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Wednesday, 30 May 1984
Page: 2182

Senator MARTIN(6.38) —It is in the nature of debates on Appropriation Bills that we range far and wide. The matter that I rise on this evening is not the subject of considerable gravity, as was the matter raised by Senator Harradine. If I do not approach the debate in the same spirit as he did, it is not because I have any lack of respect for the views that he put and the subjects he raised. I shall raise an item which, in the end, will relate to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. I will take a little while to get there, but everything I have to say will lead to it. Judging by some Press reports today in the newspapers and on the radio, it seems that we are in for a new silly season sickness in Australia. I refer to reports in relation to the Australian Bicentennial Authority and a decision that has been taken by it. I have no intention of canvassing that decision-that is, a decision not to support a project to re-enact the sailing of the First Fleet from Portsmouth to Sydney Harbour so that that fleet would arrive by 26 January 1988. As I said, I do not intend to canvass the Bicentennial Authority's ruling.

However, in an interview on the subject the General Manager of the Australian Bicentennial Authority, Dr David Armstrong, made certain statements on radio this morning. To some extent they were mirrored in an article in the Australian on the same subject today. I am concerned that we seem to be getting into a bit of a silly area. My main concern is that, good though the intentions of the people who have promoted this may be, it will inevitably backfire on the people whose interests they claim to have at heart. We are told that 'Aboriginal tensions could torpedo the second First Fleet'. In the report in the Australian Dr Armstrong is quoted as saying that the re-enactment voyage could 'provide a flash point to Aboriginal protest'. This very properly raises the issue of the nature of Australia's bicentenary, which I shall be pointing out shortly. In straining after a pose on this matter the Hawke Government has led itself into some extraordinary inconsistencies.

I come back to the rationale. I raise the subject of Dr Armstrong's words in the radio interview this morning because it seems to me that they derived from some evidence given by the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) at an Estimates committee last year but I shall come to that. The interviewer on this radio program asked Dr Armstrong:

. . . surely the fact that we are celebrating in 1988-

That is celebrating a bicentenary-

Does in fact highlight the Anglo Saxon landing in Australia 200 years ago.

Dr Armstrong replied:

We are using 1988 which is the only significant national date we have this century, for a celebration of Australia by all Australians whether their ancestors came here fifty thousand years ago or 200 years ago on the First Fleet or during the gold rushes, or off a refugee boat from Kampuchea a fortnight ago.

My ancestors came here 100 years ago. I am not aware of the details of the circumstances. I do not think that gives me any superior claim to celebrating the bicentenary over someone who came here very recently as a refugee. I do not think it gives me any claim which is inferior to that of anyone else in this country. I would have thought that there was no doubt about what we will be celebrating in 1988. We will be celebrating 200 years of modern settlement and civilisation in Australia. On 26 January 1788, the First Fleet arrived. This is a date I shall come to later. As far as I have understood the matter, that date was decided on for our bicentennial celebration.

I know that the Bicentennial Authority has always been anxious that all Australians, whatever their origins or colour, feel involved in this celebration , but I think it is showing some pretty muddle-headed thinking at the moment to suggest that an Australian Government lit on 1988 as a date that had some significance, in the absence of any other date that might have had significance. It has a very particular significance. One could well ask Dr Armstrong why he thinks we did not have a bicentenary in 1976. In 1976 the United States of America celebrated its bicentenary. The Americans celebrated 200 years of independence from the British. It was this war of independence that led to our planning to celebrate the bicentenary in 1988 in what is now known as Australia. If we just wanted a date that had some sort of significance when we could all have this national party, as it has been referred to on occasions, this would have been a valid one.

Why are we starting to cringe from what 1988 is about? Without a doubt, in 1988 Aborigines and others will be able to say that some terrible things happened to Aborigines in Australia in the last 200 years. But I hope that 1988 will not be a year which will see us all sitting around looking at our navels. I would have thought that part of its significance would be to assess ourselves honestly in relation to Aborigines and others and determine to go forward. Many good things have happened in the last 200 years. If we are going to start cringing away from 1988 and what it stands for, why have a celebration at all? Why do we not just scrap the whole thing and put all that good planning towards the year 2001?

In the year 2001 Australia will celebrate a centenary of self-government. That will be a very significant celebration. But I have no doubt at all that if the decision were made to celebrate that date, people would be saying: 'Ah, but we really cannot celebrate it because, let's face it, it was not a democracy. Women could not vote in 1901 in Australia. So really it is a date of some shame. We ought to celebrate the date when women got the vote', and so on. One could go on with such rationalisation. We should recognise what is bad in a country's history and go forward from there. The year 1988 is not just the only significant national date that we have had this century. It will be the deliberate celebration of where we have come from in the last 200 years. The interviewer in this morning's interview asked the following question of Dr Armstrong:

Dr Armstrong, is it true that you said that the voyage could provide a flash point to aboriginal protest.

Dr Armstrong said:

Well, there's no doubt about that. The arrival of the first fleet in Australia dramatically changed life for aboriginal Australians, why would aboriginal Australians want to become involved constructively in a re-enactment of the voyage of the First Fleet.

I did not know their involvement was an issue. I was not aware of that. Perhaps they will or will not become involved. The criticisms and misgivings that I am aware of in the Aboriginal community in relation to the bicentenary relate to the choice of the year 1988. There are some Aborigines who object to the celebration at all, who cannot see the positive side for them that some people are trying to promote. But what a fatuous statement! Dr Armstrong said:

The arrival of the first fleet in Australia dramatically changed life for aboriginal Australians-

It also changed life pretty dramatically for a few first fleeters and a few other people. It was a dramatic turning point for many people, including Aborigines, and that is what the bicentenary is about. Certainly, if the First Fleet had sunk on its way around the Cape of Good Hope we would not be on about the year 1988. We would not be talking in 1988 about the arrival of the First Fleet. The interviewer asked Dr Armstrong:

Has this attitude been indicated to you by any aboriginal group?

Dr Armstrong said:

Of course. We spend part of every week talking to aboriginal Australians. And the approach we've taken in that respect is that we should use the lead up to the bicentennial, the years remaining, as an opportunity to redress some of the reasonable grievances that aboriginal Australians have.

I am in 100 per cent agreement with that. Dr Armstrong went on:

The Bicentennial Authority is on about serious things rather than spectacular events that are going to literally fritter away millions of dollars.

My heart sank when I heard that. I am not sanctioning the frittering away of millions of dollars. I have indicated I make no judgment on the re-enactment of the arrival of the First Fleet. The Bicentennial Authority is on about serious things, but I think it might just be getting a little too self-important, unless , of course, it is saying what it has been told to say and that is entirely a possibility. The interviewer then asked:

Why would the aboriginal groups have any more objection to a mock up of the First Fleet, than they would to celebrating the bicentenary anyway. The very fact that it's a bicentenary says Europeans have been here two hundred years.

Speaking on behalf of the Bicentennial Authority, Dr Armstrong's response to that question was:

We're approaching the bicentenary in such a way and using 1988 as a pretext to celebrate the contributions of all Australians to the making of modern Australia . And that of course includes aboriginal Australians.

I have not heard the word 'pretext' used before. Expletives deleted, it is a jolly expensive pretext. I thought we were using the celebration as a focus for national development. If it is a pretext why did someone not pick some date after 1988 and celebrate something like the first harvesting of a wheat crop in Australia? That was a cause for celebration amongst the first fleeters. The last question that Dr Armstrong was asked was:

Could it be said then that you're trying not to recognise the contribution that the British have made?

I nearly fell off my chair when I heard this. Dr Armstrong said:

Oh no, I think you are putting words into my mouth there. The contribution of the Anglo Celtic groups to Australia has been most significant and that will be duly recognised during the bicentennial year--

I see that Senator McIntosh, still with a very broad Anglo-Celtic accent, agrees with me. The contribution has been more than significant. I would have said it was pivotal, critical, and a lot of other things. Some people may well be feeling a little bemused by this sort of approach to the bicentenary. Let us not talk about what it is really all about. Let us not talk about why the year 1988 was chosen. Any old date will do except that this is a bit better than the other dates. Let us bury that and put words such as 'pretext' and that sort of thing into some context. Last year in Estimates Committee D some evidence was being taken from the Australian Bicentennial Authority. After a witness had given a statement on the Bicentennial Authority's program, the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs, Senator Ryan, added a statement to the Committee in which she said:

. . . some matters are under review and it is my recollection that there was a Government decision not to support activities which would celebrate the re- enactment of the colonisation of Aboriginal Australia by the British.

Now, if that is not a mouthful of innuendo and prejudice I do not know what is. I do not think anyone expects to celebrate colonial government in 1988 or to celebrate the excesses of some colonialisers in 1988, and I do not think we are totally celebrating British Colonialism. I think we are celebrating the fact that we have a country and a society of which we are basically proud. We are proud of what it has achieved, what we have achieved, and what our forebears have achieved if they happen to live here. We are proud and glad to have the privilege of living in this country. We regret mistakes of the past and we are determined to learn by them. But if we are going to put blank pages in the history books for the benefit of some people's feelings, we will lead ourselves into terrible error. One of the things that intrigued me about that news report today was that Senator Ryan had said in September that there was 'already a government decision not to support activities which would', et cetera'.

I was a little bemused by the General Manager of the Bicentennial Authority indicating that there was some new aspect to this attitude towards the First Fleet. It does raise the issue of whether the Bicentennial Authority was ever actually informed of this Government's decision. If it was, why has it been talking to, entertaining applications from, people who wanted some government support as well as contributing a lot of money to their own, which it has apparently ruled out? Why was not Michael Edgley aware of this before? Why was not Mr Dick Tanner and people overseas, who are putting money into supporting this re-enactment, told that it is to be shunned by the Government? If it happens, it will be officially a non-event. It might be because there are some differences of opinion within the Government. The significant difference of opinion that is on the record comes from the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) which is where I started my speech.

The newspapers today carried some news reports not only about the Bicentennial Authority and its attitude towards Aboriginal sensitivities on the date 1988, but they also carried some reports on the Prime Minister's very gung-ho views and the date of 26 January. Now I learnt that those two dates went together. Australia was colonised by Britain on 26 January 1788. One would have thought that a re-enactment of the First Fleet landing would happen on 26 January 1988, but that is the date that was the beginning of colonisation, the raising of the Union flag, I think it was called in those days, not the Union Jack. Mr Lloyd asked the Prime Minister a question about the Australia Day holiday. The Prime Minister provided an answer to that question on notice yesterday, and his answer was reported in the newspapers today. I would like to inform the Senate of the full answer, not just the little bit that appeared in the newspapers. Mr Hawke said:

The Government firmly believes that the present arrangements for the observance of Australia Day should be changed so that our National Day--

I am not sure it is the Aborigines national day-

is officially celebrated on 26 January each year with a public holiday declared on that day or on the following Monday when 26 January falls on a weekend. The Government considers this arrangement would enhance the importance of Australia Day and the symbolic significance which it should have for all Australians.

One assumes he includes Aboriginal Australians-

The Commonwealth's direct powers, however, in declaring such public holidays are limited to the Territories it administers.

The question of the date of observance of Australia Day was listed, following preparations under both the present and the previous Government, for discussion at the June 1983 Premiers' Conference. Because of constraints on time, the item was not reached and I therefore followed it by correspondence.

As New South Wales had already agreed in principle to such a change with effect from--

goodness me-

1988 and the Northern Territory had decided to celebrate Australia Day with a public holiday on 26 January as from this year, I sought the views of the remaining Premiers . . .

He goes on:

In view of the significance of this matter, I have written again to the Premiers of Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania seeking reconsideration of their position.

I have been informed of the contents of the letter to the Premier of Queensland, dated 4 May 1984. The Prime Minister said to the Premier of Queensland:

You will recall my approach last August seeking your views on the observance of Australia Day.

The Commonwealth is seeking agreement to change the present arrangements so that Australia Day is officially celebrated on 26 January each year. With a public holiday declared on that day or on the following Monday when 26th January falls on a weekend.

I note recent Press reports that the Queensland Minister for Employment and Industrial Affairs is seeking the views of community groups and the general public in your State on the observance of Australia Day. If these reports are correct, I should hope that your Government would be prepared to join the Commonwealth, New South Wales and the Northern Territory in celebrating Australia Day on 26 January each year.

There is a little more there. I seek leave to have the letter incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

Letter to Premier of Queensland from Prime Minister dated 4 May, 1984.

You will recall my approach last August seeking your views on the observance of Australia Day.

The Commonwealth is seeking agreement to change the present arrangements so that Australia Day is officially celebrated on 26 January each year with a public holiday declared on that day or on the following Monday when 26th January falls on a weekend.

I note recent press reports that the Queensland Minister for Employment and Industrial Affairs is seeking the views of community groups and the general public in your State on the observance of Australia Day. If these reports are correct, I should hope that your government would be prepared to join the Commonwealth, New South Wales and the Northern Territory in celebrating Australia Day on 26 January each year.

In this context I note that a public opinion survey conducted early 1983 indicated that 58 per cent of Australians preferred celebration of our national day on 26 January. Recent press publicity and increasing public awareness has indicated in letters to the Government and in the press suggest that this figure would now be significantly higher.

As I should hope that we can reach agreement on this matter I propose listing it again for consideration at the next Premiers Conference, although I trust some progress towards revised arrangements can be made by correspondence before then.

In summary, what we have here is people posing, striking poses instead of finding solutions to the vexed area of Aboriginal affairs. Self-conscious posing will hinder the possibility of any solution. We would all welcome constructive moves towards the solution of Aboriginal problems in Australia. I suggest the sort of nonsense that is being put out through the mouthpiece of the Bicentennial Authority at the moment-apparently on behalf of the Government, even though there is a substantial conflict in view between the Government view expressed by Senator Ryan last September and the view now being expressed by the Prime Minister on the significance of certain dates-will get us nowhere. It will antagonise a lot of people and in the end it is foolish because it is only ourselves we will be kidding.

Debate interrupted.