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Thursday, 6 December 1973
Page: 4380

Mr MacKELLAR (Warringah) - I move:

That, in the opinion of this House, Australia's National Anthem should not be changed without a total vote of the Australian people on suggested alternative anthems including 'God Save The Queen'.

I would like to make the motion clear right at the beginning, and to make sure that everyone understands the wording and intention of the proposition I shall read it again. It states:

That, in the opinion of this House, Australia's National Anthem should not be changed without a total vote of the Australian people on suggested alternative anthems including 'God Save The Queen'.

This is a very simple proposition, Mr Speaker, but like many simple propositions it embodies complex and deeply felt aspirations and desires. Firstly, it seeks to give every Australian of voting age the right to make a choice with respect to Australia's national anthem. Secondly, it seeks to ensure that every voting Australian will have the right to express a personal view as to whether 'God Save the Queen' continues as our national anthem.

Before the proposition is subject to any misrepresentation let me make it clear what it does not attempt to do. It deliberately avoids an expression of opinion as to what should or should not be the anthem. It specifically leaves that question to be answered by the Australian people. It specifically does not enter into the argument as to whether Australia should ' or should not have a national song and a national anthem. It specifically does not offer an opinion as to whether our national anthem should or should not be an all Australian anthem with words and music composed and written by Australians alone. Most especially it does not attempt to impose upon all the Australian people an anthem chosen by a possibly unrepresentative minority - in addition a choice made without the opportunity of voting for the present Australian anthem.

Looking at the issues contained in the debate - issues incidentally which have stirred Australian citizens from all walks of life and of all political persuasions - I believe we can agree on some points. The first is the fact that a national anthem is a continuing symbol of enormous significance to the people of the nation it symbolises. As such it transcends the usual barriers dividing people such as age, income, or political allegiance. It is a symbol representative of all the people, from the youngest to the oldest, from the humblest to the highest in the land. Therefore, the choice of an Australian national anthem affects us all. The decision will be binding and I would hope will be accepted by all Australians, present and future. Should such a decision be arbitrarily imposed on the nation without every Australian having the opportunity to take part in that decision, I believe there is a very real chance of a divisive rather than a cohesive situation emerging.

It can be argued that never in the past were people given the chance to vote on their national anthem, that it is usual for a decision to be made by the authorities of whatever sort and this decision simply handed on to the people. I reject that utterly. Participatory democracy is a phrase which very readily springs to the lips of many people today. I have heard it frequently from members of the Government. Communication, education, community interest and awareness are such today that arbitrarily imposed decisions particularly of a symbolic non-materialist kind are less and less acceptable. Community attitudes and expectations are such that people believe on issues such as this that not only should they have the opportunity to cast their vote, but that indeed they have the right so to do.

It can be argued that it would take too long, or cost too much, to have a vote of all eligible electors - that is all that is meant by the words 'a total vote' - in other words a referendum on the question. I do not believe this position is defensible. After all, the present Government has not shown itself averse to holding referenda. We have two coming up this Saturday. The second was added after a decision to hold the first was announced. We already have decisions to hold referenda next year. There is absolutely nothing to prevent this question being voted upon at the same time, at minimal cost to the Australian public. In fact the cost of conducting a vote adding this question to the decisions to be made in respect of other matters would most assuredly be less than the cost of sampling 60,000 Australians as is presently proposed.

Is a referendum, or a total vote, a fair way to arrive at a decision? In this instance, I believe the case is incontravertible. I shall refer to what the Minister for Secondary Industry (Mr Enderby) said, on 14 November last in this Parliament in discussing proposed referenda. He said:

All the Government needs to do is to give the people of Australia at a referendum' which he described in the same speech as perhaps one of the most democratic ways of deciding things in a democratic society' - the opportunity to consider three propositions.

He went on to say:

Nothing could be more important than the democratic processes in Australia and nothing could be more important and indeed urgent than that the people of Australia should be entitled to consider these propositions.

In that speech he charged the Opposition with trying to prevent referenda being held and said that this was 'wrong and scandalous', and made it clear that the Government was determined to hold the referenda.

The propositions were to alter the Constitution and those opposing my motion may argue that the choice of a national anthem does not need a constitutional alteration and, therefore, no referendum is required. It is quite true that it does not need a constitutional alteration, but matters other than for altering the Constitution can be put to referendum. This can be done either by Act or by command of the Governor-General. Of course, it is normal for the Governor-General to follow the advice of his Ministers. Referendums other than for altering the Constitution have been held. They were the military service refer endums held in 1916 and 1917. So the precedent obviously is there.

It is of interest that the present anthem has been by long practice rather than by formal legal acceptance and that the Queen, through the exercise of executive prerogative authority in Australia at the Commonwealth level, could issue a proclamation in relation to this matter. But under the present constitutional position the States are self-governing British colonies with Governors who are agents of the British Government as well as formally representing the Queen. Therefore, there is the possibility of conflict if the Commonwealth approved a new anthem that was not acceptable to some States, and if those States insisted on playing God Save The Queen' on state occasions. I do not believe that such a situation would arise, but it could; and, if it did, then a very divisive element would be introduced into Australian society. It certainly would be avoided if all electorally enrolled Australians were given the opportunity to participate in the decision.

It may be argued, as we hear so frequently, that the Government has a mandate to change the anthem. It certainly does not have a mandate to change the anthem in the way it proposes. Newspapers all over the country carried reports of a speech made at Griffith by the now Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) on 19 November 1972, just 13 days before the election. I have a copy of the statement. It is headed 'Whitlam at Griffith, Sunday, 19/11/72', and I obtained it from his Press office this week. It says that Australia will have its own anthem and: we shall invite and ensure the participation of the people in choosing it.

It also says:

The choice of the Australian people, not the musical tastes of George II, should determine Australia's National Anthem.

Nothing could be plainer than that. That is a clear undertaking to invite and ensure the people's participation in the choice of an anthem. I do not wish to score political points by speaking of promises made and broken. But here is a clear and unequivocal undertaking made just 13 days prior to the Government's obtaining office. It should be honoured. All Australians eligible to vote should have the right, as offered to them by the Prime Minister, to exercise their choice on this question.

The second part of my motion refers to the choice offered. I do not wish to comment on the 3 suggested alternatives, except to say that I find it extraordinary that a national contest was held, more than 1,000 entries were received; they were judged in almost obscene haste, and not one was considered good enough to put before the Australian people - an absolutely extraordinary situation. Be that as it may, the Government has decided on the 3 so-called Australian songs. However, to obtain a true indication of the will of the Australian people, and not simply the will of the Government, the present anthem must be included in the choices offered. Not to do so is to make an arbitrary decision on a subject which, as I have said, transcends party politics and individual differences. There is a very real concern in the electorate on this matter; newspapers have been inundated with letters for and against the present anthem and the suggested alternatives. Members of this House have received - I know I have - thousands of letters on the subject. Petitions bearing thousands of signatures have been presented in this House.

As I have said, my motion offers no opinion as to which of the alternatives should be our anthem. It does not seek to delve into the nationalism or otherwise of the Australian people. It does not offer an opinion as to how that nationalism should be manifest. The Government obviously believes that an expression of nationalism should be manifested in a new anthem. That can be tested only by a full vote of the Australian people, with the opportunity of expressing an opinion on the present anthem being given to them. This House should make abundantly clear to the Government that it will not tolerate the arbitrary imposition of a national anthem on the Australian people. The satisfaction of one man's ego should be submerged and the genuine expression of the Australian people should be allowed to declare itself. To do less is to cheat and distort that expression and to deny the rights of present and future Australians.

Mr SPEAKER -Is the motion seconded?

Mr CookI second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

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