Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 6 December 1999
Page: 12847


Mr HATTON (5:08 PM) —We are reaching the end of this millennium and the end of this century. The United States government determined some time ago its attitude as to when the end of this millennium and the beginning of the next should be, the end of this century and the beginning of the next. The position of this government—its full governmental position—has been in accord with that of the United States that, in fact, the next century will start from 1 January 2001, as indeed will the next millennium. But if you look at popular literature, if you look at the media in Australia, if you look at the drive and impulse of the market, that has been completely overridden. Both in the United States and here, the government stance that there is a particular time at which the next century and millennium will start has been overridden by commercial pressures.

Yesterday on the Sunday program, there was a question to the Prime Minister relating to this. Mr Laurie Oakes asked him whether this would be his last interview of the millennium, and the Prime Minister readily agreed. Mr Oakes then asked a follow-up question. He said, `But you don't actually believe that the millennium is finishing this year; you think it's next year.' The Prime Minister's answer was that technically that might be the case, but essentially he did not want to stop the party for the people who would be celebrating at the end of 1999.

There is a great deal of confusion about this topic. There are differences of opinion, there are differences of attitude, but the weight has certainly come down on the side of the free market, the side of the commercial interests that are interested in pushing this as the millennium party at the end of this year. Getting into that has done a great deal of damage, particularly in our school systems. It has done a lot of damage to the significant position and the importance that we should place on simply what being correct about these matters means and should mean for us.

The reason we have a problem—and, as a history teacher, I have had experience with this in trying to explain to school children what time lines are about, how you calculate what a decade is, what a century is and what a millennium is—is that, for a lot of people, it seems to be counter-intuitive that you could run a decade for 10 years and it would not run from 1950 up to 1959 but would start in 1951 and end in 1960. That seems to be counter-intuitive, and that is the base argument out in the market. That is, with a 10-year period, the first year has to be year zero. When a child is born, they are not one at the moment of birth. It may be their first year, but they are zero for the first period of time.

In our civilisation we have a strong Judaeo-Christian ethic and we also have a strong Greco-Roman heritage, and our calendrical systems are part of the heritage of both of those. The Romans had no idea of what a zero was. We are lucky, we can have a decimal or a metric system here because in about the seventh century the Arabs invented the notion of zero. From that time on, people's computational abilities were vastly different to and much more flexible than those of the Roman people. Their calendars and counting systems effectively were duodecimal; they were tied to 12 or 13 months of the year, depending upon how that was calculated, and they were tied to a system that had very little flexibility.

But our system of counting the years and, I think, sticking to it is important, especially when looking at how we should try to help people structure their notion of time and to keep the traditions on which our system is based, both our Judaeo-Christian tradition and our Greco-Roman tradition, in terms of working out just what a decade and a century are. I will just give a couple of examples of that. I have said plenty of decades of the rosary and when I said those I was pretty sure that the first hail Mary and the 10th hail Mary were of equal value but also that you needed 10 of them to make up that decade of the rosary. Likewise, there are 10 years of time in a decade, and nine does not make 10; zero does not count because you start with a full one to begin with.

If we were going to just rely upon the technical in regard to this, we could actually rewrite a bit of Australian history. Taking Don Bradman's test average, because he got out for a duck in his last game—he did not score the four runs he needed—his test average was 99.9. If we were to give in to market forces and let them reign and let consumerism reign, we could say, even though technically a century in cricket is 100, 99.9 would do and we should give that century to anyone. Equally, we should say 999 should equal 1,000.

I think it is important that we do not give in to market forces on this. Whatever parties people have and the rest of it, it is important that we are able to establish that the reality, as perceived by this government and the United States government, is that the first hundred years of this federal parliament will occur on 1 January 2001; that is our centenary. It is a full hundred years; it is not 99. It will not occur on 1 January 2000. That is significant for this nation, and it should not be bowdlerised just because commercial interests and market forces say it should be otherwise.

It is equally important that in our schooling systems, particularly in civics and history studies, the whole notion of attempting to teach people a clear vision of what time is and how it is constructed in our societies is not advanced by giving in to pure free market forces. There is a place for government intervention; there is a place for governments stipulating what the accepted traditions are in relation to counting things and establishing timelines. Contrary to the member for Macarthur who was speaking in another context, there still is a role for this federal parliament; there still is a role for this and other governments to give people a more concrete and certain sense of what century we are living in.

For a program of the significance and the weight of the Sunday program to take up the popular, consumerist, market driven notion that this is the end of the millennium, this is the end of the century and that whatever was there traditionally and had a good, sound, logical basis—because the Romans did not have the zero—for how to calculate all of those things, that should not be simply overridden. I think society would be poorer for that lack of certainty, for that lack of discrimination and for the lack of a clear approach to where we have been and where we are going.

We will enter the 21st century on 1 January, 2001; we will enter the real millennium at that point in time. The impact of a correct dating on people's lives is not great, because people will continue to live and go about their daily work and affairs. But this is a particularly important matter in terms of the education system in this country. It is a particularly interesting artefact that, approaching the end of the millennium, generally the market forces just do not have this right.

If there is a truism about the next century and the next millennium of human history, it is that we are entering an information and knowledge economy. If we cannot get this right, if we cannot use past information, past knowledge, to put the correct parameters on where we are in time, that does not bode very well for where we are going to go in the future. I would suggest that we need a reaffirmation of this situation from a government point of view and the parliament's point of view, for all of those children now in school attempting to grapple with timelines and attempting to grapple with our past history. Otherwise when those children look at the weight of argument, the weight of debate and the weight of presentation in this year of 1999, they could say to any teacher, any peer or any adult, `But this is the end of the millennium. It is end of the century because most people have said so.' This is not a case where market forces, consumer driven interests and commercial interests should dominate and where the popular interests should override a correct addressing of where we are. (Time expired)