Australia Day – Pursuing Life, Liberty and Happiness for All

Australian Face 1030

Australian Face 1030“At the end of my trial, I was rather hoping the judge would send me to Australia for the rest of my life” said English author Jeffrey Archer (1940-). “We all make mistakes, but one has to move on” he said.

In Australia today life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are objectives we the people are all seeking to embrace. If we are however to continue going forward as a nation, then we must ensure the values and aims we share remain an important focus at the forefront of our laws and culture.

‘The opportunities that abound must be available to all.

In Australia our aesthetic choices, like or dislikes have been formed through associational interpretation and imagery. The bush for many still remains a romantic ideal, while in actuality many still cling to buying and developing quarter acre suburban blocks, rather than taking part in inner city urban development where all the amenities are available.

Half city, half bush, our city and country house and garden design and style, art, music and society has evolved through the interplay of international influences and our complex multi-culturalism, one that has grown up since the mid ’70’s and expansion of its policy about immigration.

Today we are treating refugees fleeing war, famine and persecution in other areas of the world badly, transferring them offshore for ‘processing’ as if they were prisoners in a factory of despair. This is lacking in care and compassion and surely not what we should be about as a nation.

How can we encourage the development of a principled, prosperous society unless we have a conversation about the matters at the heart of our multi cultural society, those that define us as a nation.

A great deal has changed since England’s naval Captain Cook sailed into Botany Bay and the first fleet arrived in Sydney Harbour on 26th January, 1770 from England.

The 26th January is not a date in Australia that represents freedom for all. This fact was highlighted by the senseless defacing of public property when Captain Cook’s Cottage in Fitzroy Gardens at Melbourne was found covered in graffiti referencing Australia Day.

The words said SHAME, which it was. A great shame so many people continue to resort to non productive methods that will cost the Australian public dearly as a whole to clean up, rather than involving themselves in inspiring others and participating in commonsense dialogue to compromise and produce a positive result for all.

Our shared past experiences prior to today have caused a great many people a great deal of pain. As Adam Goodes said when he won Australian of the Year 2014 .. his wish was that everyone would be treated as equals, through race, religion, sexuality and gender’

”For me, that equality will bring about great opportunities for everyone in Australia, it’ll also bring great opportunities for us as a nation to prosper and I think we’ll be the envy of the world.” said Adam to reporters.

Once born everything, and everybody must grow up, whether metaphorically or realistically. Surely it is time Australia grew up as a nation?

If we changed the date of our annual celebration for Australia Day the new day chosen could become symbolic of the fantastic freedoms we share equally and help to change entrenched negative attitudes.

If we are a progressive country that embraces change, and know that humans are a fundamentally a social species, then a celebration of our love for this wide brown land should surely include everyone who lives in it?

Politicians at a State and National level just must stop ignoring this important challenge of our times and change the date of Australia Day. Arguments about it are not going to just go away. The whole issue needs to be thrown open for considered debate.

So, where do we start? Well we could consider a viable alternative date; the anniversary of the day our National Constitution established in 1900.

It’s also a day when, in ceremonies across the country, we welcome new Australian citizens who are committed to contributing what they can to ensure Australia’s ongoing prosperity for all its citizens.

If not, then there is Wattle Day, held on the first day of Spring. Symbolic of a new start every year.

Another issue is Australia does not have a Bill of Rights, one that seeks to protect the rights of each individual who lives in Australia as we understand those rights to be.

Isn’t it about time we put one in place? If we do then such a document needs to be written in simple, but not simplistic language, defining what ‘Being Australian’ means collectively for all its citizens today, regardless of their origins.

Human rights are an ancient concept developed nearly six centuries before the Christ event. They were documented at that point for all humankind to know about and understand during the reign of the Persian King Cyrus the Great (559-530 BC).

The Cyrus Cylinder, which is a rare and wonderful object, 22.86cm in length and barrel-shaped, was covered all over with an important proclamation by King Cyrus. It is inscribed in cuneiform script, the earliest form of writing, and of enormous historical and spiritual significance as well as inestimable value to the whole of humankind.

The Cyrus Cylinder. Baked clay. Achaemenid, 539–538 B.C. Excavated in Babylon, Iraq, in 1879. British Museum 90920. © Trustees of the British Museum

The Cyrus Cylinder. Baked clay. Achaemenid, 539–538 B.C. Excavated in Babylon, Iraq, in 1879. British Museum 90920. © Trustees of the British Museum

It is a symbol of tolerance and respect for different peoples, different cultures and different faiths and the tolerance, demonstrated so ably by the Cylinder’s text, has been applauded throughout history.

The Constitution of Australia is the supreme law under which the Australian Commonwealth Government operates. It has been described as ‘the birth certificate of a nation’. It all about binding everybody together, including the Commonwealth Parliament and Parliament of each State.

It needs to mean as much to history as the cylinder. However it doesn’t contain a bill of rights.

Under Australia’s common law system the High Court of Australia and the Federal Court of Australia are the only institutions that have the authority to determine The Constitutions interpretation and application.

When it was first written it provided basic rules for government by and for the people of Australia. It has been amended since 1901 to ensure continuity and conformity between the states and with the status of the Commonwealth of Australia as a sovereign, independent and federal nation.

Forty-four amendment proposals have been put forward and voted on at referendums, of which eight only have been approved.

‘Americans are the most generous country on the planet. I’ve worked in Europe; I’ve worked in Australia. There is no where else where you get absolutely no attitude for being a foreigner. If you do your job well, they embrace you‘ said Australian actor Hugh Jackman.

Some delegates to the 1898 Constitutional Convention in Australia did favour including a section in our Constitution similar to the American Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution.

Lords-in-ParliamentThe majority however felt traditional rights, the Westminster Parliamentary system and the independent judiciary, which the Constitution would create, guaranteed those freedoms.

It is interesting to note that one of the earliest documents used in drafting the American Bill of Rights was the English Bill of Rights of 1689, one of the fundamental documents in English constitutional law.

While it differed substantially in form and intent from the American Bill of Rights, some of its basic tenets were adopted, including freedom of speech in Parliament and Freedom (for Protestants) to bear arms for their defense, as allowed by law.

Basically though it was rejected because the Americans drafting the Constitution did not trust the English system whose intent was to address the rights of citizens as represented by Parliament against the Crown.

It is important that all Australians show compassion and help others, who have been forced to flee their country in fear of their lives, to find a new reason to hope and a place to be.

In this regard it is also good to reflect on the words of Professor Fiona Stanley, Australian of the Year 2003, who is noted for her work in the public health arena and awarded accordingly.

In 2007 she talked about “learning much from the lessons of the previous generation about the importance of caring about others, not just ourselves. By giving priority to the wants of the individual, rather than the needs of the whole community, we have gone down a pathway that’s led to global warming, growing economic disparity, the unlimited plundering of natural resources and rising rates of crime. When we genuinely care about what happens to all the children of today, we also create a better world for tomorrow’s children.”

Being in community and watching out for each other was a mainstay of early settlement that eventually embedded itself in the Australian psyche more than 150 years ago. Everyone looked after each other.

It had nothing to do with who you were or where you came from, your religion, your costume, your likes and dislikes, pet hates, pride or prejudices. It was about being a good neighbour and caring about the community in which you lived.

People are just people” my grandmother used to say, ‘you must never discriminate. We all have ideas, dreams, needs, aspirations and expectations. If you look deep into their hearts you will know that all anyone wants is to be able to provide for their families and secure their future‘.

Her wisdom, born of hard experience was something everyone in our extended family respected.

Australia’s first Prime Minister 1901 – 1903 and a founding justice of the High Court of Australia 1903 Sir Edmund Barton (1849-1920)

President Theodore Roosevelt one hundred years earlier in 1907 wrote about On being an American, saying words to the effect ‘that every immigrant who comes here in good faith and assimilates…shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, birthplace, or origin’.  And he was right,  it is.

But he predicated his statement, by declaring “that it depended upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American…There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag…We have room for one language…and that is the English language… and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people”.

Doing the rounds of the Internet this statement has had the word American replaced by Australian and is attributed to Australia’s first Prime Minister Edmund Barton. However by 1907 Barton was already out of office and they are not the sort of sensitive words born of experience that he would have ever used.

It was Barton and his first government of the Commonwealth of Australia that put in place that perfectly horrid piece of legislation, the Immigration Restriction Act, which put the White Australia policy into law in 1901. This dreadful document remained as a blot on our reputation as a nation internationally for over seventy years.

Growing up in the shadow of its statement of prejudice was for many Australians a humiliating experience.

Removed by degrees, it wasn’t until 1973 when after spending a lifetime in the wilderness of opposition the Labour government came into government and brought it to a final close. Australia then opened her doors to share her resources with people from all around the world.

Professor Bashir, the first woman to be appointed Governor of New South Wales, took up her office on 1 March 2001. This wonderful snapshot was taken in Town Hall on Anzac Day 25/4/12, Sydney

Professor Bashir, the first woman to be appointed Governor of New South Wales, took up her office on 1 March 2001. This wonderful snapshot was taken in Town Hall on Anzac Day 25/4/12, Sydney

Professor Marie Bashir, the former much-respected Governor of NSW said in 2007 “When I contemplate the future of our nation, Australia, I am filled with optimism. The reason for this attitude of hope derives from the qualities I continually perceive in our people, especially in young Australians, who represent the great cultural diversity of our nation. They are building on the strong foundations established by the efforts and wisdom of the early settlers, and later by the architects of federation, and committed Australians from every walk of life. These factors have created the harmonious, peaceful and prosperous society of modern Australia, whose values have been defended by our servicemen and servicewomen across the generations”.

Australia has developed since 1770 through the imposition of European cultures on a vast continent inhabited by an Aboriginal people whose sensitive and delicate occupation of the land at the time was no match for European traditions of possession.

Her struggle and celebration of living life and, learning how to stay well, is a story told in the blinding light of sandy beaches, the glint of the sun on corrugated iron roofs, and the pungent scent of eucalyptus in the cool night air.

Contemporarily Australia is rich in its mineral and cultural diversity as a source of both its social and economic growth. We should all be able to share in its many bountiful gifts of nature, without fear of freedoms or prejudice.

If we changed the date of Australia Day then we would be able to equally celebrate freedoms sorely won. It would also respect those who have fought and died under the flag.

It would also give our nation’s newest citizens an opportunity to acknowledge they understand and respect what it means to be an Australian in the 21st century and help us to heal a multitude of sore gaping wounds.

Australia is a land that rewards effort and encourages action and participation. It’s all about respect for a wealth of achievements.

Life while we would like it to be, is not always a bed of roses; it requires industry, effort, patience, tolerance, persistence, endurance and understanding. Above all it requires having a positive attitude, one that includes embracing change and encouraging the continuing pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.

Those who want to live in Australia permanently and share its bounties must, after a reasonable period of assimilation time, commit to becoming citizens with all that it is incumbent on them to know and to do.

Drafting a charter about the freedom and rights many take for granted would be an important focus and help to inspire 21st century Australians to imagine and create the future together.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2011 – 2017

Click here to download a copy of The Australian Constitution

It comes from ComLaw an Australian government web site run by the Attorney General’s Department, providing online copies of Commonwealth legislation and related documents.

Click here to access the American Bill of Rights and other charters of freedom.

Ref: Quotes by the Governor of NSW and Professor Stanley National Trust Website

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