory in Darwin on Thursday, 18 August. This was an important event. It was officiated at by the Governor-General on behalf of the people of Australia, and it very significantly draws a new focus to the self-government and eventual statehood ambitions of the people of the Northern Territory.

  Last week in this parliament I gave notice of a motion in four parts. That motion was to congratulate the people of the Northern Territory with regard to their new Parliament House. It noted specifically that the historic opening was attended by more than 600 people, including a wide range of school children and residents of the Northern Territory and many officials and dignitaries who had a former connection going back over a very long time with the political developments in the Northern Territory. They came from all sides and all parties in Australia.

  The motion recognised the significance of the building, which not only will accommodate the parliament itself but also accommodate 200 to 300 people working within the building. It will house not only the parliamentary chamber but also officers for ministers and members of the government and the opposition. It will include a state reference library and will provide facilities for a state crisis centre to coordinate relief operations. It is a twin building to the recently opened Supreme Court of the Northern Territory, and forms an important adjunct to what is now a very prominent and special state square in the immediate centre of Darwin.

  The fourth part of my motion last week commended local industry and tradesmen on the very high quality design and workmanship involved in the construction of this building. I was disappointed that I was not able to negotiate with all parties in this parliament for that motion to be declared formal last week in the normal process. I am pleased that the Liberal Party and the government indicated that they would have supported the motion had I been able to negotiate a formal position. However, due to the small- and mean-mindedness of the Australian Democrats and the Greens, I was not able to proceed with having that motion proceed as a formal one; and to have pursued a debate would have engaged this parliament in an unnecessary and acrimonious debate of what should have been a very prominent and special occasion. I think it is indicative that neither the Australian Democrats nor the Greens hold representation in the Northern Territory parliament. Judging from their action last week, I think it is indicative that they probably never will, so the new Parliament House will be a forum of a two-party system in the Northern Territory where, very obviously, there will be active and vigorous debate.

  I was also disappointed that the Prime Minister, Mr Keating, delivered a snub—a calculated insult—to the people of the Northern Territory by not attending the official opening. Mr Keating would have been well aware of all of the development programs and projects that have been associated with constitutional development of the Northern Territory. My own relationship with him goes back to 1974, when Mr Keating was made Minister for Northern Australia. It was, in fact, his first ministry in the parliament. He and I, among others, entered into very formal and early negotiations for self-government for the Northern Territory.

  The fact that the Prime Minister turned up in Darwin several hours after the official opening in order to attend the meeting of COAG the next day only highlighted his own personal situation in this regard. I must express the fact that I was very disappointed about that as so many other dignitaries on both political sides, including his predecessors in office, were able to attend.

  The building itself, as I said earlier, will provide a very important focus for the Northern Territory and the future development of that area, particularly Australia's relationship with Asia. Members of the Senate would be well aware that the Northern Territory government alone among governments in Australia has a Special Minister of State for Asian Relations and Trade. This has built not only on the important memorandum of understanding between the Northern Territory and Indonesia, but also on the very wide work that minister, Mr Shane Stone, is undertaking throughout the Asian region on behalf of the people of the Northern Territory. I was very pleased to see that the consular corps from countries in our near neighbourhood were associated with the official opening, and were present on that occasion.

  The building itself provides the focal point. I hope the fact that so many school children of the Northern Territory were present means that in future they will all come to regard it as a premier building in which they ought to participate, just as they do in this chamber and in the House of Representatives. I think it is important to look at the five years that we have been in the new Parliament House in Canberra, and appreciate the additional resources that have been provided to members of the parliament and the competent functioning of this parliament during the five years. It not only enhances members of parliament, the clerks and the staff, but also provides a better form of government, just as this building in the Northern Territory will.

  I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard the terms of the motion that I proposed last week, a copy of the speech by the Northern Territory Chief Minister, the Hon. Marshall Perron MLA entitled `Advancing the Northern Territory towards equal partnership in the Australian federation', and the official address given at the opening by the Hon. Bill Hayden, Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, on Thursday, 18 August 1994.

  Leave granted.

  The documents read as follows

New Parliament House, Darwin

  Senator TAMBLING (Northern Territory)—I give notice that, on the next day of sitting, I shall move:

  That the Senate—

  (a)congratulates the people of the Northern Territory on their new Parliament House in Darwin, which was officially opened by the Governor-General on 18 August 1994;

  (b)notes that the historic opening was attended by 600 Territory residents, school children, Members of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, Northern Territory federal parliamentary representatives and dignitaries including former Governor-General, Sir Zelman Cowen, former Prime Ministers, Sir John Gorton and the Honourable Gough Whitlam, the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Howe), the Treasurer (Mr Willis), the Minister for Human Services and Health (Dr Lawrence), the Leader of the National Party (Mr Fischer), former party leader, the Right Honourable Ian Sinclair, State Premiers, the Australian Capital Territory Chief Minister (Ms Follett) and members of the diplomatic corps;

  (c)recognises the significance of this building, which hosted a Council of Australian Governments meeting on 19 August 1994, and which, in future, will accommodate 200 to 300 people, house a parliamentary chamber, offices for Ministers and Members, and the State reference library and provide facilities for a State crisis centre to co-ordinate relief operations; and

  (d)commends local industry and tradesmen on the high quality design and workmanship involved in the construction of the Northern Territory's premier building.


Address by the Northern Territory Chief Minister


At the Opening of the Northern Territory's new Parliament House, Darwin—18 August 1994

His Excellency, The Governor-General, Honoured guests and Fellow Territorians,

This is an historic occasion for the people of the Northern Territory.

We are honoured that so many friends from other countries and States are here to share this moment with us.

Today, the Governor-General will not just open an imposing new public building, but a building which displays the pride and confidence we Territorians have in our future.

Appropriately, he presides at a ceremony to inaugurate what will become the Seventh State Parliament of the Federation of Australia.

The rest of Australia should be in no doubt that this building symbolises the determination of the people of the Northern Territory to take our rightful place as full and equal partners in the federation—and as strong participants in the advancement of our nation and our region.

There is much history centred on and around the site of this Parliament building, including the history of the struggle of Territorians for representative government.

Once part of the colony of New South Wales, the Territory later became part of the colony of South Australia, then a territory of the State of South Australia at federation in 1901 and subsequently a territory of the Commonwealth in 1911.

It is ironic that as citizens of South Australia in 1901, Territorians had greater participation in the Australian Federation than they did a decade later when the Commonwealth assumed full control of the Territory and revoked all parliamentary representation.

In 1918, dissatisfaction with Commonwealth administration led to what is known as the `Darwin Rebellion' which drove the Commonwealth Government Representative out of town.

It was not until 1923 that the Territory regained representation in Federal Parliament, but forty-five years were to pass before our single MHR was given full voting rights in 1968.

In 1947 the Territory gained its own Legislative Council—but it only had power to make ordinances and elected Members were outnumbered by Canberra appointees.

A fully elected Legislative Assembly replaced the Legislative Council 27 years later, in 1974, but still its powers were very limited.

The great change came in 1978 with self government, and the Territory surged ahead.

Social and economic growth have been remarkable.

Armed with an interim charter towards statehood, Territorians seized the opportunity.

In our sixteen year period of self-rule, the Territory has prospered despite the external constitutional constraints which have blocked many of our development options.

This former backwater, which the rest of Australia had forgotten, has been transformed into a modern, progressive State—and is acknowledged as a leader in making friends in the dynamic Asian region which starts just over our northern horizon.

The record shows that here, like elsewhere, self rule turned local vision into growth, and new endeavour.

The continued existence of this one sixth of all Australia as a Territory constitutionally inferior to the States is an anachronism.

A long line of restless people, from both sides of politics, began agitating for Territory rights almost from the date when the Territory was split from South Australia.

They were, if you like, the brothers and sisters of those from Australia's early colonial era who were first vilified and later applauded for their pursuit of the time honoured quest for political and constitutional rights.

What they fought for, and what they gained today are taken for granted, yet every Australian owes them an obligation.

Their quest became the force that built the nation.

We will complete the task they began so long ago only when the Territory's legitimate claim is acknowledged, when those who have the authority to transfer to the Territory the powers that the States enjoy, reflect and remind themselves about the true foundations of our national democratic heritage.

As we near the centenary of the nation's constitutional birth it will become increasingly inexplicable to those who observe Australian affairs that a nation which lectures others about equality and political rights itself does not practice that equality for all of its citizens.

Let us consign to the dustbin of history the archaic situation where the people of one-sixth of the continent are governed on a basis different from the rest.

It would be a fitting contribution to the centenary of federation just six years away.

It would display to the world the maturing of this one nation.

Then the federation catchcry of the 1890s `a nation for a continent and a continent for a nation' would at last be fulfilled.

Your Excellency, I thank you for your willingness to be present here in Darwin at this historic moment.

It gives me great pleasure to now invite you to address us and to formally open the new parliament house of Australia's Northern Territory.



It is a particular honour for me to be with you in Darwin today for the official opening of the Northern Territory's splendid new Parliament House.

In any representative democracy, as we are blessed with in Australia, the opening of a new parliament house is a time for celebration by all people.

It is an occasion on which we can speak with some pride of what such a building has to say about the nature of our society and the form of government under which we live.

There is, for example, the sense of civic accomplishment—and all that the building expresses through its architecture and its physical presence about the community that constructed it.

It is certainly true that, while the Northern Territory occupies one-sixth of the continental landmass, the population comprises barely one per cent of the Australian total. Yet it is also a young population—a growing, a vigorous, an enterprising population. . .

A community that is taking advantage of the great opportunities the Territory has to offer in terms of its natural resources, its environmental beauty, its proximity to the markets or our Asian and Pacific neighbours—in particular to Indonesia.

As Australia at large adjusts itself to the economic and geographic realities of our place in the modern world, the Northern Territory is making a substantial contribution as a gateway to trade in commodities, in tourism and educational services, in sporting and cultural links with the region.

It is a community, too, that very much reflects the multicultural dynamics that are so re-shaping Australian society—making of us a much more diverse, tolerant and interesting people. A more outward-looking, creative and successful nation.

And we see these things expressed in the self-confidence of this Parliament House, standing here with such assurance in the State Square project, reflecting the vitality of the community around it.

It also reflects, naturally enough, the constitutional processes and developments that it is designed to serve: a unicameral parliament with seating for 25 members, although I see there is a future capacity for 40.

No doubt the designers had a growing territory population and the movement towards future full statehood in mind.

Obviously I don't involve myself in that debate. But I do note that the constitutional arrangements of the Northern Territory have been continually evolving since the early days.

It has been administered at various times by New South Wales, South Australia and the Commonwealth, until the present form of limited self-government was achieved in 1978. Limited in the sense that certain state-type powers still remain with the Federal Parliament.

As the constitutional arrangements of the Territory have evolved over the years, so have the buildings that housed your various legislatures, as speakers have reminded us today.

They first met in an old second world war hut. There were times when members in the later building were surrounded by buckets catching the rainwater leaks.

I do not anticipate there will be any problem of that in this building. It contains every modern facility for the efficient and comfortable functioning of parliamentary democracy. . .

For backbench members, for the committees, for the opposition and executive, for the officers of the parliament (it has one of the world's most advanced Hansard recording systems) and, speaking of leaks, for the press gallery.

Above all, there are the people—the men and women and children of the Northern Territory—whose interests the parliament exists to serve.

They have access not just through the public galleries and the great hall, but also to the combined parliamentary and state reference library which is such a unique feature of this building among Australian parliaments.

Ladies and gentlemen, a successful democracy depends not just on free and willing debate between the elected representatives of the people. It also relies upon a well-informed, critical and involved community itself. . .

One that is receptive to the clash of ideas and opinion, that is tolerant of differences, that is able to make a mature judgment upon them within the electoral process.

An open, enquiring attitude; a commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflict—to the principles of justice and decency for all. . .

These are the fundamental values of our society this building seeks to express as a parliament that is representative of the whole community.

That is why I say it is a particular honour for me to be with you today, and why this is an occasion to be celebrated by people everywhere.

May I therefore congratulate all who have been involved with the planning, the design and construction of this building. It is a worthy addition to the city of Darwin, to the Northern Territory, and to the democratic principles by which we Australians govern ourselves.

I offer my warmest good wishes to everyone who will serve here, now and into the future. In so saying, it is my great pleasure to officially declare open the new parliament house of the Northern Territory.