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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 8924

SPEECH BY THE PRIME MINISTER, THE HON PJ KEATING, MP COROWA SHIRE COUNCIL CENTENARY DINNER, COROWA RSL CLUB 31 JULY 1993

Photo of Keating, Paul

Keating, Paul

Period of Service: 20/12/1991 to 11/03/1996

More information about Keating, Paul on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 31/07/1993

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 8924

a EMBARGOED UNTIL 9. OOPM
CHECK AGAINST DELIVE~ RY
SPEECH BY THE PRIME MINISTER, THE HON P J KEATING, NWP
COROWA SHIRE COUNCIL CENTENARY DINNER, COROWA RSL CLUB
31 JULY 1993
It i3 a great pleasure to be in ti very beautiful, historic, classic Australan town.
It is particularly good to be here to join in the commemoration of the moment a hundred
years ago when Corowa was host to one of the more important gatherings in our nation's
history: a meeting which, in a combination of national idealism and equally characteristic
pragmatism helped propel Australia towards nationhood.
Enough of the Victorian architecture has been preserved, enough families have remained,
enough memories handed down for Corowa to still speak eloquently of the past.
And thcn there is the river: the Murray tells a story of its own, including of course the part
it played in the -federation of the continent.
For it was the dividing line between the two most populous and prosperous colonies and.
in 1893, on the other side at Wahguinyah therc was a customs shed, a real and symbolic
manifestation of the divisions the people of Australia had to overcome.
You don't have to look hard in towns like this to see the labour that has been done, and the
aspirations of those who did it
Far more than in the cities and the suburbs, you can sense the traditions born here of work
and leisure, of individual enterprise and community cooperation, of a common effort
through good times and bad.
In one sense the story is all Corowa's own. In another it is a typically Australian story.
1T monuments to war, for instance, can be seen in every Australian town.
They bear witness to the sacrifice of famnilies in this region, but also to the common cause
Australians evrhr recognised in times of crisis.
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Thcre are other kinds of monuments: monuments to imagination and effort monuments to
belief in the region's future, and ultimately in AtIstr1ia future.
I mean the farms, this township, the industries, the clubs. And it's useful to reflect on how
they camre to be.
What were the essential elements in their success?
And the answer is private initiative, public cooperation, loyalty and commitment to the
region, confidence, belief.
In every Australian community you will see the samie combination of elements, and over
time, it seems to me they form a collective national experience.
For all our disparity including the great gulf between rural and urban there is in the end
a collectivc Australian experience which should unite us.
Nationally, we have shared in triumphs in sport, in the arts, in industry and science.
But the greatest by far is the creation over the ycars of one thc world's great democracies,
one of the great multicultural societics, and surely the very best place in the world to live.
And we have done this substantially because our effort in the last century has generally
been towards including all Australians in Australia's wealth.
This is a loose federation on a vast and varied contincnt whose population is immensely
diversc in origin and culture.
These factors can encourage division or fragmenrttion they can encourage jealousy and
rivalry, between States, between cities, between the urban population and the people in the
country. There is always that tendency latent or real. But the great majority of Australians
understand, as the founders of federation understood, that we work much better when we
work as one nation.
These individual and collective efforts, these successes and failures, constitute the unifying
experience of our naitional life.
Whether we live in Corowa or Darwin or Wahgunyah this is the story of us all, and the
means by which we recognise each other as Australians.
And this gives us strength.
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This and future generations living here in Corowa will continue to draw their strength from
these traditions and from their love of the country, and it will be this as much as anything
else which carries the district through another century.
But I daresay if the people of Corowa were asked what most concerns them today, it
would not bc the past hut the future.
What industries will employ them and their children?
What businesses will grow to replace those in decline?
How will the future of Corowa be secured?
They are the same questions which Australians ame asking everywhere -in every town and
suburb, in every factory and farm.
How will the future of Australia be secured?
It is a question which every generation has asked, including the generation of 1893.
They had every reason to ask-they were living through the worst depression in our
history, the worst civil strifc and the worst drought
The answer to the question in 1893 or 1933 or even 1963 tended to he by secure British
markets for our agricultural products, by the protection of local industry, by the
exploitation of our minerals and energy.
But by 1973 the secure British markets for Australian agriculture had gone.
It was becoming plain that protection had left our industries hopclessly uncompetitive.
And dependence on commodities left us still exposed to the uncertainties of world markets.
So if Britain would no longer secure our future, nor the United States or any other
country, and our commodities alone would not alone secure it, and wholesale protection of
our industries would not, how could it be secured?
The answer was, and remains by our own efforts. by our own imagination, by grasping
the opportunities which our region provides, by confidence in ourselves and our best
traditions, by belief. By those same familiar things which carry Corowa through.
And I know we will secure the future. I know we can be prosperous as never bcfore. We
can find a place in the world as never before.
And we can find it primarily in our own region in that part of the world which the
Australians of a century ago looked at with a mixture of fear and disdain.
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We can secure our future in the huge and rapidly growing Asia-Pacific region. And in the
rest of the world.
And I'll tell you why I know this. Because of the succc-ss we have already had.
In 1993 we are losing industries but gaining new ones. We are replacing old markets with
new ones.
We are steadily growing less dependent on commodities.
We are growing new companies clever manufacturing companies, born entirely of the
export culture created in the last decade.
In the last five years they have boosted their exports to Asia by an average 20 per cent per
annum. They are exporting elaborately transformed manufactures. High tech products.
Last year exports of elaborately transformed manufactures to Europe rose by more than
per cent; to South East Asia by 17 per cent; to East Asia by more than 40 per cent.
IThe opportunities for Australian companies in Asia and the Pacific are boundless, and as
we continue to trasform ourselves into a competitive and sophisticated manufacturing
nation, and a leading supplier of services as well as agricultural products, minerals and
energy, we will begin to see the huge rewards to be reaped from the changes we made in
the eighties.
And I might say the great agricultural regions of Australia regions like this one foodgrowing
regions, will play a pre-eminent role in the future.
That is why I belicve we will succeed: bccause of the success we havc already achieved.
Because of the proven willingness of the Australian people to embrace change.
Because when faced with necessity they were prepared to do what was necessary.
So while the answer to the question has varied with time, one thing has not changed: the
future of Australia like thc future of Corowa will ho made safe by the enterprise and
work of the people.
And by their faith in themselves, in their communities and in Australia.
We will always need that faith.
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In this last decade of the twentieth century we have a chance the lilke of which the
Australians of a century ago could not have imagined.
There is the chance to succeed in the world's fastest growing region, and to do it by our
own initiative, our own effort, our own genius.
There is, as I have said before, the chance in this decade to set Australia up for the next
century. I can tell you that that is my one great goal. It is the Government's goal
But reaching it, needless to say, will depend on it becoming the goal of all Australians.
Last week I made again the point that I have made many times in the past cighteen months:
to meet the challenges we face we need a renewed sense of national unity.
I quoted someone who I am sure retains more than a little respect in this district, Robert
Gordon Menzies.
It was Menzies who talked about the need to convert " a mass of individuals into a great
cohesive nation."
Menzies understood the power that a common national sentiment commands.
And even if there is little else he said with which I would agree, I agree with him on this.
Of course, he saw the British monarchy as the powerful unifying element.
But these days, while the British monarch still has our affection and our regard, there is no
question that the monarchy commands much less of both.
In truth I think this decline has less to do with the problems the royal family has recently
faced, than it has to do with changes in Australia, changes in the relationship between
Australia and Great Britain, and an understanding in both countries of the different
necessities we face.
The monarchy has had family problems at other times in the past, hut Australians did not
draw the conclusion that the monarchy had lost its relevance.
Today they draw that conclusion because the monarchy is remote from their lives and
perceived as inappropriate to the sort of nation we must become.
If thc challenge is to enliven our spirit, to create a new unity of purpose, to make this a
more inclusive Australia, or to use Menzies' words, to convert a " mass of individuals into a
great cohesive nation" there is only one place it can come from. Australia.
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From faith in this democracy. Our shared values and hopes, shared understanding of our
past and the necessities which confront us.
T7hat is why I believe Australian affairs should be managed by Australians.
It is why I am for a republic.
Not because I am against Britain I like Britain very much.
I was raised on her heritage and the cxploits of British heroes and remain a grateful and, in
many regards, a passionate advocate of things British from the parliamnt~ and law
bequeathed us to the art and architecture and music.
But Australia's diverse heritage is uniquely our own. So in many respects is our
democratic heritage: it includes not just the fabled spirit of the " fair go" and the collective
egalitarian tradition, but a number of constitutional innovations which were achieved here
well in advance of Britain among them the secret ballot, payment of MPs, universal male
suffrage and votes for women.
Nor am I against the British monarch I count myself among her countless Australian
admirers. But the Queen of Australia is not Australian and, however conscientiously and
skilfully she performs the role of Australian Head of State, she cannot symbolise or express
our Australianess.
Nor am I against the British monarchy the British monarchy works in Britain. But it is a
hereditary British institution and in the multicultural post-imnperial world in which we live
and, with all the regional imperatives now facing us, it no longer constitutes an appropriate
Australian [ Head of State.
Nor am I against the British Commonwealth of Nations Australia, so long as I amn Prime
Minister, will remain in the Commonwealth. Membership of thc Commonwealth
comprised of more Yepublics than any other category of government is not part of the
argument. Nor do I think the republican debate distracts from thc economic problems which currently
beset us it is no more a distraction for Australians than Federation was for those
Australians of the 1890s whose economic problems makc ours seem insignificant.
And, as Barry Jones said the other day, we don't hear people saying that we should give up
A sport until the economy improves, though much more time is spent on sport than the
Constitution. Nor am I for thc republic because I am against the States IJike many Australians I am
conscious of the shortcomings of the Federal system, and I would like to see rcgions like
this urnc given a more dynamic political role: but I believe the States are an organic part of
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the Australian nation and quite possibly inseparable from it. I do not believe they could be
easily abolished even if the nation thought it was worth doing.
Some say the republic will undermine our stability. I value stability and place the highest
value on the social peace we enjoy in Australia.
To the extent that British institutions have contributed to this I appreciate that too.
But Australian institutions also gave us these things.
The idea of social justice, and government policies which gave that idea concrete
expression, played a major part in our stability.
We did not build this stable, sophisticated and harmonious multicultural society with
British institutions half so much as we built it with Australian principles and policies.
It is also said by opponents of the republic that it is primarily a manifestation of my
ambition. Insofar as I have played a role in instigating the debate, they are right.
I have an ambition for Australia and the republic forms part Of it.
Nf an ambition for Australia disqualifies the republic, then those who met here in 1893
should have been disqualified from Federation, along with every one else who ever had an
ambition for Australia and acted On it.
I am for the republic not for what I am against, but what I am for not for what a republic
will throw away, but for what a republic can deliver:
It can deliver a new sense of unity and national pride in which Australians of this and
future generations can share.
It can deliver a re-cast Australian identity defined by the commitment of Australians to this
land above all others, which will say unequivocally to the world who we are and what we
stand for.
Among them I would number democracy, fairness, tolerance, justice, invention, industry,
pragmatism. They will all -serve us well in the new world we have cntered.
I would go so far as to suggest that had we long enshrined the values of tolerance and
fairness, and had we more faith in our own traditions and more commitment to them, more
confidcnce and pride, the dcbate about the Maho judgement would not have taken the
shape it too often has in the past few months.
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Had those values become the basis of our national pride we might have asked: what good
would it do us as a people, what would it do for future generations of Australians, what
would it do for our reputation in the world as a mature democracy, if we said the Hi-gh
Court was wrong Australia was never occupied before 1788, there never was native title,
injustice and dispossession did not occur what good would it do us if we enshrined lies in
preference to the truth?
What would it say to future generations if in 1993 Australians could not face up to what
the United States, Canada and New Zealand faced up to a century and more ago?
What would it say about this generation of ours if, when we were offered the truth, we
chose to perpetuate untruths?
What would it say about us if, a hundred years after sixty men in Corowa had the wisdom
to see the necessity for Federation, the will to do it, and the wit to know how, we recoiled
from the chance to find a national solution to our oldest problem?
If we turned away from our responsibilites? If we failed to see the legal recognition of
prior ownership and post-European dispossession as providing a basis for reconciliation?
Our duty is to find a mature national solution.
My hope is that In finding one we wil re-learn a little of the value of Australian democracy,
the principles of tolerance and justice, and the necessity to find common cause as a people
that we will re-learn it and pass the lesson on to future generations. Perhaps that will be
the lesson of Mabo.
By their initiative the people who met here in 1893 served generations of Australians,
I believe in this last decade of the twentieth century we need to look beyond the day-today
and towards the next generations of Australians.
If it is true, as I think it is, that this and future generations will be best served by revisiting
the Constitution drawn up a century ago, then we can learn something from the approach
taken at the Corowa Conference.
In 1893 Federation was, as one commentator observed " dead as Julius Caesar".
The Corowa Conference revived it.
Anid it revived it by turning Federation into a poul~ cause. The conference itself was not
a government initiative, but one promoted and paid for by private enterprise by private
indus tries.
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The decisive resolution which wasq passed here called on the colonial parliaments to pass
legislation that would provide for the popular elction of representatives to a national
convention to draw up a Federal Constitution.
That constitution would be submitted to referendum in each colony.
The Corowa Conference gave the people of Australia the opportunity to claim their own
destiny to forge a new national entity from a far-Rlung colonial population.
And the people grasped the opportunity.
The Constitution was the foundation of the new national entity.
ReAd in 1993, it is an uninspired and uninspiring document; complex, lcgalistic and
virtually impossible to relate to contemporary Australian life.
It was framed as a routine piece of nineteenth century British imperial legislation. It shows
its age.
A great many Australians don't even know it exists. Very, very few have ever read it, let
alone understood it.
How many Australians could quote the opening words? Not half as many, I suspect, as
could quote the opening of the US constitution.
In the 1990s there exists the chance and I think the need to revisit our Constitution and
reclaim it, not for the lawyers and the politicians, but for the people.
In Australia, surely in this most democratic of countries we can have a constitution
vested in the people.
It is hardly radical to suggest that our Constitution should bc remade to reflect our national
valucs and aspirations, evoke pride in our Australian heritage and confidence in our future,
and help to unite us as a nation.
It is hardly radical to suggcst this, and hardly beyond us to do it.
We want Australians to consider the strengths and weaknesses of their Constitution.
We want them to debate the advantages and disadvantages of making our Constitution
more closely reflect Australian reality, Australian values, Australian hopes.
In the cnd we want an Australian Constitution in which Australians bclieve.
As I see it, the republic can be very much the precursor to enabling the people to reclaim
the Constitution.
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Last April wc established the Republic Advisory Committee to work on an options paper
which will set out some of the ways Australia could become a republic and the consequent
changes to our Constitution.
The Committee has consulted widely over the past few months, and the debate as you
have probably noticed is now flourishing in the community.
Following the report of the Committee in September. the Government will consider ways
to ensure that people have sufficient information about our system of government to
participate fully in the decision-making process.
In thc end, as with Federation, it will be the people of Austr-alia who decide.
After they have had time and information enough to consider the issues, the people will
decide by referendum whether we move to a republic or remain a constitutional monarchy.
No one should forget the fundamental point enshrined in the existing Constitution the
only way this or any other constitutional change can take place is by refercndum, It cani
only occur if the people want it if a majority of electors voting, and a majority of clectors
in the majority of the States, vote for change.
Changed or unchanged, the Australian Constitution belongs to Australians and only they
can decide how and when and if to change it.
By way of conclusion, let me go back to the Murray. The Murray says it better than I can.
Tis is the river which divides New South Wales and Victoria, the river along which
customs houses were erected in colonial days.
Viewed one way it can be a real and symbolic obstacle to unity. Yet the Murray is both a
national resource and a unifying national symbol. We bold it in common.
The Murray did not dictate that customs houses be built along the banks.
The Murray was not a border until Australans made it one.
It was not the existence of the Murray which persuaded politicians to run a railway line
south from Sydney in one gauge and north from Melbourne in a different one.
Yet Australians also combined in the national interest to remove the customs and to
standardise the rail line. They combined to harness the water for power and conserve it for
irrigation. They are combining now to restore the environment of the Murray-Darling Batsin and to
rectify the great problem of salination and land degradation. I believe we can combine in
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future to make the Murray-Darling the basis of a hugely expanded Australian food.
growing and food-processing industry.
The choice is always ours: we can pursue local interests or sectional interests or state
interests. We can always ind in our landscape, our laws, and our history re asons for division.
Or we can combine. We can pursue the national interest.
We can do as the Ausuralians of the 1890s voted to do and draw our strength from the
Commonwealth. The republic seeks closer identification with the nation, and a more spirited sense of
national goals and purpose. It also seeks to bring our institutions and symbols into line
with reality.
The States are part of that reality as the states are part of United States reality. The
proper aim is to get all three fiers of government working for national ends.
My argument is that in this era above all others the overriding loyalty must be to the
nation. Let me conclude by addressing the most common argument against an Australian republic.
The one which says " i it ain't broke, don't fix it",
It partly depends on your definition of broke.
If it's an anachronism is it broke?
If it no longer inspires us, or fails to unite us, or offers us no belicf, and therefore
effectively doesn't work, is it broke?
If it does not coincide with contemporary reality, is it broke?
And if we decide now that it's not broke, and in twenty or thirty years time that Australians
not only fail to identify with Britain but also with Australia, will we decide then that it was
broke all along?
Broke doesn't really come into it.
We didn't throw out the horse and cart because they were broke. We abandoned them:
we affcctionately and gracefully retired them when thcy became obsolete.
We took a considered decision to trade up to something that would serve us better.
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' That is what the people who gathered here in 1893 did.
They knew that Federation would serve Australia better. They saw themselves as having a
responsibility to their country and its future.
Who would say to them now why did you fix it when it wasn't broke?
Thank you for having me here tonight. It has been a great pleasure for me.
Corowa was there in 1893 when a great national endeavour began in earnest.
I hope that some of what I have said tonight has helped define to you what I believe is
another great national endeavour.
A hundred years ago when the colonies soon to become states wcre supreme, and their
primacy was manifest in those customs houses along the river, the people who gathered
here in Corowa stepped out of the orthodoxy and said, we need to be a nation we need
one government in charge of our national affairs.
I should hope in the prevailing orthodoxy of today, having made the step to a national
government almost a century ago, the people gathered in Corowa here tonight can see the
sense again in stepping beyond the orthodoxy.
I hope they can see the sense in that final assertion of nationhood the confidence to elect
one of our own to preside over our affairs.
I notice today the Sydncy Morning Herald writing off the people of Corowa as
conservative, not blatantly but patronisingly, seeming to suggest that the people here
tonight can't see as far as the people of Corowa one hundred years ago.
Well I doubt that. I think, like an increasing number of Australians, they will see the nccd
to put the seal ofl our nationhood.
I think they will feel themselves very capable or taking the view that the affairs of Australia
cannot forever bc presided over by a British monarch.
Tonight we are cclebrating the vision which found expression heme a ccntury ago. I think
no more fitting tribute could be paid to their memory than to complete the work that they
began. In 1993, as in 1893, 1 think we must havc the courage to see bcyond what is to what can
be. ENDS
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Transcript 8924