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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 10947

26 January 1998 TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP SPEECH AT CITY OF SOUTH PERTH AUSTRALIA DAY CEREMONY

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 26/01/1998

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 10947

E&OE................................................................................................................................

Thank you very much. To His Worship, the Mayor and Mrs Hardwick,

to Mr Don Randall, the Federal Member for Swan, to my many other

Federal and State Parliamentary colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

and also a special acknowledgment to the officers of that great

regiment, the SAS, for their magnificent landing this morning and

the magnificent contribution that they've made to this lovely

ceremony.

One of the many privileges of the office of Prime Minister is to

have the opportunity to celebrate Australia Day with a different

group of Australians each year. Last year, I had the opportunity

of celebrating Australia Day at a similar ceremony to this on the

seaside just outside of Adelaide, and today I am in this beautiful

spot in South Perth, against the backdrop of the Swan River and

of the city of Perth, and in the presence of a number of men and

women who have paid us as Australians the ultimate complement, and

that is that they have decided to become Australian citizens.

For those of us who were born in Australia, it was not a matter

of our choice, but rather an accident of birth of which we have

grown to love and to cherish and to embrace as we have grown older

and appreciated the enormous benefits of living in this country.

There is a special act of embracing, a special act of acknowledgment

on the part of people who choose to live in this country and I want,

on behalf of all your soon-to-be fellow Australians to welcome all

of you into the family of the Australian nation, to assure you that

you have made the most wise, intelligent and far-sighted decision

of your life to become Australian citizens and to assure you that

of all the qualities of the Australian nation, the open, tolerant

and positive embrace of people from all parts of the Earth is a

very distinguishing and a very important characteristic of the fabric

of the Australian nation.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is inevitable on an occasion such as this

that we should pause for a moment and think about Australia. We

think about the past, we take pride in those things that we have

achieved and the Australian achievement has been a saga of great

proportion. We have achieved an enormous amount as a nation. We

have built in this country something special. It is unique to be

an Australian. At the present time, Australia occupies a unique

intersection of history, geography, culture and economic circumstance.

There is no nation on Earth that totally embraces in that sense

linkages with Europe, linkages with North America, and also linkages

with the Asian Pacific region.

There are many great tributaries to the Australian nation. We acknowledge

on this day the enormous contribution of the indigenous people of

our nation and we thank them for that contribution, and all Australians

share the goal of genuine, on-going reconciliation between all of

the people of Australia. We also recognise the tremendous contribution

of those people who defended this country in war and laid down their

lives for the preservation of the liberty of Australians. And of

course, we welcome the people who have embraced Australia from the

four corners of the Earth.

When you think about Australia, you not only think of the symbols

of Australia. A nation is made up of symbols and of celebrations

of important events. That's a very important part of the fabric

of a nation. But symbols, important though they are, are not quite

as important as the character and the substance of a nation. And

over the next few weeks, as the Mayor said, we as a country are

going to talk about some of the symbols of our democracy. We are

not going to talk about democracy in the sense of debating whether

or not we are going to preserve democracy. I don't think there

are many people in Australia who argue that other than we should

fully preserve and perpetuate democracy as the best form of Government

but we are going to debate the symbols, we are going to debate whether

or not a system of government which has delivered immense stability

and cohesion during the almost 100 years of the Australian Federation

should be changed because some in the community, a significant number

indeed, think that the symbolism rather than the substance of that

system is in need of change.

Now there are issues that properly belong to debate and as I have

said regularly, on behalf of the Government and I think I echo the

views of all Australians in saying that at the end of the day, the

question of whether or not this country is to become a republic

is something that will be determined by the Australian people voting

in an open democracy and by no other group of people, and that of

course is how it should be.

But important though those symbols are and important though the

symbols of a country are, I think even more important to me and

to a lot of Australians, is not so much the symbols of the Australian

nation in the 21st century but rather the character of the Australian

nation in the 21st century because what really determines the place

of a nation in the history, of the peoples of the world, what really

determines the sense of worth and decency and self-respect that

we have about our country is really the character of our nation.

And what our nation stands for, its values and the beliefs it holds

dear, are more important than what the symbols that mark that nation

may be, significant though those symbols are.

As we go towards the 21st century, the character of the Australian

nation is ultimately going to be shaped, in my opinion, by the way

in which we work out the relationship between our government, of

whatever political persuasion it may be from time to time, the community

and individual men and women of Australia. It is the balance and

the relationship between the government, the community and the individual

that will ultimately shape the character of Australia.

Governments cannot shape national character. Governments cannot

legislate to change the human heart. Governments cannot legislate

to change the character of a people. But that does not mean that

governments do not have an important role to play. That does not

mean that governments cannot set examples; governments cannot lead

where it is appropriate for governments to lead. They do have a

role. But also a very important role in shaping the character of

Australia will be role of our great community organisations.

This gathering of Australians out in the open air on the morning

of the 26th of January is a magnificent expression of the sort of

people we are. This occasion is open to everybody. This occasion

welcomes people of all different backgrounds, be they different

ethnic backgrounds, different religious backgrounds, different political

backgrounds, different societal backgrounds. We are gathered together

in an open, egalitarian, free fashion. It is one of the distinguishing

characteristics of the Australian nation.

We are a nation of communities. We are a nation of volunteers and

as I look back over the last year, I think the efforts that moved

me most amongst all Australians over the last year were the efforts

of those volunteers who inspired us and comforted us in times of

tragedy, whether it was the bushfires, the tragedies in other parts

of Australia, and most particularly, that awful tragedy at Thredbo

in July of this year. And that volunteer effort, that community

spirit, is something very deep and very strong and governments need

community organisations, they need the churches, they need the other

volunteer organisations and, of course, the most important institution

of all in our society and that is the institution of the Australian

family is the most viable and the most enduring and the most stabilising

part of our entire community.

[Aerial flyover]

That's the most innovative interjection I've ever had!

So, any government needs a strong community and lastly and most

importantly, governments and communities also need free, achieving,

successful, inspired individuals. There is nothing so powerful in

any community as an individual who is determined to succeed and

who is determined to contribute something to his or her society.

And individuals, of course, not only have rights but they also

have responsibilities, and individuals making a contribution to

the Australian community, achieving to the best of their talents

and their abilities. As I've participated in ceremonies to

mark the award of the Young Australian of the Year, a young girl

who came to Australia from Vietnam when she was aged 4, and of course

to the Australian of the Year here in Perth yesterday to Cathy Freeman,

somebody who has captured the heart of every Australian because

of her marvellous contribution to Australian life and to Australian

achievement, one is reminded of the tremendous array of talent and

ability which abounds in Australia

So ladies and gentlemen as we look towards the 21st century, the

symbols that we embrace for the 21st century, whether they are the

same as we have had in the 20th century or whether they are somewhat

altered or partly or entirely altered, they are things for the Australian

people after proper debate to decide, and I do not intend to introduce

into this Australia Day observance any particular partisan debate

on that. Another time and another place will be the opportunity

for me to renew the expostulation of my own views on those subjects.

But let me simply say that important though the symbols of our

country are, even more important will be the character of our country

as we move into the 21st century, and that character will be ultimately

shaped by the extent to which with goodwill, the government of the

day, the community organisations and the individual can - each in

their respective roles - play a very important part, a shared endeavour

to build a good and strong and decent Australian society is the

goal of those three segments of our great nation..

Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, can I thank the City of South

Perth, can I thank Don Randall in particular for the invitation

that came through him to attend this ceremony. Can I say how much

Janette and I are enjoying the celebration of the Australia Day

weekend here in Western Australia. It is the first opportunity I

have had in any capacity to celebrate Australia Day here in Perth.

We are enjoying it immensely, we have a full programme of activities

ahead of us, including a very brief visit to a particular cricketing

fixture at the WACA this afternoon and can I also say, on behalf

of both of us, a very happy Australia Day to all of you and very

especially to those who are becoming Australians for the first time

today, thank you for honouring us with embracing the great Australian

way of life.

Thank you.

[ENDS]

Transcript 10947