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Monday, 30 November 2015
Page: 13997


Ms KING (Ballarat) (10:26): It is a pleasure to speak on this motion focusing on a pivotal and significant moment of our history, the Eureka Stockade. What we see demonstrated in this debate, which we have around this time every year, is how Eureka continues to be a subject for political debate and discourse. I am delighted that the member for Robertson has again brought this on for debate in this chamber.

The third of December is certainly a date we should know much better in this country. Eureka is a moment of history very close to my own heart and very close to home. It occurred within my electorate of Ballarat in Victoria. The site of the stockade itself is just a few kilometres from my electorate office. The troopers were stationed a mere block away, in Camp Street. The Southern Cross still flies proudly on buildings in the town. What remains of the original flag rests behind glass at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka. And I note that the Prime Minister's wife, Lucy Turnbull, is a patron of that centre.

The Ballarat Reform League fought for equality, honest representation and a fair go. It was a remarkable body pulled together from the will of 10,000 diggers across the Ballarat goldfields. The charter, a copy of which rests in my office, called for equal rights. League members swore to stand truly by each other to defend their rights and liberties. The member for Robertson raised the issue of taxation; but, in fact, the diggers fought first and foremost for the right for representation—which they were denied, even under a system of oppressive taxation. So 'no taxation without representation' was really one of the themes. They were scathing of the unelected paid officials who made laws that suited their selfish ends and narrow minded views. It is clear that the Ballarat Reform League was incensed by inequality. Of course, the league came very much out of the Chartist movement in the UK and other such movements internationally. They saw the abolition of the diggers and storekeepers licence tax—which had an immense impact on those who worked on the goldfields and very little on those outside it—as a matter of great importance. Even they could see that the Goldfields Commission and the Legislative Council held no concern for the poor, those who worked on the diggings or the large number of people who had come to Ballarat in search of a better life.

Between 1851 and 1860 some 500,000 people migrated to the Australian colonies. Sixty per cent of those went straight to Victoria to join the gold rush. The diggers came from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. They came from Germany, Italy, North America and China. They came from New Zealand and a number of the South Pacific nations. Ten thousand diggers of more than 20 nationalities took an oath under the Southern Cross to fight for their representation and a fair go. Their fight, both at the stockade and, afterwards, through the courts, grew into a wider struggle that formed the freedoms that all Australians now hold dear—personal liberty, a national identity built around mateship and a great ideal of community. They understood that political action leads to universal empowerment and a more equal society for all.

They understood that the press was a vital part of that process and that parliament needed to be structured as an accessible body. They knew that a body representing the full political rights of the people needed a solid and open platform as a base and fashioned the diggers charter with that in mind. The significance of their efforts cannot be overstated. This charter represents an incredible first step towards a democratic Australia—a measured, thought-out building block of a more equal future, the solid expression of an idea that would see each and every Australian empowered to take control of their future and through that shape the future of our nation.

While the situation is not purely black and white, and even today there are very different interpretations and perspectives that can educate us and help us understand such an integral part of our history, and while the charge on the stockade itself may have only lasted some 15 minutes, the 27 dead from both sides have left a legacy that has carried down 161 years since.

In my hometown of Ballarat there are a number of groups dedicated to the remembrance of the Eureka Stockade. I encourage everybody to attend the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka, which is a fantastic way of seeing all of the democratic expressions from Eureka to modern day, including things like a display about the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Eureka is a proud part of our history and I am proud to join this motion commemorating it here in this chamber today.