PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS: Battle of Eureka
Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (12:37): It is important, indeed imperative, that Australian history be an integral part of Australian secondary schooling. Thankfully, the coalition when in government under John Howard recognised this as a fundamental part of the curriculum. The former prime minister had attacked the teaching of Australian history in schools, saying that 'too often history has succumbed to a post-modern culture of relativism where any objective record of achievement is questioned or repudiated'.
He was right, of course. We went through a period of political correctness under the Hawke and Keating Labor governments and unfortunately we are experiencing a new wave of this under the present administration such that no-one, certainly in this place, is quite sure if they can or cannot say anything about anyone.
This motion is about the 1854 Battle of Eureka, which as the member for Fraser correctly notes, was a key moment in Australian democracy. I concur with his encouragement to all Australians to visit the Museum of Australian Democracy at Ballarat to learn about the history of the 3 December battle. In fact, on this very day, Principal Danny Malone is taking the year 6 pupils of Mater Dei Catholic primary school of Wagga Wagga for the school's annual excursion to Ballarat to do just that.
The battle of the Eureka stockade was an organised rebellion of gold miners at Ballarat pitted against the British colonial authority. The most significant conflict in the colonial history of Victoria, it resulted in the deaths of 22 miners and six soldiers. Irish born Peter Lalor played a leading role in the Eureka rebellion. He led the miners' opposition towards often brutal administration of the goldfields. His left arm was seriously wounded in the battle, requiring amputation. Lalor was later elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly, the first outlaw to make it to parliament. His name lives on in the Victorian federal seat currently held by the Prime Minister. The Eureka flag, designed by a Canadian miner, Captain Henry Ross, includes the Southern Cross on a blue field. It is now a symbol of unionism. A similar flag was flown prominently above the Barcaldine camp of the 1891 Australian shearers' strike, and therefore has had a strong association with the Australian labour movement from this time. Construction unions, such as the Builders Labourers Federation in particular, adopted the Eureka flag and it is one of the flags flying permanently above the Melbourne Trades Hall. No doubt, if Tony Abbott forms a government after next year's election, the Eureka flag will be flown often at the protests which will undoubtedly follow as unionists rally workers against the coalition's policies. The Eureka flag was put up on that day of infamy on 19 August 1996 when a union protest, one of the leaders of which was none other than the current Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, degenerated into the violent and bloody Canberra Riot. Protesters broke away from a rally organised by the Australian Council of Trade Unions and broke down the doors of parliament, trashing the gift shop and injuring police. The Canberra Times reported the following day:
Impertinent but agile protesters climbed up and across the holy marble parapet of the Great Verandah in front of the building and hung their flags and banners there. Eureka and Aboriginal flags even hung across the astonished kangaroo and emu of the nation's sacred, stainless steel coat of arms.
That is the use of the Eureka flag; used by the unions, flown proudly by the unions.
The other side today acknowledges and celebrates ordinary people rising up against the establishment. That is correct. It exalts these people. The most downtrodden group in Australia at the moment are farmers, in particular, irrigators. You can scoff all you like but we have a modern day Peter Lalor of sorts in Griffith farmer John Bonetti, who is dead against the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Now he is quoted in the Area News newspaper at Griffith saying that he is one of many who said that the community would continue to take
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Lyons ): This is a motion about Eureka, is it?
Mr McCORMACK: Yes, it is. I am talking about the Eureka flag. I am talking about modern day protests. I am talking about how that side exalts in people who rise up against the establishment, rise up against things that they feel reflect poor policy being enacted by this government. Let me tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is just that, and Mr Bonetti declared he would lead a whole set of protests if his fellow farmers agreed to support him.
We will not accept the plan if it is not right for us … I'm basically a law-abiding person but this ridiculous. We will take a militant stand against this if we need to.
I sure that the good farmers of Griffith will not be as bad as the unions were in 1996. I will just finish with the words of Mark Twain who said, in talking about the Eureka Stockade:
…I think it may be called the finest thing in Australasian history. It was a revolution—small in size; but great politically; it was a strike for liberty, a struggle for principle, a stand against injustice and oppression…
I am sure that the other members of the house would agree will Mark Twain's sentiments on that score.