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Thursday, 10 May 2001
Page: 26653

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) (10:10 AM) —Mr Speaker, I move:

That this House:

(1) celebrates the Centenary of Federation and one hundred years of achievement by our free and democratic nation;

(2) honours those who had the foresight, courage and perseverance to see Australia constituted as a Federation;

(3) recalls the sacrifices made by those who have defended our country, our freedom and our democratic traditions;

(4) records its appreciation of those whose services to the public have contributed to our system of law and government;

(5) applauds the efforts made by Australian citizens, in the cities and in the country, to make our nation productive, innovative, fair and cohesive;

(6) honours Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, the nation's first people, and their ancient and continuing cultures;

(7) acknowledges the contributions made by people who have come here from all parts of the world and made Australia their home; and

(8) expresses great faith and optimism in a bright and prosperous future for Australia.

Those of us who sit in this parliament on this day are indeed privileged, amongst the many men and women who have been elected to the national parliament since 1901, to share this very special occasion. It is a special occasion and, whatever our backgrounds, whatever our political beliefs, whatever our views may be as to the future of our nation, it is an occasion in which we should share with some degree of quiet pride, a sense of history and a sense of great national self-belief.

I am sure that the motion I have just put to the House is one that expresses the sentiments of all who come together constituting the national parliament on this day. This is an occasion that calls for a number of things. It is an occasion that calls for generosity, it is an occasion that calls for candour, and it is an occasion that calls for a sense of common unity and common purpose.

We are, of course, all participants in a very combative life. We fight hard for what we believe in, we serve the causes we hold dear, and we hold tenaciously to what we believe to be the right course of action for our nation and for our respective parties. But on an occasion like this it is necessary to reach across the political divide. It is necessary to honour the contributions of people—of men and women—on both sides of the political divide for what they have done in the service of our country.

This occasion will be diminished if it is devoid of that sense of generosity of spirit. Equally, this occasion will be diminished if we do not recognise that there are differences within our society about how it should be run, about what policies should be implemented. There is nothing in the Australian character, as I find it, which asks us on occasions such as this to bland away those great philosophical differences that may exist. So it is in that spirit of both generosity and recognition of shared contribution that each of us brings to national debate in this parliament here in Melbourne today on this special occasion our own fiercely held views, values and perspectives.

I suspect that the Australian public, as it looks at our national institutions at the present time, does so with a mixture of emotions and attitudes. We should be foolish if we imagine that it looked upon the national parliament in a sense of undiminished satisfaction and pride. But we would also be foolish if we imagine that in that sense the attitude of Australians in 2001 is dramatically different from what it may have been in 1951 or 1931 or 1921. There has always been about the Australian character a healthy cynicism about those who wield authority. It is one of the strengths of our national life, provided it is tempered with a recognition of the genuine commitment people bring to public life when they enter parliament.

In my 27 years in public life it has been my almost universal experience, with a few isolated exceptions, that most men and women who enter parliament do so believing in things, do so in a spirit of wanting to make a change for the better for our community. I do not think we should yield to the overwhelming cynicism of some in the community who seek to see it otherwise, because, for all its imperfections, this parliament remains the authentic voice of the Australian people in determining the future and in determining change. It is ultimately through this parliament, more than any other institution in the nation, that change for the better or preservation of what is valuable about our past can best be achieved.

So, as we gather here, it is important that we reaffirm our faith in the contemporary strength of the parliamentary institution. It is proper on an occasion such as this that all of us who have gathered in Melbourne have honoured the traditions of the two sides of politics from which we come. As it happened, the centenary of the first meeting of the federal parliamentary Labor caucus occurred on the eve of the centenary of the first sitting of the Commonwealth parliament. I congratulate the Australian Labor Party on its 100 years of existence. I do not necessarily wish it unbounded goodwill for the future, but in that spirit of generosity—

Honourable members interjecting

Mr HOWARD —Gee, this is a lot cosier, Mr Speaker. In this spirit of generosity that ought to pervade on an occasion like this, I do congratulate it on lasting 100 years. I will say no more about the future.

Might I also take the opportunity to record my deep pride and admiration for the contribution made to the life of this nation by the party that I am proud to lead, the Liberal Party of Australia, founded by the great Robert Gordon Menzies, who went on to become the longest serving Prime Minister in Australia's history. I record its contribution and I record the contribution also made by the National Party of Australia and by its predecessors the National Country Party and the Country Party—essentially the same manifestation—and in that the great contribution that both of those parties have made to representing the people of rural and regional Australia.

But this is an occasion not only for us to reflect upon the past strengths of our parliamentary system and for each of us in our own way to remember some of the great events of our own parliamentary experience and those that have been recorded for history in earlier years but also for us to reflect upon the responsibilities that lie in front of us, as representatives of the Australian people, in the years immediately ahead and upon some of the challenges that might be faced by those who come after us as representatives of the Australian people.

It has often been said that the role of good statecraft is to preserve those things of our heritage, our history and our tradition that continue to serve our nation and our people well while at the same time to have the courage, the commitment and the energy to reform and change, in a radical fashion if necessary, those practices, attitudes and institutions which are no longer serving the long-term interests of our nation. In a sense the battle of politics in 2001 is about that divide. The differences between us are not so much about that principle as about those things that are worth preserving and those things that are in need of significant change.

If I throw forward to the years ahead of this nation, I think the challenges we will face, no matter which party might occupy the treasury bench, will very much revolve around a number of very specific issues. As I said yesterday at the Exhibition Building, we have no way of knowing what this country will be like in 100 years time. We can imagine—we can dare to think about what it might be in 20 or 30 years time—and in the process of doing that we can identify, and I will seek to do it as best I can, some of those attitudes that we think will be necessary to deliver the best outcomes for our people and our society.

I think we need to strengthen and praise, rather than denigrate and ridicule, the institutions of our society. For all its faults, this parliament is a great democratic institution. For all its rambunctious behaviour, it is an expression of the mood, the temper and the character of the Australian people. It is a distinctively Australian institution, and we should never be shy of saying so. It is an institution which allows for free expression of ideas—passionately held ideas. I think we have an obligation, whilst always arguing for change and improvement where necessary, to uphold its intrinsic worth and value.

In the years ahead I think we also need to preserve and defend a society which, while caring for the needy and the disadvantaged, also encourages self-reliance. It is a society that says to individuals that in our society they have responsibilities as well as rights and privileges. I believe that we need to build a society which more effectively allows individuals to achieve, through hard work and effort, a proper reward for their commitment and their ability. The notion of a society that encourages personal incentive and individual effort and proper reward for that personal incentive and individual effort is, I think, intrinsic and fundamental to the future of our society.

In the years ahead I think we also need to build a society that better balances than we do at the present time the competing demands of work and family responsibilities. We have come a long way in relation to that, but I still think we have a distance to travel. Society has changed in that respect very significantly over the past few decades, and there is an obligation on all of us to ensure that that balance is better achieved.

I think we also have to ensure that all parts of the Australian community feel fully included in and fully part of the great Australian national life. I speak here not only of the need for reconciliation according to the different perspectives people will bring to that great value and that great concept; I speak also of the need to create a society in which those who live in the sparsely populated areas of our nation—those who live in the bush or the country or regional Australia, depending on how those in different parts of the country wish that area to be described—feel fully included. It has always been part of our understanding of the Australian identity to see the Australian bush as an intrinsic central element of that great national identity, and to ensure that people in those parts of Australia feel fully part of and fully included in it is an extraordinarily challenging proposition. So, in commending this motion to the House, can I return to what I said at the beginning—that its sentiments are ones that I am sure will be shared by all of those who gather here in Melbourne today.

I express on behalf of the House our sense of debt for the hospitality and courtesies extended to us by the Victorian parliament and by the Victorian government. But, most importantly of all, I express as Prime Minister and as leader of the coalition and as leader of the Liberal Party an enormous sense of honour that it has come to be my privilege as the Prime Minister on this occasion, on this very historic commemorative sitting of the national parliament, to move a motion which I think expresses the undiminished sense of pride, joy and satisfaction—not smugness or triumphalism but satisfaction—in the scope and the scale of the Australian achievement over the last 100 years.

All history in a way is something of a judgment of good against evil, of triumph versus failure; but, if you look at the balance sheet of Australian history, especially over the last 100 years, it has been one of great progress, of heroic achievement, of great democratic institutions and of a great open-hearted people who have been prepared to risk and to give all to defend what they hold dear. We have built in this nation of ours a society of which we can all be justly proud, a society to which people from all around the world have contributed, a society which is a model of cohesion, compassion and decency and one in which we should express undiminished faith and hope for the next 100 years.

Honourable members—Hear, hear!

Mr SPEAKER —The question is that the motion moved by the Prime Minister be agreed to. I call the Leader of the Opposition to second the motion.