Politics

Henry Parkes gave us a nation of equals


More than a century ago, Sir Henry Parkes put forward a vision for our federation of a united but diverse Australia, intergenerationally bound together by a liberty that transcended our race, ethnicity and even religion.

Parkes said: “What we are doing by this great federal movement is not for us, but for them, for the untold millions that will follow us; until this land of Australia shall gather within its bosom all the fruits of the culture of the world; and until the flag of freedom shall be planted here so firmly and guarded with such a fervent patriotism that all the powers on earth shall never assault it.”

Sir Henry Parkes, GCMG [2] was a colonial Australian politician and longest non-consecutive Premier of the Colony of New South Wales, the present-day state of New South Wales in the Commonwealth

The original 19th-century wording of our national anthem exhorted Australia’s “sons” ‘to rejoice in their youth and liberty. Apart from the obvious omission of daughters, now corrected, this familial reference implies our shared possession of an inheritance from all those Australians who came before us, that we must steward for the next generation. Parkes understood this responsibility well. In embracing his adopted land he declared “the country of my children shall be mine, Australia has provided me a better home than my motherland, and I will love her with a patriot’s love”.

Parkes was part of a new generation of migrants to Australia keen to ensure their opportunities in the new world were not stifled by those who wanted to impose the cultural baggage of the old one they left behind. Rather than seeing Australia’s future as a place where land was locked for the few and immigrants could only aspire to a new form of serfdom, Parkes’s economic vision for Australia was far more participative.

Parkes saw a diversified, growing and open domestic trading economy with manufactures and other industry to support a growing population of free citizens. In this economy, entrepreneurialism, labour and capital could be rewarded on the basis of effort, application and merit rather than patronage and class.

Parkes also understood the importance of social and civic reforms that would lead to the betterment of the citizenry and society more broadly. The most obvious of these was his commitment to public education and the development of non-government institutions that were essential for a more progressive society. Parkes believed that if the new colony was to be self-governing, then the colony must embark on an active program of self-improvement. Parkes’s agenda recognised that political and economic liberty went hand in hand.

At the time this made Parkes a growing threat to the established interests of land-owning settlers, the would-be bunyip aristocracy, who amassed significant fortunes in the colony from land grants, convict labour and government licences. In 1848 Parkes ran the campaign to elect Robert Lowe to the constituency of East Sydney in the colonial parliament, taking on the bunyip aristocracy in their heartland.

Parkes used Lowe’s campaign to frame the key reform questions facing the colony at the time. Education, land and electoral reform, self-government, convict transportation and the need to foster a more vibrant and diversified economy through infrastructure development, railways and more affordable communications were all on the agenda.

Parkes described Lowe’s successful election as the “birthday of Australian democracy”. Many clashes followed, with Parkes entering parliament and going on to become the Father of our Federation. These clashes were fundamentally about the type of nation we were to become. Were we to be a cultural replica of the countries from which we came, clinging to the prejudices, practices and conflicts of our old lands? Or would we become a new nation, unfettered by such restrictions? Despite Parkes’s passionate embrace of his adopted land, even he was not immune from old-world prejudices — for example, his indulgence of populist sectarianism against Irish Catholics. Notwithstanding these lapses, Parkes’s efforts ensured that there would be a fair go for those who would have a go.

Parkes’s broader vision of a diverse and united Australia also came to pass. As he projected, Australia has gathered “within its bosom all the fruits of the culture of the world” to become the world’s most successful immigration nation. This success is no accident. It is the result of a carefully planned, merit-based, non-discriminatory and orderly immigration program, where borders mean something and are protected. This has, by and large, received the overwhelming support of the Australian community. These outcomes cannot be taken for granted.

The objective of multicultural policy is not to provide licence for closed and separate communities, withdrawn from our society to become isolated and disconnected from mainstream Australian life. It is the opposite. It is about promoting participation, engagement and understanding. This has been the overwhelming experience of immigration to Australia.

Successful immigration is where people come to make a contribution rather than take one. The reward is being granted the privilege of entering into the inheritance of citizenship. Citizenship is the proclamation of our commitment to embrace our adoption as sons and daughters of this land, to honour the legacy and heritage of those who have gone before us; and to strive to protect the freedoms and values that have been paid forward. It should never be given away lightly.

Australia Day, 200 years after governor Lachlan Macquarie first marked the occasion, thousands more will take the pledge to become Australian citizens. This should be celebrated as further evidence that Parkes’s inclusive and optimistic federal vision continues to be realised. The rest of us have the opportunity to take a good look around us, remind ourselves of just how good we have it and declare, like Parkes, “our love as a patriot’s love” for the land of our adoption.

By SCOTT MORRISON 11:00PM JANUARY 22, 2018


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