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Monday, 23 October 2017
Page: 11480


Mr CHAMPION (Wakefield) (11:43): It's good to see this parliament in furious agreement over the member for Mackellar's motion about Tadeusz Kosciuszko. Of course, we tend to regard liberty in Australia and in the world as a given. But, for much of history, mankind has been ruled by divine right and by force and held in bondage, and our liberties have been decided by monarchs, typically on their arbitrary whims. Despots, benign or not, ruled the world, and the very idea of liberty and democracy was foreign. No nation knows this better than Poland because for centuries it was, on one hand, dominated by Russia and its interests and its desires to have a buffer between itself and Europe—and that buffer was held at the price of Polish liberty—and, on the other hand, threatened by Germany, and by Prussia before that. So, frequently, they had to fight for their liberty, fight for justice and fight for their rights.

A book by Mr Jay Winik, The Great Upheaval, alerts the reader to the interlinked nature of the American Revolution, the French Revolution and what was happening in Poland at the time. Of course, Kosciuszko was mentioned many times in this book—many times indeed. Interestingly, it says on page 488:

About him, Lord Byron once declared Kosciuszko's very name alone would "scatter fire through ice". It had also been said that he was one of the "most admirable men of the eighteenth century" and a "harbinger of a new era in the human struggle for the highest ideals."

This book tells you much about the struggle with the new idea of liberty. It was new in America, it was new in France and it was especially new as an idea in Europe. Those three revolutions really came to dominate the forces that now rule our world. On one side are freedom and liberty and on the other side is despotism. Despotism is making a comeback. All around the world we see not human liberty and not democracy but, rather, despotism ruling great swathes of the world and vast populations. Kosciuszko fought against that. He was lionised in the America Congress after his death. On page 490 of The Great Upheaval it says:

… he would be lionized as "a friend of man" and "an advocate of freedom," and, in his own day, Thomas Jefferson called him "the purest son of liberty" …

You know from this man's life that he was prepared to make great sacrifices for not just Polish nationality or nationalism or liberty, and not just for American liberty, but for the rights of man—the ideals of mankind that have come to dominate the 20th century but are under threat in our current century.

A fascinating story which I'll share with the House from the book The Great Upheaval talked about when the Russians launched their final assault on the Polish rebellion. The book says:

Kosciuszko, after shrieking that Poland "was immortal," was himself seriously wounded and then taken prisoner. The heroic revolt was all but over.

It goes on to talk about how Catherine's the Great's army slaughtered 20,000 men, women and children in the wake of that revolt. We know that human liberty and these rights have often been borne of great tragedy, of great fights, and we should celebrate the lives of all those who have stood for liberty, particularly Kosciuszko's, but, more importantly, we should remind ourselves that the great legacy is not automatic in this world. It has to be fought for. Liberty, justice and democracy are critical and crucial things, and Australia and Poland have always stood together to protect them.