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Thursday, 3 February 1994
Page: 400

Senator SHORT (8.44 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate—

    (a)condemns the Government for its divisive approach to Australia's national symbols and, in particular, its abolition of the oath and affirmation of allegiance required of new citizens;

    (b)whilst recognising that the new so-called pledge of commitment is now law, despite strong Coalition opposition to the change, sympathises with those local government councils which have expressed anger at being required to use the pledge in citizenship ceremonies;

    (c)criticises the Government for its failure to include the pledge and preamble in the current review of the Australian Citizenship Act 1948 by the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, even though these are crucial and important symbolic parts of the Act; and

    (d)urges the Government, it if wishes the review of the Act to be taken seriously, as the occasion demands, to include consideration of the pledge and the preamble.

This motion condemns the Keating government for its divisive approach to Australia's national symbols, including in particular its abolition of the oath and affirmation of allegiance required of new citizens. The motion also criticises the government for excluding consideration of the new preamble and pledge of commitment contained in the Australian Citizenship Act from the forthcoming review of that act by the Joint Standing Committee on Migration. It urges the government to change its mind on this point.

  A nation's symbols and institutions are of fundamental importance to its stability, good governance and sovereign independence and to the wellbeing of its people. As the great 19th century British statesman Benjamin Disraeli said more than a century ago:

Individualities may form communities, but it is institutions alone that can create a nation.

I am sure that Disraeli also included a nation's symbols, in particular its flag, in this profound sentiment. As that great US President Woodrow Wilson said many years ago:

The things that the flag stands for were created by the experiences of a great people. Everything that it stands for has been written by our lives. The flag is the embodiment, not of sentiment, but of history.

Senator Schacht —He was talking about a truly independent America.

Senator SHORT —The 13 stripes on the flag, the Stars and Stripes, as Senator Schacht may be aware, stand for the 13 original British colonies that became the 13 original states of the United States. Such insights as that from great leaders around the world, however, are of course beyond the vision of Prime Minister Keating.

  On the contrary, Prime Minister Keating and his Labor government, like no other government in Australia's history, have sought deliberately to denigrate and pull down Australia's national symbols. In doing so, he has fuelled divisions within our nation which runs the risk of very serious long-term damage. Of Mr Keating one can say no more than that he is a highly divisive leader who has been prepared to ditch Australian traditions and institutions to suit his own political ends. He is a wrecker of Australia's institutions and symbols. He is prepared to pull them down without—

Senator Schacht —Did you go to the Australia Day ceremony on the 26th? Were you there?

Senator SHORT —What are you going on about?

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Calvert)—Order! Senator Schacht, if you want to speak on this matter you will have plenty of opportunity.

Senator SHORT —Yes, he can speak later on. Every Australian knows—perhaps every Australian except Senator Schacht—that this Prime Minister is prepared to tear down fundamental institutions and symbols like the Australian flag just to justify and satisfy his own short-term political ends. He wants to impose a Labor party legacy on our institutions and our symbols. They ought to be beyond petty party politics. They ought to be of a nature which is supported by the whole of this nation because national symbols are part of a nation's character, heritage and pride.

  I was reminded of the importance of those basic symbols of ours when I visited the provisional Parliament House with my colleague Senator Rod Kemp. I found two very stark and contrasting examples in the exhibitions currently being held there. The first of those exhibitions was of the flags of Australia. It was an excellent exhibition because it presented fully the history of the flag. It presented the options, the alternatives, for looking at the future of that great and fundamental symbol.

  The second exhibition was called Landmark. That exhibition was supposed to reflect the relations between the land, its people and politics. It concentrated on three elements. It concentrated on Mabo, it concentrated on the Franklin Dam debate of a decade ago, and it also dealt with Australia's immigration. I was really very saddened to see the very biased approach to all of those issues that that exhibition took. In my own area of immigration, it had Al Grassby as the pinnacle of Australian immigration policy-making. The exhibition made no reference at all to the fact that it was the Liberal governments under Menzies that, progressively through the 1950s and 1960s, produced an enlightened immigration policy which led to the abolition of the white Australia policy.

  It was the Menzies Liberal-National governments of those periods that provided an immigration program which formed the great basis for much of the development of our nation. None of that was included in that exhibition. I must say I found that not only surprising but a matter of great concern, and it ought to be of great concern to all of us.

  One should reasonably expect that a person of no less eminence and stature in this country than the Australian Prime Minister, the highest elected official in the country, should uphold and promote our national symbols with honour, pride, commitment and resolution. On the contrary, Mr Keating has had a go at just about every national symbol. He has undertaken a persistent, venomous and divisive attack, supported and encouraged by his left wing colleagues, various un-Australian vested interests and apologists, including, in particular, Senator Schacht and Senator Faulkner, who has temporarily joined our side, and supported by a group of downright un-Australian activists and interest groups. If one is going to play with the nation's symbols and institutions, one is playing with the very core and basis of what this nation has been built on.

  Not only is this approach a monstrous attempt to rewrite our history, but it also sucks the confidence and vitality of our people. One of the most shameful of these assaults has been the Prime Minister's denigration of our number one national symbol, the Australian flag. He has denigrated it not just in Australia but around the world. He ignores public opinion which overwhelmingly takes pride and honour in our flag, a flag under which Australians have fought and died in order to defend that which it represents—that is, a free, federated nation under the Southern Cross, built on our rich heritage from our founding fathers from Great Britain.

  Mr Keating has taken that denigration around the world. He did it in Indonesia, in one of his first fleeting visits when he tried to discover Asia in his early days as Prime Minister. With regard to Mr Keating taking Australia into Asia, he is an absolute novice; he is a Johnny-come-lately. He said in Jakarta in 1992—several months after he became Prime Minister:

I'm sure that in this part of the world, people do wonder about Australians representing themselves with a British flag in the corner of our flag. That must change and it should change because Australia should respect itself as a country of independent minds and spirits.

At about the same time—indeed, on the same tour—he said to a group of school children in Papua New Guinea who were waving the Australian flag on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Kokoda Trail, `I see you've got an Australian flag, have you? Well, I'll get you a new one soon'. I have yet to hear of any other national leader in any other country of the world who grovelled and denigrated his nation's prime national symbol in overseas visits in the way that Prime Minister Keating did on that occasion. Not only did he do that, but at an Anzac Day ceremony just two years ago, when the national president of the Australian RSL, Alf Garland, wanted to present him with a small Australian flag, he gave it back to him and said, `No good giving it to me, give it back to one of your Pommy mates'.

  That is a quote which has never been denied by this Prime Minister. It shows that the Prime Minister's motivation in terms of his attack on our institutions and our symbols is not done on the basis of wanting to assert Australia's independence. Everyone in the world, including everyone in Asia, knows that we are a totally independent nation and we have been for many decades. What it concerns is a deep-felt hatred of anything English. That is what motivates this Prime Minister in terms of our institutions, in particular the flag and in particular the republican debate. He seems to imply there is a subservience somehow or other by Australia to Britain because of those institutions and symbols.

  I well recall, and I am sure my colleagues well recall, it was in the 1950s and 1960s that Mr Keating and his party were waxing long and loud on our so-called subservience to America. It had nothing to do with Britain; at that stage it was America. When he has a problem he picks a diversion and does it in a way that is deeply offensive to most Australians and, most importantly, in the longer term, is deeply damaging to the whole fabric and fibre of our society. It is a tragedy that this Prime Minister does not realise that.

  With regard to this area of denigration of basic institutions and symbols in Australia, of recent interest directly to my portfolio of immigration and citizenship has been the unwarranted, party-politically motivated abolition of the Australian oath of allegiance for citizenship ceremonies. That move did not have widespread community support. There was no extensive community consultation on it. It was simply part of the Labor Party's divisive republican agenda.

Senator Schacht —Did you go to the Australia Day ceremony on 26 January?

Senator SHORT —Senator Schacht waxes very loud on this because he has been one of the prime-movers in this most base, divisive movement in Australia.

Senator Schacht —I am proud to be involved as a leader of it.

Senator SHORT —Yes, you are certainly a leader of it, and history will hold you responsible. What we have now is an oath under the constitution for members of parliament, but a very limp, characterless, uninspiring so-called pledge for new citizens which excludes all reference to our nation's head of state, which is the underpinning core of the whole of our constitution. Yet, this government has deliberately and wantonly thrown all of that reference out.

  Even more disturbing is the fact that the government has referred to the Joint Standing Committee on Migration the review of the Australian Citizenship Act, but in the letter of referral to the migration committee it has excluded any reference to the review of either the pledge or the preamble. The motion which we are debating urges very strongly that the government changes its mind on that aspect. If it does not, I hope that the committee in its deliberations would ignore that edict of the government and do what is absolutely essential to have a proper review of that act.

  The Prime Minister has also lambasted our nation's successful and longstanding constitutional arrangements. The integral role of the apolitical head of state has been personally, philosophically and party politically abused. That debate has been damaging to our national unity and character. It has been divisive and completely unnecessary.

  I would challenge the Labor Party to introduce in this session its constitutional referendum bill to remove our Australian head of state. Let us take the issue to the people before it further divides Australia, and let us show this so-called government on the other side of the chamber just what Australians think about that.

  I cannot in the short time available traverse all the other areas where this Prime Minister and this government have denigrated our symbols and institutions and divided our nation. One has only to think of the arrogance with which the government and the Prime Minister treat the Senate. It is not long ago that the Prime Minister said that the Senate is out of control and that it had to be told that government is made in the House of Representatives. What nonsense and what blatant arrogance. We have seen the denigration of our federal system and the great growth towards centralism. We have seen the denigration of Anzac Day and the downplaying of such things. All these issues are very important and they should be far above party politics. I urge the government to get itself off this very divisive route.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Calvert)—Order! The honourable senator's time has expired, and so has the time for the consideration of general business.

Senator Kemp —Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. I would like to seek leave of the Senate to make some remarks relating to the independence of this nation, and particularly to this government's involving UN committees in the Australian legal system, something of which Senator Schacht is a very keen supporter.

Senator Schacht —No.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Kemp, leave is not granted. For your information, general business at this time next week may continue with this motion. I am not sure of that but there is a chance that it may.