Private Members Motion – Eureka Stockade
I rise today to speak on a significant event, an event that unfolded in the space of just 15 minutes.
15 minutes in the early morning of 3 December 1854 on Eureka Hill at Ballarat – a quarter of an hour that made history.
In those 15 minutes, what unfolded was a grassroots community revolt – a protest against Government policies that were holding back the development of the free market, individual enterprise and representative democracy.
These are principles that as a Liberal I hold dear; and ones that it is clear that the events of 161 years ago sought to establish.
Democracy, by its very nature, is not something that can be owned by either the left or the right – because it is owned by the people of a nation.
Yet unfortunately there have been attempts, by various political and ideological movements over the past 161 years, to re-define and mythologise this significant historical event.
There have been efforts to force it to align to agendas, tying it to the same proverbial tree that the Victorian police chained diggers to who were found to be without a mining licence, in those months leading up to December 3, 1854.
In other words, today the Eureka legend has been largely captured by those on the left of politics, who seem to be very good at mythology, and not so good at celebrating the reforms of free market enterprise, small government and capitalism – the very principles fought for by the diggers and on which the success of Australia is based today!
But I am pleased to present an alternative view, one borne from our great former Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies, who said in 1946 that if the Eureka Stockade meant anything at all, “it indicated a fierce desire to achieve true parliamentary government and through it true, popular control of the public finances.”
Far from being some sort of triumph of the collective over the establishment, Eureka was a revolt against excessive taxation and over-regulation.
It was, Mr Deputy Speaker, an uprising against an aggressive mining levy by hard-working entrepreneurs and individuals in search of financial opportunity to create a better tomorrow for themselves and their families.
For as history tells us, many diggers would take the money they made from the goldfields to start a farm, or a new business, or perhaps to purchase a home for themselves and their family.
Their stand on Eureka Hill was a fight for opportunity, and a better standard of living.
At this time, the gold rush, while creating opportunities, also created a headache for Australia’s squatters and businessmen, who found themselves short of labour and workers.
Which is why the hefty mining licence fee, and excessive regulatory burden of compliance that went with it, was such a clear example of a Government more interested in framing policies to engineer a social and economic outcome than to let enterprise and the free market continue to shape Australia.
Hearing some of the stories, of twice weekly paper checks with fines if the paper on which the licence was printed was damaged, smacks of over-regulation. These were excessive burdens against which our Eureka men so rightly opposed.
But it was the impact of Eureka that ultimately frames this issue and outlines why today’s conservative political parties can rightly claim the Eureka Stockade as much their own as the left.
Because we saw taxation reform; less regulation; greater democratic participation – and the election of the leader of the Eureka Stockade, Peter Lalor, to the Victorian Parliament just a year later. He was to later become Speaker.
And as the ultimate sign of the impact of the Eureka Stockade in Australia’s economic and social history, there remains a thriving tourism industry in that place.
15 minutes, Mr Deputy Speaker, which ultimately defined a generation and captured our nation’s imagination and identity, because Eureka belongs to all of us.
This was an event which is etched into the psyche of what, and who it means to be Australian, capturing in a few short moments our history, our values, our identity – and helping frame our future too.
We can’t change history: but we can, and must, at least for the sake of the men and women of Eureka, change its interpretation, as the flag is a symbol of representative democracy.
And so perhaps today we should have a discussion, that come the next major event here in Canberra, the Eureka flag should be flown in an appropriate way.
I commend this motion to the House.
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