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Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Page: 9971


Senator LUNDY (Australian Capital TerritoryMinister Assisting for Industry and Innovation, Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Minister for Sport) (00:02): Late last month, Prime Minister Gillard delivered a speech at the Lowy Institute in Sydney in which she introduced one of the most important policy discussions this nation is ever likely to have. It concerned Australia's strategic positioning—economically, politically, socially and culturally—in the 21st century. She referred to the Asian century—the century in which the world, and especially our region, will witness Asia's ascendancy. The Prime Minister was not content merely to observe this unstoppable trend or surge; she steadily worked her way through five key areas—pathways if you like—in which Australia needs to act on the Asian phenomenon: economic savvy, education, market integration, new ways of building mutual understanding, and security.

It is to this fourth area that I wish to turn to this evening. I want to enlarge on what the minister referred to as Labor's plan for a myriad of stronger, deeper, broader cultural links with the nations of Asia at every level. I want to try to give some idea of how this significant ambition might be developed, with particular reference to several projects emanating from the nation's capital here in Canberra. It is my hometown and it heads into the most exciting year ever.

Next year, in 2013—as all members and senators are well aware—we will recognise and commemorate the centenary of the laying of Canberra's foundation stones and the naming ceremonies that took place very close indeed to where we are gathering this evening, when the Governor-General, Lord Thomas Denman, Prime Minister Andrew Fisher and the Minister for Home Affairs, King O'Malley, used their specially inscribed golden trowels to lay the city's first significant building blocks. Shortly after, Lady Gertrude Denman opened her specially inscribed gold case, took out a card with the word Canberra on it and gave the city its name—and, as it turned out, its official pronunciation as well. These ceremonies took place in the parliamentary period of 1910 to 1913 when Andrew Fisher's progressive Labor government enjoyed a majority in both houses—for the first time since Federation, I might add. Fisher was not interested in exploiting this unique situation for any political advantage; rather—typical of Labor governments in power—he focused his government's sights firmly on the future.

Prime Minister Fisher had a keen personal interest in the developing symbols of the new nation: the coat of arms that must be genuinely Australian, the images and motifs on coins and stamps, the national flag and anthem and so on. But he placed this passionate pursuit within the context of a raft of momentous legacy projects for the new federated Commonwealth.

We are now just over a month shy of the commencement of 12 months of a brimming program for Canberra's centenary, so wonderfully constructed and nurtured by the centenary's inspired creative director, Robyn Archer, and her industrious team. It could hardly be a better moment for me to cite a couple of recent examples of centenary projects which exemplify perfectly the kinds of initiatives and legacy ideas anticipated by the Prime Minister when she launched the Australia in the Asian Century white paper. Long-term connections between countries at their most constructive and productive must go beyond the diplomatic and trade realms. In recent months the centenary team has done just that, venturing into the field of cultural relations, with splendid results.

In a number of speeches in this chamber over recent years I have made sure that there is a Hansard record of the series of centenaries that Canberra has recognised dating back to 2008, the centenary year of the government decision to build the capital in a region then called Yass-Canberra. What we have all learned on the way is that, 2013 aside, there is no doubt that of all the preliminary years this year, 2012, is the most significant. Why? Because it was in this year a century ago that the dream Chicago team of Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin won the competition to design the federal capital of Australia. There were a number of appropriate commemorative events and activities in the relevant month of May, earlier in the year. But the grand Griffin narrative—then controversial, poignant, even mystical in some ways—quite simply deserved more.

The Centenary of Canberra team, despite working intensely to get everything in order for the imminent new year, made sure this happened. A few weeks ago, Robyn Archer and the centenary's history and heritage adviser, Dr David Headon, went to India, the United States and England in a packed, whistlestop tour to reinforce a series of Canberra's cultural connections with those three nations, not least the shared heritage past. Australia, India and the United States were each investigating the establishment—or in Washington's case the re-establishment—of a capital city a hundred years ago; all three were intricately connected to the emergent 'science' of town planning at the time; and all three had the ultra-ambitious aim of creating the 'ideal city'.

In India, Ms Archer and Dr Headon participated in two seminars to large, standing room-only crowds organised by the Institute of Urban Designers India, in both New Delhi and Lucknow. The most memorable highlights it seems occurred in Lucknow, a city with an incredible design past with many of its buildings constructed in either the famed era of the Mughals or the following period of the Nawabs. For Australia and the United States, the city has the added significance that Walter Burley Griffin, at the age of 60 in February 1937, died suddenly of peritonitis and was buried in an unmarked grave in Lucknow in the Church of North India's Nishatganj cemetery. Ms Archer and Dr Headon took some water from Lake Burley Griffin to sprinkle on Griffin's grave in a very moving, carefully scripted ceremony that received good publicity here in Australia and outstanding coverage in India in the pages of the national daily, the Hindustan Times, over a period of 10 days. The response of the business community in Lucknow, along with the Vice-Chancellor, staff and architecture students of the local Guatam Buddh Technical University, was overwhelming. A number of joint activities in the near future are now certain.

The same was true when Ambassador Kim Beazley hosted a launch of the centenary program at the Australian Embassy in Washington, once again to a standing room-only crowd. Complementary lectures given by Dr Headon at George Washington University and then days later at Chicago's Northwestern University drew a similar response—a genuine eagerness by some of America's most prestigious institutions and design professionals to engage culturally with Canberra's design and tertiary sectors to expand further the common ground.

London was yet another highlight. Not only did Ms Archer launch the centenary and give the annual Arthur Boyd lecture but she and Dr Headon connected with no fewer than three generations of the Denman family with its historic bond to the Australian National Capital Foundation's story. The Tom Denman golden trowel and the famed gold naming case of Lady Trudie Denman are shortly to be shipped to Canberra for an exhibition which I will have the honour of opening right here in Parliament House on 14 January, in just seven weeks.

The overwhelming enthusiasm for these historically overlooked Centenary of Canberra international connections represents a lesson for Australia at once significant for the national capital and the nation. The centenary's initiatives have revealed some subtle and surprising cultural connections but not least those shared with India. Built on newly prominent common history, such a fertile pathway can only encourage the most effective global positioning of Australia in the new century, especially one so indelibly marked with an Asian stamp, such as it is. The ties through Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion Mahony and India, and in particular the city of Lucknow.