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Thursday, 2 December 2004
Page: 152

Senator TCHEN (6:41 PM) —Tonight I wish to speak briefly on two matters of interest recently raised by other senators in this chamber. The first matter is the 150th anniversary of the Eureka Stockade. This has been the subject of a number of speeches both in this chamber and in the House of Representatives. It was first mentioned by Mr Mark Latham, the Leader of the Opposition, on 29 November, as well as the anniversary of the gathering at Bakery Hill. Since then the Eureka Stockade has been the subject of speeches by Ms Catherine King, the member for Ballarat, and by Senator Mason and Senator Gavin Marshall in this chamber.

Tomorrow, 3 December, will be the anniversary of the storming of the Eureka Stockade and the ending of that rebellion on the field variously described as the birthplace of Australian democracy, the first statement of Australian republicanism and even the beginnings of Australian multiculturalism. Perhaps in some way to distract us there are those to whom it was simply a hiccup on the way to Australia developing in an orderly way as a nation and a short-lived outburst by a small number of troublemakers which was decisively put down and pacified by the fast-responding authorities.

I do not want to add tonight to the retelling of the story of Eureka, which other speakers have done very well, but I want to make a few points. All the speakers seemed to take contradictory positions. Perhaps I should exempt Ms Catherine King from this because her speech was very balanced and inclusive, and I commend her for it. However, I note, for example, that in Mr Latham's reply to the Governor-General's speech, which is a very important occasion, he said that the Eureka Stockade:

... says so much about the Australian character and identity: our love of the underdog and support for those who have a go; our willingness to stand up for our rights, to not buckle in the face of authority; our tradition of defiance, dissent and the larrikin spirit that makes us truly Australian.

I have no argument with that either, because I think there is quite a strong element of truth in it. However, on occasions like this there is always the danger of people with ulterior motives hijacking a national event. I think Senator Mason regards the stockade simply as a great historical and cultural fraud perpetrated against the Australian people by the Labor Party and their stealing the occasion. I think it is a bit more than that. I think we are in danger of seeing not just the Labor Party stealing it but the event being stolen from the Labor Party.

I want to raise this point because today's newspapers report that the Eureka Stockade commemoration organisation has invited Mr Terry Hicks—the father of Mr David Hicks, who is at Guantanamo Bay at the moment—to lead the walk for one of the major events of the Eureka Stockade celebrations and give an address at the dawn service. I do not have any problem with Mr Terry Hicks; he has done a very conscientious and admirable job defending his son. I do not have any problem with the walk organisers inviting Mr Hicks to perform this role in the Eureka commemorations, because in 1999, shortly after I became a senator, the organising committee invited me to speak in that role. I attended and gave one of the shortest dawn speeches that there has been. This was for the simple reason that when I did some research on the Eureka Stockade I found that although there was a multicultural presence on the goldfields in Ballarat—there were quite a number of different nationalities within the stockade itself during the early stages and quite a large number of Chinese diggers on the goldfields—there was not one Chinese miner in the stockade, so I had nothing to say about the stockade.

That the Ballarat committee in their wisdom chose to invite me on that occasion demonstrated that the committee is perhaps not very discriminatory in whom they appoint. However, on this particular occasion the founder of this dawn walk, Mr Graeme Dunston, is quoted to have said that the organising committee chose Mr Hicks because his fight for his son was similar to the miners' battle for their rights. I think that is perhaps pushing the similarity a bit too far. Mr Hicks's fight for his son shows good parental love, but it is not a fight for freedom as such. The reason for Mr David Hicks being incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay is quite different to what the Eureka Stockade was about.

Senator Marshall —Being imprisoned without charges?

Senator TCHEN —I see Senator Marshall is now in the chamber. He responded to Senator Mason's earlier speech on Tuesday and talked about how the Eureka Stockade was a defining moment in Australia's development as a nation. I do not mind you hijacking this as your icon because, whatever you do, you cannot deny the rest of the nation of it, but you are in danger of having your icon hijacked by other people with other agendas. I think that is something that the Labor Party need to pay particular attention to.

I want to turn to the second issue I wish to raise tonight. It was this morning, during a debate on a bill on workplace relations, I think, when Senator Ross Lightfoot spoke in this chamber about what has happened in Western Australia with the takeover of a small mining company called Windimurra. Windimurra, a vanadium mine, was taken over by the Swiss company Xstrata—now bidding for Western Mining Resources—and they then closed down the mine, removed all the mining equipment from it and supplied their customers from their mines in other countries. Consequently, all the jobs have been lost in this small town of Windimurra in Western Australia. When Xstrata took over Windimurra they agreed that the company would receive royalties for ongoing exports. But, once they closed down the mine, the company had no income and, having removed all the equipment, it meant the mine could not be restarted. This is a disgraceful affair. What is surprising is that this matter was raised in the chamber by Senator Lightfoot rather than by the Labor Party. (Time expired)