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Wednesday, 9 May 2001
Page: 26648

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) (2:18 PM) —Your Excellency, Mr Speaker and my fellow Australians: today above all days is a day to celebrate in an appropriate way the great success of Australian democracy over the last 100 years. Democracy is a practice of government common to many nations and to millions of people, but to work effectively in any society it must reflect the values, the mores and the attitudes of each community to which it is applied. The great success of Australian democracy, of parliamentary democracy, has been that over the last 100 years it has expressed the values, aspirations and mores of the Australian community. We find in that compact between a popularly elected House of Representatives and a Senate with equality of representation from the states that fair go concept between the different parts of the Commonwealth so that the voices in the more sparsely populated areas of Australia are not drowned out by the predominance of votes from Sydney and Melbourne.

In building our Constitution, the founding fathers borrowed not only the British parliamentary system but also the American federal system of dividing power between the centre and the states. We provided, with a certain degree of caution, that the Constitution would not be easy to change. Yet when the people wanted change, as they so demonstrably did, to right a moral and historic wrong, in 1967 they voted overwhelmingly to include the first Australians in full participation in the political and constitutional life of our nation.

Our democracy has been strong and true and effective because we have put our faith above all else in functioning, vigorous institutions. The three great guarantors of liberty and democracy in this country are our robust parliamentary system, with the free play and exchange of political views and ideologies; an independent and absolutely incorruptible judiciary; and, finally, a strong and on occasions very sceptical media. Those three things together have done more to guarantee liberty and freedom and the Australian way than any other set of institutions.

And so, as we gather here today in Melbourne on 9 May and give thanks to God for the privilege of being an Australian alive at the beginning of the 21st century, let us honour some people. Let us honour those people who put the Constitution together. Let us honour their patience, their persistence, their forbearance and their foresight; and let us thank them for what they gave us and what has proved so durable over the last 100 years.

Let us also thank the political leaders of the past; let us honour them. And may I particularly honour two of them. May I honour the contribution of John Curtin, whose great leadership during World War II was so important to our nation. Let me also honour the great Robert Gordon Menzies, the founder of the party I am proud to lead now, for the contribution that he made in giving Australia its postwar strength and prosperity, laying the foundation for so much of what we enjoy today.

And let us lastly, but most importantly, honour those Australians who died that we might meet in peace and freedom here in Melbourne on 9 May 2001. We owe much to those people who gave us the Australian Constitution, who gave us Australian democracy. We owe an even greater debt to those who made the supreme sacrifice that we might live to enjoy it to its full.

Mr SPEAKER —Your Excellency, Senators and Members, let me invite the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Kim Beazley, to address the meeting.