Eureka isn't over yet ……

The third of December should be our national day; one hundred and fifty eight years ago 500 miners on the Ballarat gold fields rebelled against an autocratic British colonial administration; an event popularly described as the birthplace of Australian democracy

It happened against a background where rich squatters were being granted large tracts of land for what was to them a pittance, three thousand acres for ten pounds, while poor miners were charged thirty shillings to lease their small mining plots.  The government was effectively run by and for the squatters and most of the population, including the miners, had no influence.

You all know the rest of the story.   The Eureka Stockade eventually led to unions, secret ballots, universal male suffrage  (other than indigenous Australians) and votes for women well before most of the rest of the world. 
By the end of the 1800's the self governing States which had followed the original colonies had federated into the Commonwealth of Australia, a country legally independent of Great Britain.

This effectively makes us one of the oldest functioning democracies in the world.  As Paul Keating has pointed out, our embarrassing national anthem has it all wrong, we are not 'young and free,' we're old and free. 

Not that you'd know it sometimes.  Last week at my local library I picked up a book of speeches given by Paul Keating since he left office.  They're all interesting but what struck me was not the content or whether you agreed with his point of view or not, as much as the fact that he was demonstrably a real leader who had a vision for this country to which he returned again and again. 
The difference with our present politicians of either stripe is stark and doesn't bear thinking about.

Time and time again Keating comes back to our future as a small country that is indissolubly part of South East Asia and how it is imperative that we learn to stand up to and build good relations with the US, China and Indonesia.   As he wisely observes, 'We have to ask ourselves whether US exceptionalism is an adequate central organising principle on which to build a new world.' 

Think of Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, rendition and torture, Wall Street and the Global Financial Crisis, the Republican Party (and even worse the Tea Party) all of it accepted because of the so-called 'exceptional' way the United States was created with such idealism.  It's not all bad of course and that list should be balanced against Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln and the abolition of slavery, the Marshall plan and the post war reconstruction of Europe, even the cool writers in theNew York Review of Booksand a whole raft of more recent good things.

In my view such a new US world order should be regarded with a jaundiced eye and not automatically accepted in its entirety; we should remain good friends, but friends with whom we can disagree without it affecting the friendship. As Keating observed in one of his speeches 'The alliance with the United States is important to us, but it's no life raft.' 

We have no realistic option but to stand up for ourselves and for what is right.  But for all the grandiose rhetoric about our new seat at the United Nations, Australia has failed the first two tests. We abstained from voting to grant Palestine observer status as a first step to nationhood, and secondly, and despite a public agenda big on arms control and nuclear proliferation, we also abstained from voting for a resolution seeking greater transparency and a precautionary approach to the use of depleted uranium (DU).  In both cases the United States, Britain, France and Israel voted against the motion and Australia was pressured to do the same

Depleted uranium weapons are known to be radioactive and chemically toxic, and it's estimated that there are 400,000 kg of depleted uranium scattered in Iraq.  There was a frightening article by Donna Mulhearn in Eureka Street*(3/12) complete with photographs of spina bifida babies showing the effect of DU on Iraqi communities.  She says that:

 'Gynaecologists' recommendation to the women of Fallujah is simply to stop falling pregnant, as it is likely they will not give birth to a healthy baby. The implication is shocking: a city of about 300,000 with a generation of young women who may never be mothers; and another generation who may not live, at least not a healthy life.  Four new studies on the health crisis in Fallujah have been released in the last three months. The studies suggest the babies are dying of wounds from a war they never saw, that this epidemic is the legacy of toxic weapons dispersed in this community in the ferocious attacks by US forces in 2004.'

That was then and this is now, and the consequences of voting either way on Palestine are clearly uncertain at this stage, time will tell.  But this is not the case with the clear cut issue of DU. 
Q: Why did Australia abstain from an attempt to stop the spread of these deadly weapons? 
A:  Because the US still wants to continue to use them.
And although we don't support the use of these weapons, and the Australian Defence Forces won't use DU; we weren't prepared to stand up against the US and vote Yes.  So we chickened out and abstained, the official view being that there isn't enough hard scientific evidence yet to justify a Yes vote; shades of cigarettes and lung cancer!

We still have to overcome John Howard's view of Australia as a US Deputy Sheriff in the region and take an independent stand about affairs in our region.   Agreeing to station US marines near Darwin, for example, sends exactly the wrong message to both Indonesia and China.  (Read my earlier piece, 'The China-US Syndrome'). What must all those Asian countries, who freed themselves from the shackles of colonialism after the 39-45 war, think about a country that has been 'independent' for well over one hundred years, far longer than they have, and yet still retains the flag of the old colonial country as part of their flag, and who still has the 17,000 kilometres distant Queen of the old colonial country as their Head of State? 

The overheard conversation between Camilla and Charles reported in my last blog confirms the importance of becoming a republic before the succession of Charles; it's a necessary first step to being a truly independent country in Asia.  Some young people would like the succession to jump a generation, on the basis that  'William and Kate are cool' but as The Age said in a recent editorial:

'No matter how charismatic Will and Kate might be, we find it hard to believe Australians will still accept the status of second-class subjects of a distant monarch by the time their baby ascends to the Throne.' 

That isn't likely to happen for another 50 years, so let's hope that we grow up much sooner than that!   We need a republic with a Head of State above politics, someone like Sir William Deane, who would set a moral example to our politicians. 

The current Queen keeps her place and but it may not be like that with King Charles.   Some people think his recent behaviour has 'bordered on the unconstitutional' by sending more than 27 'frank' letters to government ministers including the Cabinet office.  There has been a clamour in the UK for these letters (described by one writer as 'interfering and meddlesome') to be made public and the High Court ruled in September that there was 'an overwhelming 'public interest' in releasing them. 

But this was overturned by the Attorney General on the basis that if Charles 'forfeits his position of political neutrality as heir to the throne, he cannot easily recover it when he is king.'  But that's exactly the point, why gloss over and try and conceal his inclination to try and influence political events. The sooner it becomes clear that he may not see himself as just a neutral figurehead and may continue interfering and telling people what to do when he's king, the better.  

If we haven't made it happen before then, that sort of behaviour from him would be certain to get our collective backs up and hasten our transition to a republic!  

When are we going to be able to say, I am, you are, we are Australians,and we live in a democratic republic without any connection to the English monarchy?  We would simply be better off without the Windsors!  The struggle started at Eureka isn't over yet by a long shot.

Don Gazzard LFAIA
December 2012

* The excellent Eureka Street daily blog is named after the lane at the back of their offices in Richmond. Subscribe at www.eurekastreet.com.au. They take an independent Jesuit social justice view of the world that also embraces the symbolism of the Eureka event.  I should declare an interest; I wrote an architectural piece for them once and the publisher Andrew Hamilton is my wife's brother.

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