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Monday, 26 November 2012
Page: 13304

Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (12:57): Can I say at the outset that I am grateful that the member for Fraser has introduced this motion on the Eureka rebellion. It was a great moment. My gratitude also stems from the opportunity it provides to scratch a political itch I have endured for many years. It gives me a chance to set the record straight about what the Eureka Stockade was, and what it was not. It was a tax revolt—an uprising by private sector entrepreneurs against an oppressive mining levy.

The miners who defended the ramparts of the Eureka Stockade on 3 December 1854 were quintessential entrepreneurs. No-one exemplifies the values of the Eureka rebels better than their leader, Peter Lalor. As my good friend next to me, the member for McMillan, pointed out, he lost an arm at the stockade but that did nothing to dampen his thirst for liberty. In one of Australia's most remarkable political metamorphoses, Lalor went from mutineer to MP within the space of 11 months. In November 1855, he entered the legislative council, and then he won election to the assembly the following year. Peter Lalor was an advocate for the principles of limited government in the Victorian parliament.

Now to a few words about what the Eureka Stockade was not. It certainly was not some socialist uprising, like some try to claim in a warped version of history. It is interesting to look to Peter Lalor's words afterwards. When challenged on his ideals, he wrote:

I would ask these gentlemen what they mean by the term 'democracy'. Do they mean Chartism or Communism or Republicanism? If so, I never was, I am not now nor do I ever intend to be a democrat. But if a democrat means opposition to a tyrannical press, or a tyrannical government, then I have been, I am still, and will ever remain a democrat.

Yet the member for Fraser apparently thinks otherwise, because his motion asserts that the Eureka Stockade was the inspiration for the Australian Republican Movement. Wrong! Utterly and unequivocally, as the words from Lalor demonstrate. For the record—as my friend the member for McMillan knows—in 1999 I voted 'Yes' to the republican referendum. But my personal preference for an Australian head of state does not make me willing to countenance the deliberate distortion of Australian history. The member for Fraser, I feel, has fallen victim to one of the great frauds in the historiography of our nation. His ignorance stems from the arrogation of the Eureka Stockade story by the Left generally, which has warped it beyond all truth or recognition.

The Eureka uprising was a rebellion of capitalists, not collectivists. The rebels were not fighting for a progressive mining tax as the member for Fraser's motion implies. They were fighting against an arbitrary increase in licence fees, as the member for McMillan outlined. And isn't this all so reminiscent of another incompetent government flogging an ill-advised mining tax? I will not go there for reasons only of time.

These days we fight our battles with ballot papers rather than with muskets. Yet over the decades we have watched the Eureka symbol be usurped by those who represent the antithesis of the Eureka spirit. We see trade union yobs wave the Eureka flag as they employ standover tactics of intimidation during workplace disputes. As we speak, the CFMEU bully boys are flaunting the law through their illegal blockade at the Little Creatures brewery site in Geelong. Not too long ago we saw union yobs attacking Victoria police at a construction site in downtown Melbourne.

In 1854 the Eureka banner signified classical liberal principles of limited government, individual freedom and personal responsibility. But as this motion demonstrates, the Australian Labor Party excels at turning history into mystery—a mystery of myths, stolen symbols and tall tales designed to serve its partisan interests. Let me predict that if Peter Lalor were alive today—he obviously would be very old—he would be climbing every construction crane in sight to take back the Eureka banner that has been so misappropriated and abused by the trade union movement.

Debate adjourned.