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Centenary of Federation business leaders' dinner, The Great Hall, Parliament House, 26 May 1999: transcript of address.

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26 May 1999







Well, thank you very much Mary. To my colleague, Kim Beazley, my othe r ministerial and parliamentary colleagues, ladies and gentlemen.

Can I say how delighted I am to share in a very bipartisan way this very special occasion which really is the first major event of a long series of events planned by the Council of the Centenary of Federation. It is, as Kim said, a celebration of a great achievement.

No doubt all of you over past years, and certainly in recent years, would have had conversations about that marvellous phenomenon we find amongst the young of Australia of a rediscovered interest in the great deeds of our war heroes. The stories emerged again at the last Anzac Day of the growing crowds of young people at Gallipoli and the growing crowds of young people at Anzac Day celebrations.

Now, in part that is a demonstration of a realisation on the part of the young in Australia, of the debt they owe to those who fought to defend this country. But I think it is also resonant of a wider development in our community and that is a growing interest in, a greater curiosity about, and a growing appreciation of what this country has achieved and indeed how successful it has been over the last 100 years.

It is a fact that you could count on the fingers of both hands the number of nations that have been continuously democratic throughout the entirety of the 20 th Century and Australia of course is one of those. It is true, as Kim Beazley pointed out, that this nation pioneered many democratic forms and democratic practices and democratic traditions years ahead of when they were tried in other nations. It is also true that as we contemplate the next century, as we contemplate 100 years as the Commonwealth of Australia that we do as a community occupy what I frequently described as a special intersection or a unique place.

Here we are in the Asian-Pacific region, a nation that has very deep roots but certainly not exclusive roots in Western Europe and being in many ways, but not exclusively again, a projection of western civilisation. We share the great democratic traditions that we hold dear in common with our friends in North America. But here we are in the Asian-Pacific region and our society is very greatly enriched by the hundreds of thousands of Australians of Asian descent who are adding such vitality and zest to many parts of Australia. And it gives to us because of that particular heritage, that mixed heritage, it does give to us a special capacity over the next century to build a society and to make a contribution that is unique. It is special and it is quite unlike any other society on earth.

That, of course, throws on us an enormous responsibility because opportunity carries responsibility. And as we contemplate the celebration of the Centenary of Federation I think we can do so in a tremendous sense of optimism. There is within all Australians a great competitive streak. Our political system is competitive, it is adversarial and Australians understand that and it is part of the process both in politics and business to be competitive. But I think there's also another streak within the Australian community and that is a deep desire on occasions which are of national significance. A deep desire to see unity within the Australian community, to see both sides of politics come together, to put aside differences about other issues, to see all sections of the Australian community recognise the special privilege it is to be an Australian and to live in Australia.

Tonight is particularly an occasion for me, as Mr Beazley has done, to honour the contribution of the businessmen and women of this country. To honour those who laboured long and hard in the early years of Federation when, of course, Australia at the turn of the century by many measures had the highest living standard in the world. To remember those who kept the entrepreneurial spirit going during the years of the great depression and the difficult years through both world wars. To particularly honour those business men and women who came with the great waves of migration after World War II, many of whom are here tonight and whose exploits and deeds and contribution in the business community of Australia are very well and clearly understood and respected.

So I do thank the business community of Australia for coming here tonight. I do ask, as Peter McGauran has done and as Kim Beazley has done, I do ask you to get behind this great celebration, this reflection, this opportunity to be nourished by the Austral ian achievement and the Australian experience. To honour those that have made this country so strong and free and, of course, to contemplate with a great sense of optimism and hope the years that lay ahead of us.

Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for being here tonight. It is an honour to host this occasion. It is important that I do so in the presence of the leader of the Opposition because it is an occasion that reminds us of one enduring reality of Australian life and that is that things that unite us as Australians are infinitely greater and more enduring than those that divide us. Thank you.




jy  1999-09-02  15:20