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Tuesday, 21 August 2001
Page: 26264


Senator COONEY (6:26 PM) —The Senate is debating the Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2000 [2001], the Australian Heritage Council Bill 2000 [2001] and the Australian Heritage Council (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2000 [2001]. I read the titles of those bills out because they are evocative titles that point the way to a very important debate in this chamber. These bills attend to the great matters of the hearts and souls of Australians. They deal with Australia's environment, with Australia's history and with the monuments that are in Australia.

It is proper to pause in that context to acknowledge the considerable speech of Senator Cherry and to take the occasion to call to mind former senator John Woodley, whom Senator Cherry replaced. Senator Woodley was a man of great heart, of great soul and of great compassion. He was a person of considerable eloquence and of great courage. I would like to put that on the record.

The Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2000 [2001] deals with the machinery of the way things of great value to Australians are to be saved. It amends a piece of legislation that we put through earlier in this parliament, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The act seeks to preserve the animals, the birds and the other living life of Australia, including its plants.

A great tragedy occurred in Australia in the 1930s, when the thylacine, the Tasmanian tiger, was `squandered'. I do not think there is any other word I can use for what happened. The thylacine was a great symbol of a great state and it has now disappeared. It need never have disappeared. Think of the snaring that took place. It is just a tragedy. There was a bounty put upon the thylacine. It is disastrous for Australia that we in the 21st century are without a great symbol of Tasmania, a great symbol of Australia. The thylacine is no longer with us because we, as a nation, squandered it. It is a tragedy, and the thylacine is only one of many animals that we have let go.

It is not only animals but also buildings that have disappeared. Keeping the Tasmanian theme going, in 1833 or 1834, the Henty family sailed from Tasmania. Senator Mackay, one of the great Tasmanian senators, is here, and she would remember this. The Henty family sailed over from Launceston and founded the first town in Victoria, Portland. Beautiful buildings were built there. Some of them still remain, thank heavens, but some were pulled down in the 1950s. It is a great shame. When we go down there, we see buildings, yes, but not the buildings that could have been preserved had things taken a different course in the 1950s. Another great town in Victoria is Beechworth. It is full of historical buildings. Ned Kelly, that great icon of Australian life, was held prisoner in the jail there for a while. And there is the courthouse there and so on. They have been preserved, but it is dreadful to see places which are now empty of great monuments that were previously there.

The legislation we are discussing here seeks to set up a scheme that is going to preserve these great traditions of Australian history. The big thing about this debate is that it is not about, as people call it, the bottom line of the economy. It is proper that that should be so. When Banjo Paterson wrote The Man from Snowy River, he was not concerned that the colt that got away was worth $1,000. That was put there just to indicate that the colt was a very valuable colt. What he was concerned to show was that great spirit of Australian life: the spirit of adventure and the spirit of going down the mountainside with considerable courage, with calculated risk, with pride, with skill, with drive—the sorts of things we like to think are part of the Australian spirit. There is an Australian spirit which it is absolutely essential to preserve, to develop and to nurture. Australia is a proud country and we look to these monuments to point to that. With Senator Mackay here, I am reminded that Tasmania is full of great buildings, great traditional houses, beautiful rivers and great mountains, particularly down the west coast, where a lot of my forebears came from— down around Zeehan, Macquarie Harbour and Strahan. There are also the great rainforests down there which we must preserve.

I have been talking about the natural environment we live in and the great buildings we have. But there are also great historical institutions that ought to be preserved. I would like to mention several. I see the Deputy Clerk, Anne Lynch, here, so we will start off with Ballarat, a great Victorian town, where the Eureka Stockade took place on 3 December 1854. The great Peter Lalor led a multicultural force against men purporting to be representatives of law and order. Ballarat is famous not only for Eureka but also for its buildings, including a fine art gallery. There are some beautiful buildings there.


Senator Lightfoot —And Geoffrey Blainey.


Senator COONEY —And Geoffrey Blainey. Can we mention great people from Ballarat and nearby? Of course, there was Geoffrey Blainey. John Curtin, who became perhaps our greatest Prime Minister, was born nearby, in Creswick, as you would know, Senator Lightfoot. There are others as well.


Senator Hill —Mr Ronaldson, the Chief Government Whip in the other place.


Senator COONEY —Yes, and I would pay tribute to him. I also mention that Joe Ragg, my son-in-law, comes from Ballarat. And, talking about my son-in-law, I mention that it is my daughter Megan's 30th birthday today.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Chapman)—I do remind Senator Cooney of the importance of maintaining relevance to the bill.


Senator COONEY —I am properly brought to order, Mr Acting Deputy President.



Senator COONEY —That might be going just a bit far. Before I leave the subject of Ballarat, I want to pay tribute to a couple of recent arrivals from Vietnam, Henry and Sandra Thai, who have a restaurant in Ballarat. The reason I acknowledge them is that they restored the Chinese cemetery there. We have mentioned Mr Ronaldson. He, amongst others, had much to do with this. The Chinese cemeteries go back to the time of the gold rushes in the 1850s. If you look in the cemeteries at the causes of death, there is real tragedy there. There were a lot of suicides. Times were very hard. It is proper that we accept the good and the bad part, the dark and the light side of our history. The Chinese cemetery in Ballarat is an indication of that.

The other story that I would like to tell is about the Chinese in the nearby town of Ararat. In those days, as you know, Mr Acting Deputy President, Victoria made it very difficult for the Chinese to go to the goldfields, so they used to land in Robe—I acknowledge the beauty of Robe in South Australia—and walk overland. In May 1857, some hundreds of Chinese came across from Robe on their way to Clunes—which is a great place too. They got to Ararat where, looking for some water, they came across one of the great alluvial goldfields of Victoria—Victoria had many a great goldfield—indeed of Australia, the Canton Lead. So Ararat was a town established by the Chinese. In that context, I mention a memorial building, the Gum San, which means `hill of gold', that has recently been built, in accordance with Chinese architecture, and Mr Don Reynolds of Ararat, who unfortunately died before it was completed. Catherine—or Rene—Reynolds is still alive, and I would like to acknowledge the work that she and particularly Don did. That building is again a symbol of the pride that many Australians take in the history of Australia.

From the east to the west and from the north to the south of Australia, one sees that it is teeming with natural beauty, with natural monuments and with buildings which are symbols of the place that have been built by our forebears. I look at Tasmania—I am fixed on Tasmania but that is where I was born—and the great convict history of Australia that Marcus Clarke wrote about in For the Term of His Natural Life, which no doubt everybody has read. All these things I think we feel pride in. We are uplifted by them— the soul sours up; the heart rises—because they are things that we see as symbolising what Australia is all about. They give us encouragement to go on as a decent and united community, with the great aspirations that we want. These are the things that are perhaps not debated in this chamber as much as they should be. In here we usually talk about interest rates, about how much money we are going to give a particular group, about how much money we are going to collect and about how much money we are going to spend—all of which is essential, because without a reasonable amount of income things will become uncomfortable. These bills are about—and we will get into the technical matter when we go into committee—something more important than just the accumulation of wealth. These bills are about the accumulations of great memories, the accumulations of the soul, the aspirations we have and the accumulations of those humanising factors that we all so strongly believe in.

Whether you are looking at the Sydney Harbour Bridge—we from the south have to concede the great buildings of Sydney—or the Opera House, whether you are walking along Macquarie Street where you see historic buildings such as the Parliament House, the hospital and the old convict barracks and so on, whether you go to the Blue Mountains to look at the natural beauty there or whether you go further south to Victoria to see its beautiful Parliament House—as you would know, Mr Acting Deputy President—particularly the Legislative Council chambers or St Patrick's Cathedral or St Paul's Cathedral—


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —What about the MCG?


Senator COONEY —Thank you. That is of course an icon—


Senator Mackay —Don't mention the Melbourne Club.


Senator COONEY —The Melbourne Club is a nice building. The MCG is certainly an icon, together with the National Tennis Centre and Flemington racecourse and the other racecourses for that matter. These are all symbols with which we identify, of which we are proud, and which we would like to see preserved. God forbid anybody would try to destroy or in any way damage these great attributes of ours. This is what this legislation is all about. I might have a go at this when we get to the committee stage debate, because a lot of this regulation is left to subordinate legislation and many a judgment falls upon the minister. The minister is from South Australia, which has some great icons, but is he on his own able to grasp the whole broad breadth of this and take into account the matters that should be preserved? He will preserve a lot, but will he preserve it all? He is always gracious in his discussions, and we will discuss this during the committee stage.


Senator Hill —You cannot preserve it all. That is part of the challenge.


Senator COONEY —I understand that you cannot preserve it all and that judgments have to be made. Talking about the MCG, the Long Room and the old Members' Stand are about to go. I understand that there are judgments to be made. I think it is going to be a crucial issue as to who makes that judgment.


Senator Hill —I would preserve the Long Room.


Senator COONEY —I understand that, Senator Hill. We really do have to have it right. I understand that not everything can be preserved, but what ought to be preserved must be preserved. Every now and then there are some real problems. In recent years, there have been problems to do with the Great Ocean Road along the southern coast of Victoria. That has become an icon and it is another place that I would like to see preserved. There are places that, unless you knew the history, you might not preserve. There is a church in Ballarat—since I see the Deputy Clerk, Anne Lynch, here—called St Alipius. I have driven past St Alipius on several occasions and I took it to be just a parish church. But Anne Lynch tells me— and I accept it because it is very important—that that was where Peter Lalor was taken after he was wounded at Eureka. So what looks like just another church is a historic building because that is where the great leader Peter Lalor was taken after his wounding.

I could and, in a sense, should go on but time has caught up with me. We will not go into Henry Lawson, because I notice that following me is Senator Hutchins, who is a great New South Welshperson, and he will talk about him. (Time expired)