As we approach Australia Day, 2010, it is timely to reflect on the birth of our nation, as Americans do at Thanksgiving and on Independence Day. It is not the time for proposals to shred our heritage.
Why is it that republicans think it appropriate on this day to propose the removal of our oldest constitutional institution without telling us what they are planning to put in its place, or to shred our flag without even suggesting the alternative? The sad thing is that they are invariably motivated by a wish to tear down our heritage.
As I told Channel 7 yesterday about plans to shred the flag, why stop there? If the flag has to go because of its connection with Britain, why not target the rule of law, the common law, and the jury system? Why keep the Westminster system? And while we are in this frenzy of destruction, why not end the use of English?
…vandals revive the Marxist doctrine of inevitability…
And why should anyone take any notice if someone, television presenter or politician, declares something inevitable. People of my age remember that socialism and communism were once declared inevitable. And many people, including those who wanted neither, accepted the Marxist prediction that socialism must come.
We must not be so gullible as to fall for a revival of this Marxist doctrine in historical inevitability. Its purpose is to substitute some undefined flawed politicians’ republic for our present splendid crowned republic.
The truly appalling thing is that it is that the vandals are proposing neither a manifestly better constitution nor a more appropriate and beautiful flag. It is just that they have a profound and intensely racist hatred of anything remotely English.
Why then don’t we also reject those other British gifts, the rule of law, juries, the common law, the Westminster system, and yes, the English language? It is all so infantile, so divisive. For the TV presenter Ray Martin, to say he objects to the Union Jack being on our flag because of its British connection is as appropriate as saying he objects to his programmes being in the language of Shakespeare.
This vandalism is worse than the ignorance exposed in the report in 2006 that the vast majority of teenagers are ignorant of the origins of Australia Day or Anzac Day, or that a recent New South Wales Minister of Education thought Australia Day commemorated Federation. The public reaction was harsh. As Oscar Wilde once observed “ Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit, touch it and the bloom is gone.” That may be so, but vandalism based on uninformed prejudice is worse.
…something rare to celebtrate…
As with a birthday, the 26th of January is a celebration of the life of the nation, past, present and future. Let us hope then that Australians will come in increasing numbers to recognize that the inauspicious beginnings of the nation on 26 January, 1788 established the very pillars on which this nation was founded. This was not only those pillars the inevitable result of European settlement, our national language and our Judeo Christian values which permeate our laws and customs, whatever religion or lack of religion we may profess.
What our founders gave us were two other institutions of inestimable value which remain with us today.
…never a gulag…
The first was the rule of law. As we noted on this site, Australia has been very fortunate in the calibre of so many of those involved in the government of the early colonial establishments. It is worth mentioning Lord Sydney, whom too many glibly dismiss as being of no consequence. He had taken a decision which would have a fundamental effect on the colony. Instead of just establishing it as a military prison, he provided for a civil administration, with courts of law.
To speak then of the colony as a gulag, as republicans Robert Hughes and Malcolm Turnbull do, is wrong. The rule of law came to Australia from the founding of the colony in 1788.
Just consider one example. An early civil action brought by convicts against a ship captain for theft was defended on the ground that at common law felons could not sue. The court required the captain to prove this, which was of course impossible since the records were in England. Can Mr. Hughes give us a similar example of litigation by prisoners in a Soviet gulag? If not, then he should desist from naming it a gulag.
Lord Sydney’s decision reflected very much the views of the first Governor, Captain, later Admiral Arthur Phillip. He wrote, before leaving England, that in this new land "… there will be no slavery and hence no slaves.” Phillip also ordered that Aborigines be treated well, and indicated that the murder of an Aborigine would be punished by hanging.
…our oldest institution…
The other pillar brought by Phillip was the Crown, our oldest institution, one offering leadership above politics.
When the British gave us – gave us, there was no War of Independence – self government under the Westminster system, the Crown emerged as central to our system of government, an institution crossing the federal-state boundaries and providing a crucial check and balance to the other institutions of government.
We were the ones who developed the final pillar of the nation, federation, but only after we had rejected earlier British attempts to encourage us to embark on this path.
Certainly let us celebrate what we are, but let us remember why we celebrate Australia Day and how those events long ago formed the nation. And let us firmly and courteously reject the destructive plans of those who would vandalise our heritage, and offer nothing of value in its place.