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Wednesday, 9 May 2001
Page: 26649

Mr BEAZLEY (Leader of the Opposition) (2:24 PM) —I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we stand, the Wurundjeri people, and pay respect to their elders and any other elders here today.

Your Excellencies, Prime Minister, Madam President, Mr Speaker, parliamentary colleagues, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen: on 1 January in Sydney we celebrated the birth of our nation; today in Melbourne we celebrate the birth of our nation's democracy. Both celebrations mark a unique event in history: Australia was the first nation anywhere in the world to be created by the decision of the people recorded through the ballot box.

These celebrations have involved us all in a journey of rediscovery. As leader of the oldest political party in this parliament—a party older than the parliament itself—it has been a particularly poignant journey for me. We have come to realise better than ever before that behind the years of dogged argument, lobbying, disputes and persuasion, inside and outside the great constitutional conventions between 1891 and 1898, there lay a genuine people's movement, a people's aspiration, a people's inspiration. The very foundations of this our parliament proclaim that the ballot, not the bullet, must decide—the will of the people registered through parliamentary elections.

This parliament of the Commonwealth is unique among all Australia's great institutions: it is the only one that all Australians own in common and that each Australian owns equally. The most precious of all our rights—that single, equal vote—is the title deed of our common ownership. If it is the will of the people which gave this place its very being, if it is the will of all Australians equally which every few years renews the legitimacy of this place, what does it mean for those of us privileged to be here as members today? I believe it means this: that it is the fundamental duty of this parliament, and of any government formed from it, to be on the side of all Australians—not just those with wealth or with education or those who shout the loudest or who are well organised, but each and every Australian.

Nobody is expendable in the name of change or progress or some imposed concept of a higher national interest—nobody. We should never give up on any group or section of our fellow citizens—never. Everybody counts and is entitled to our respect and attention—everybody. This is the great Australian ideal around which we can truly be a nation united. This is the great Australian ideal which must find its living expression in the Australian parliament.

For while this place has been the great stage for an honourable and necessary contest of political parties and ideas for over 100 years, it is the very genius of democracy—its vital spirit—that this contest not divide the nation but unite it. We have remained united through passion filled debates that swept away what, at the time of Federation, seemed part of the very fabric of our society: the exclusion of women, isolation from our region, White Australia. To the very great credit of this nation, we have over the last century improved upon the essential egalitarianism on which this parliament was founded. We can, and we must, do more in the century that lies ahead.

Let us, therefore, lift our eyes above the noise and turmoil of our daily lives. Let us look forward to those great tasks of the century ahead: to heal the hurt we have done to this most ancient and fragile of lands; to achieve a real and enduring reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and other Australians; to harness the courage with which Australians last century fought for our freedom and in so many ways defined our national character to a new century of confident engagement in the world beyond our shores; to embrace the revolution of knowledge which will sweep the world; to move forward to a proud Australian republic which honours its past and looks forward always to the future; and, above all, to include all Australians equally in all the opportunities our country so abundantly offers, in peace and freedom. These are great tasks indeed. The citizens of our nation entrust this parliament with the immense responsibility of achieving them. If we listen to the people, if we believe in them, if we draw on them for our strength and our purpose, we will succeed.