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Tuesday, 30 November 2004
Page: 93


Senator MASON (6:52 PM) —I rise this evening to speak about one of the great historical and cultural frauds perpetrated against the Australian people. It has been noted before on many occasions, but the coming 150th anniversary of this event provides a good opportunity to start reclaiming from the left-wing pantheon one of Australia's most historic and iconic events. In the United States the Grinch might have stolen Christmas, but in Australia the Labor Party stole the Eureka Stockade. And now is the time to take it back.

It never ceases to amaze me how this simple yet powerful story has been stolen by those on the left of Australian politics and how a giant myth was created to portray the events in Ballarat those 150 years ago as some sort of watershed in the history of the labour movement, socialism and radicalism. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yet the fact that many Australians think of the Eureka Stockade as class warfare turned particularly violent tells us less about what actually happened than about the Left's dominance in shaping our country's perception of itself.

Let us look briefly at the facts. The Ballarat miners who assembled at the Eureka Stockade were not downtrodden workers rising up against their capitalist oppressors; they were all entrepreneurs, many of them shareholders in small mining companies and syndicates. They rose up not against ruthless employers—for they were all self-employed—and not over long working hours or unsafe working conditions. No, the target of their anger was the government, and their grievances were oppression by the authorities, heavy and unfair taxation, and lack of political representation. One cannot imagine a more—dare I use the present day labels—liberal constituency pursuing more traditional liberal objectives.

The Eureka Stockade miners could be described, in terms the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Latham, would understand, as our country's very first aspirational voters. Except, of course, they were not voters yet, and that was one of their grievances. Mr Latham talks about the need for the Labor Party to reclaim the army of the self-employed—contractors, franchisees and entrepreneurs—who over the years have drifted away from the Labor Party. The miners of 1854 were exactly these people. Yet only yesterday, Mr Latham described Eureka as `the struggle of the workers'. The Labor Party, sadly, still does not get the past, just as it does not get the present and just as it does not get the future. So the Left has succeeded in turning the Ballarat miners—those unsung heroes and pioneers of the fight for freer markets and smaller government—into the spiritual forebears of the AMWU, the painters and dockers union, and the BLF. That is what has happened, but the bottom line is: were those people alive today they would vote for the Liberal Party—the party of small business, the party of enterprise, the party of less government intervention and the party of less regulation.

The Eureka miners were not unionists with chips on their shoulders; they were, to borrow from Robert Menzies, the `forgotten people' of the mid-19th century. In today's language, they were the Howard battlers. That is why I appeal to my colleagues on this side of the chamber: do not be afraid of the Eureka Stockade; do not give up on it and do not let one of our history's great moments remain the Left's plaything. See the Eureka Stockade for what it really was, and not what our left-wing cultural gatekeepers have proclaimed, and reclaim the night of 3 December 1854 as one of our own.

Let us have a closer look at the grievances of the Ballarat miners to see why today's Liberal Party would wholeheartedly support their struggle for justice and a fairer deal. As the pre-eminent historian of the Australian gold rushes Professor Geoffrey Blainey argues, at the heart of the miners' struggle was the system of unfair licensing and taxation that they had to work under. The size of land they could dig was unfairly and unreasonably restricted. They were forced to pay high licence fees to the government—what Professor Manning Clark called `that bloody licence tax'—and they had to pay it regardless of whether they found gold or not. The ham-fisted enforcement of the licence regime was causing constant inconvenience and interruption to the miners' work. And worst of all, the Ballarat miners found themselves frustrated without any possible recourse. They were at the mercy of laws made by the government in distant Melbourne, by men who were not accountable to them and whose decisions they could not influence through democratic means.

Thus, the Eureka Stockade has nothing in common with the Paris Commune, the Bolshevik revolution or even the Queensland shearers strike which gave birth to the Australian Workers Union and the Australian Labor Party. In fact, the miners had much more in common with the American revolutionaries of 1776, whose rallying cry of `No taxation without representation' was echoed almost exactly 78 years later in Ballarat. The Ballarat miners were revolutionaries too, but just because you are a revolutionary does not mean you are a leftie. In fact, participants in all the successful revolutions—those of England's Glorious Revolution, the American Revolution and Eastern Europe's Velvet Revolution—were certainly not.

It would be tempting to see the Eureka Stockade as a quintessentially Australian celebration of heroic defeat, a sort of Gallipoli in the dusty Victorian bush. Some 30 miners died that night while fighting the police and many more were imprisoned and dragged through the court system. But although the stockade was pulled down their revolt bore an almost instantaneous fruit. Within a few years the demands of the Ballarat miners had nearly all been met.

The 150th anniversary of the Eureka Stockade is much more to me than simply a historical milestone. My great-great-grandfather, Edmond Condon, who in 1852 sailed to Australia from his native Ireland, was one of the miners inside the Eureka Stockade. Edmond Condon took part in the uprising at Eureka along with, among others, his friends Darby Dwyer and Jack Walsh. On the fall of the stockade the three of them ran to Broan Hill and, as they told the story, they were `bunged at all the way', but only Jack Walsh was wounded. Although he regularly smoked in bed, Edmond Condon lived a long life. His obituary in the BealibaTimes in 1922 recalled:

He was one of the defenders in the Eureka Stockade at Ballarat under the late Mr Peter Lalor on that memorable day in 1854 when the exasperated miners made such a stubborn fight against what they considered the tyrannical conditions under which they were compelled by the mining regulations of that time to obtain their licences.

Thus, you can see that my family has a long and proud tradition of bourgeois revolutionaries fighting for the rights of ordinary Australians. So it is not just for the sake of historical justice and accuracy but also for the sake of the memory of my great-great-grandfather that I want to reclaim Eureka from its left-wing sectarian imprisonment and give it back to Australia's mainstream, where it very proudly belongs.