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Thursday, 6 December 1973
Page: 4389

Mr KING (Wimmera) - I rise to support the motion moved by the honourable member for Warringah (Mr MacKellar) on this terribly important subject. I am absolutely disappointed at the attitude of the 2 speakers who have been put up today 'by the Government. We have heard hysterical arguments rather than historical arguments. I believe that the Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby) and the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly), both of whom are at the table, ought to be ashamed of themselves for advancing such weak arguments. The Minister for Services and Property used a number of excuses based on technical grounds. He even criticised the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Cooke) and the mover of the motion, the honourable member for Warringah (Mr MacKellar), on the ground that they said that a vote would need to be taken of all Australians including people in aged persons homes, etc. I have never heard anything as silly or ridiculous as what I heard in that respect.

The Minister for Services and Property made light of the whole subject. I am very disappointed that he took that line. He made reference to the fact that a referendum on an Australian national anthem would cost at least $2m. That is not right. If a referendum were held solely on this issue, perhaps his claim would be correct. But naturally the people of Australia would accept the principle that such a referendum would be held in conjunction with other referendums or with an election for the Senate or for the House of Representa tives. After all, as the Minister for Immigration said, the argument for a new national anthem has been discussed for many years. I claim, as many other people in this country claim, that no great urgency exists for a determination of this matter. I believe that there is no real dispute that there is some merit in having our own national anthem as distinct from 'God Save the Queen' the present anthem. I do not think that there is any doubt about that fact. But what would the cost of a new anthem be - I am not speaking of the financial cost - to the nation from an historical point of view.

I was a little disappointed at some of the comments made by the Minister for Immigration. He appeared to do nothing but put forward a number of excuses for the fact that the Government is Tunning away from this question. He referred to a lot of reasons why it had been rejected in former times. The interesting thing is that it had been rejected by people in former times. Why is there this rush now? I think I can say with confidence that most honourable members, present in this chamber, when they were boys at school, recognised the importance of the Monday morning ceremony at their school when they saluted the flag and honoured the monarch. Many thousands, if not millions, of people would remember those actions, and that is why they remain loyal to their country.

The question, as I see it, in the resolution moved by the honourable member for Warringah and the question on the lips of people is, firstly, whether we really want a change in the national anthem. If the answer is yes, the second question is: What is wrong with giving all the people an opportunity to voice their opinion? If we have had the existing anthem for 100 years why should a handful of people decide that they are the ones to make the change? That is all we ask. We want as many people as possible to voice their opinion on this subject. Like all other honourable members in this place, I represent about 50,000 voters plus many non-voters. Whilst I am here I will always endeavour to put forward the thinking of these people I represent. My constituents and I feel very deeply about this subject. In recent weeks I asked the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) a question. On the first occasion he absolutely refused to answer. He ran away from it. On the second occasion he did likewise. It was not until the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser) made a query and there was some crossfire in the House that the Prime Minister reluctantly answered part of the question.

The people have been refused the opportunity to voice their opinions, and that is where the Opposition objects to the actions of the Prime Minister. This has resulted in a great deal of correspondence on the subject. I will not attempt to state with any accuracy the number of people who have spoken to me on this subject other than to say that, coupled with those who have engaged in correspondence, it would be in excess of 2,000 people. That is a mighty lot of people. Let me give an illustration of how people have reacted. A coupon entitled 'The National Anthem' was placed in one of the local newspapers in my electorate, the Wimmera 'Mail-Times' - I will table it if anybody wants to see it - to give the people an opportunity to voice their opinion on this subject. I checked and found that the circulation of this newspaper is a little over 9,000. The coupon was printed in 2 editions. The last time I added up the figures - I have still a whole lot more here to place before the Prime Minister; he has already got over 800 - there were about 980 coupons. In other words, that is a return of over 5 per cent from the public. I believe that that is rather considerable. A lot of journalists will admit that 5 per cent is almost impossible to attain. The Sydney 'Sun' also carried out a similar exercise. I have been in touch with the Sydney 'Sun' and I have been informed that over 30,000 coupons have been returned to that newspaper. Yet the Minister for Immigration says that there is not a great deal of interest shown. The significant point is that those coupons that have been returned are running at 4 to 1 in favour of the retention of the present national anthem. The Minister cannot ignore that.

As I said a little while ago, I have received a lot of correspondence and petitions on this subject. The Clerks of the House know only too well that I have been presenting petitions. I received another one only late last evening. There are only about 11 or 12 subscribers to it but it contains a little note at the bottom which is terribly important because a lot of people today say that it is only the elderly and the infirm - the old diehards, the old loyalists - who are interested in retaining the present national anthem. The footnote says: Average age 26 years'. That is all it says. Surely that proves the point that it is not the elderly alone who are interested in this subject.

I have had some correspondence from various organisations throughout my electorate, outside my electorate and even outside Victoria. I have here a letter signed by. 29 people. Other letters have been signed by 31 people, 14 people, 23 people, 26 people, 14 people and 42 people. These are letters, not petitions. I have not got time to quote all the various statements appearing in these letters. In these organisations to which I 'have referred I include a lot of municipalities that have been in touch with me on this subject. The Minister cannot say that they are irresponsible organisations. They have been good enough to discuss the matter at their various council meetings and have decided to carry certain resolutions. Why are they doing it? For the simple reason that they believe it is important.

I want to quote from some of the letters. I will not mention the names nor will I quote the whole letter. One letter states:

My personal opinion is that it should be retained as it has been our national anthem for over 200 years, and why should a few politicians change it. If a song is required for such events as sporting functions and the Olympic Games, and this has much to commend it, I would be in favour of Advance Australia Fair being used. Mr Whitlam says that God Save The Queen would be used when Her Majesty is in Australia. To me that is the joke of the week, or perhaps I should say of the year!

Another one says:

Secondly, Australia's noisiest boast has always been our freedom and democracy. Is Mr Whitlam afraid of being outnumbered that he refuses to include 'God Save The Queen' in the list of anthems.

A further one says:

The British people love the Royal Family as their own and honour them for what they are - a wonderful example to each and every one - through war and peace. I am sure this has kept the nation together. I have lived with them and know.

I turn to another one which states:

Let us hope that Mr Whitlam is man enough to admit that he has made a mistake here.

I endorse those remarks. Is the Government man enough to admit its mistake? The Minister for Immigration says that it is too late.

Mr Grassby - You woke up too late. If you had been interested you should have raised it at the beginning of the year. You should not try to stop it now.

Mr KING - That would be one of the weakest arguments I have heard in defence of the present situation, that we have woken up too late. It is never too late. I appeal to the Minister to analyse what the Prime Minister said in answer to one of those original questions. He said that he was going to take a vote of 60,000 people, or get their views, and then place them before Cabinet. Is it then too late? What would happen if the 60,000 people voted against the Government's proposals completely? I challenge honourable members opposite to tell me what they, as individuals, would do if they were fortunate enough to be among the 60,000 people and if they wanted to retain the present national anthem. How would they cast a vote? They would be given no option but to vote 1, 2 or 3. I am not sure whether it will be done that way or by a tick. If they were opposed to the 3 of them how would they vote? All I suggest to people who may be fortunate enough to get a vote is that they do not ignore it but write in 'the present national anthem' and at the same time abide by the rest of the voting instructions. That would indicate whether some people do not agree with it.

I would like to say many things on this subject but time will not allow it. But, I believe that I speak on behalf of many Australians when I say that if I am wrong in my judgment and am against the majority I will respect the decision of the majority; and if I am correct I would expect the reverse to be the position, that is, for the minority to respect the majority decision. No country can survive historically if there is no loyalty. Australians cannot and will not respect a decision if it is made by a few with the support of the minority against the majority, and that is what I fear will happen here. I appeal to the Prime Minister and the Government in all the sincerity that I can offer to reconsider this subject. Let the people decide the issue because I believe that it is one of the most important historical decisions that can be made in the interests of the future of this great country. The issues are straightforward, as they have been enumerated by my friend and colleague the honourable member for Warringah (Mr MacKellar). One issue is to include in any form of poll the opportunity for the people to decide whether they want to retain the present anthem, and the other is to give as many people as possible - if that is the way the Minister would like me to spell it out - the opportunity to be able to voice their opinion as to whether they want 'Waltzing Matilda', 'Advance Australia Fair' or whatever it may be. I again say that it is not too late to do as the honourable member for Warringah suggests, and I am surprised at the Minister for Immigration for talking such rubbish as to say that we should have woken up earlier.

No one took this question seriously when the Prime Minister first mentioned it.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Berinson)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

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