The creeds which we should hold in common are to be found in the core values which all Australians have inherited, and which were instrumental in the formation and the maintenance of our Commonwealth of Australia. We cannot and should not invent new values in substitution of these: we are the products of our history and our society, which by its nature mandates evolutionary and not revolutionary change.
After all, we are not a nation like Nazi Germany whose ideology led to defeat and ignominy in 1945. Our inherited values have served us well. We are, and have consistently been, a remarkably successful nation. Indeed we are one of the six or seven oldest continuing democracies in the world. Australia is one of the most successful and most socially advanced and democratic countries in the world.
And at the same time, Australia has long been prepared to make real contributions to the freedom of others. As long ago as World War I our contribution has been extraordinary - then we lost more soldiers and sailors than even the United States of America. We are the product of our past and of those who have gone before us, and we should not forget that.
So what are those values? I would argue that they are not to be found in some common denominator, some melting pot of cultures, or in cultural relativism. Rather they are the values which necessarily flow from the pillars upon which our nation has been built. This would exclude passing policies, even those which enjoyed high levels of support at the time, but which eventually proved to be ephemeral and were opposed to those values.
An example was the White Australia Policy. The context of its adoption was a considerable influx of Chinese immigrants during the 19th century gold rushes. This led to the rise of a white supremacist movement which argued that Australia should declare an independent white republic. This was a theme which dominated the columns of The Bulletin, which became the standard bearer of white supremacy.
While the move to federation eclipsed republicanism, the White Australia policy, promoted most strongly by the labour movement and the infant Labor Party, was adopted by the new parliament early in its life. While the economic arguments for the policy were understandable at the time, the policy conflicted with the Judeo-Christian values which we had inherited. So did the exclusionary policies applied against the Aboriginal people. Both policies shocked the imperial authorities, but had to be accepted as an undesirable byproduct of the grant of self-government and federation. On the other hand another measure of the new parliament was fully in accord with those values - a totally male parliament granted the right to vote to women.
My argument is that the core values of the Australian nation flowed from and still flow from the six pillars upon which our nation was built.
Four of these came with the settlement in 1788. To say that is not to denigrate the Aboriginal history of this continent or indeed the Aboriginal people. But modern Australia began with the settlement which had both harsh and good consequences for the Indigenous people. European settlement was inevitable, and the fact that the acquisition was British was, on all historical evidence and comparisons with other places, the best outcome.
The first pillar, the first gift of the British, is the English language, now the leading language of the world, which gives Australians extraordinary advantages in all international activity. Its supremacy in the nation is of course under no threat from the use of other languages by immigrant communities. But we have an obligation to ensure future generations are highly educated in our language and our literature and that immigrants are prepared to master it.
The second pillar is the rule of law. Governor Philip was no dictator and the penal colony was no gulag. Philip came with a charter of justice and governed under the law. We had the good fortune of inheriting the common law, probably the legal system best suited to governmental stability, the guarantee of freedom and the protection of life, liberty and property.
We also inherited a belief in limited government - not as limited as the American colonies - but limited to the extent that it was understood that people should be left to run their own lives, while government concentrated on its core functions. These were the defence of the country, the provision of law and order, providing sound property and contract law and a stable currency.
The third pillar was our oldest institution, and one above politics: the Crown. Today this remains as an important check and balance at the centre of our constitutional system, which does not mean that Australians should not, if they wish, propose a republican form of government. But it does mean that republicans have to devise a system of constitutional government which is at least as stable and as workable as the present system. They must persuade Australians that this change crosses the constitutional threshold - that it is “desirable, irresistible and inevitable”.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.
26 posts so far.