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Australian Bicentenary: Humble Address

Volume 492: debated on Thursday 21 January 1988

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3.26 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty in the terms set out on the Order Paper.

I am sure that the whole House wishes to support the Motion on the Order Paper of your Lordships' House. The presentation of a vice-regal chair to the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia by both Houses of the Westminster Parliament is our way of marking the bicentenary of the first European settlement of Australia in 1788. Australia holds a special place in our affections. I know that many Members of your Lordships' House have over the years developed strong links with the Australian people. We admire the unique beauty of their country, the strength of their institutions, in particular their Parliamentary traditions, and of course their characteristic zest for life.

I am sure that your Lordships wish to know what exactly it is that we propose to give to the Australian Parliament. The chair will be placed in the Senate of the new Federal Parliament building in Canberra. Like the throne in your Lordships' House, it will be occupied by Her Majesty the Queen or the Governor General when opening Parliament. It is to be made of pear wood by craftsmen in London and it will be delivered to Australia in time for the opening of the new Parliament building in May.

I feel sure that your Lordships will agree that this is a most appropriate way for us at Westminster to mark Australia's bicentenary, and that the whole House will join in congratulating the Australian people on their achievements. I beg to move.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will give directions that, to mark the bicentenary in 1988 of the first European settlement of Australia and the opening of the new Parliament House in Canberra, a gift of a vice-regal chair be made, on behalf of both Houses of Parliament, to the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. [Lord Belstead.]

My Lords, on behalf of the Opposition, I warmly welcome this Motion to authorise the presentation of a vice-regal chair to the Parliament of Australia. As the noble Lord said, the Motion refers to the bicentenary of the first European settlement of Australia 200 years ago. All of us know that the circumstances at that time were not entirely auspicious. There was great courage and there was great suffering. It was a different age with different standards and different aspirations. However, it would be wrong to dwell upon these events today.

We join Australia in celebrating the historic transformation that has taken place in that beautiful country. Since 1788 a great democracy has emerged based first on a British and then upon a multi-racial community as well as the original inhabitants of Australia. Looking around the world, we must be thankful that it is a true democracy of forthright and independently-minded people.

Furthermore, in two centuries, it has become a land of beautiful cities with great artistic and scientific achievements. They have their problems, as we have; but it is for their Government to resolve them. I believe that they have the vitality and the vision to do so. We all wish Australia and her people success and happiness in the future.

My Lords, we too wish very strongly to be associated on this happy occasion with the remarks which have been made. Many noble Lords must have shared the experience which I have frequently had: on being a Member of a parliamentary delegation, visiting the Chamber of the Parliament in question and seeing there some important piece of furniture which has come from the mother country and which has given great pleasure to all who have seen it, especially when they are fellow countrymen. I think this is a most happy idea on what is undoubtedly a very great occasion.

I hope that I may be excused for being slightly serious because I shall never forget that during the course of my lifetime the Australian people have, without hesitation, twice—twice, my Lords—given the flower of their youth in order to protect our common standards, our common ideals and our common heritage of liberty. It is therefore with very great pleasure that all of us on these Benches wish to be associated with this expression of good will that we give to the peoples and the parliamentarians of Australia, not forgetting those who sit in their Upper Chamber, where this chair will reside for all to see.

3.30 p.m.

My Lords, as the chairman of the Britain-Australia Society perhaps I may say that I think we ought not to regard this as a perfunctory Motion. I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, said about the role the Australians have played in helping to save this country. I still remember, in 1940, the first appearance of Australian uniforms. I remember that so often in the RAF you saw the dark blue of an Australian, usually a navigator. They were of vital importance to our own survival and I like to think that we shall remember that. A little patriotism now and again is not entirely amiss in these days.

I also remind your Lordships of the fact that it was about this day in 1788 that that great leader and governor—the first governor, Captain Phillip, later Admiral Phillip—wrote:
"We … had the satisfaction"—
after he had abandoned Botany Bay—
"of finding the finest harbour in the world, in which a thousand sail-of-the-line may ride in the most perfect security".
He named it Sydney.

They are one day ahead now in Australia, but the following day they had an encounter with the aboriginals. They called the place Manly Cove,
"because of the confidence and manly behaviour shown by the natives. They seemed desirous of our hats and attempted to seize some. Like King, Bowes had to order pants to be pulled down for the 'Indians'. They expressed a wish to know of what sex we were".
There have been tragedies in our relations with the aboriginal people, and the record is not one on which we wish to dwell. I can only give as an up-to-date example that the Royal Geographical Society Linnean Society 200th anniversary expedition to the Kimberleys has had many meetings with the aboriginals, and the leader of the Banaba people actually said:
"I am very glad that the skills of my people will be at the disposal of science".
Not all is bad in that area.

Many of your Lordships have had close relations with Australia, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Home, who played a great part in maintaining these good relations. I wish that my noble friend Lord Wilson of Rievaulx were here, because at the age of 10 he went to Perth. His uncle from Kalgoorlie became the president of the Legislative Council. He was not of the same party as my noble friend Lord Wilson. It is alleged, though my noble friend Lord Wilson will not confirm it, that at the age of 10 he told his mother that he would like to stay in Australia, in which case the history both of Australia and of this country might have been different.

The British have in fact contributed about £3 million. The Government gave £1 million, which went largely to that splendid sail training boat "Young Enterprise", but a lot of other money has been raised and the history of this is exciting. It is a birthday party. The only point I should like to make—and, again, the noble Lord, Lord Home, heard me say this the other night at the Guildhall—is that there is a difficulty in getting visas. Perhaps this is a matter that the Government could give a little thought to—all the more so since according to Whicker's programme there are obviously rather specialised services available for people who get visas to go to Australia. This is a splendid occasion, and we should be proud that we are able to play a part in some way and the Houses of Parliament are making an appropriate gift.

My Lords, it is a privilege to be associated with this Motion for a humble Address. It will not surprise the House, given the nature and purpose of the first fleet, that there were two Parrys aboard. The first was classified as a felon and his wife, Sarah Parry, was given an older profession. I sometimes think that she probably founded the tourism business in Australia which is based on visiting friends and relations.

The serious purpose is that this is a donation of a chair, which is a particularly apt gift when one realises that William Morris Hughes, a London Welshman, Welsh-speaking, became a very distinguished Prime Minister of Australia. He sat in the House for 51 years and for eight years was Prime Minister, and is credited by another Welshman, David Lloyd George, as having made a massive contribution to the winning of the First World War with his energy and zeal and the way in which he devoted himself to the interests of the then empire.

It is also apt that the High Commissioner for Australia, the honourable Douglas McClelland, was chairman of the Senate and the representative in the Senate for New South Wales. He is here doing a great job for Australia. While we remember the origins, the history and the difficulties that have been alluded to, what a joy it is that we are able to look on these people, the Australians, as kith and kin of the British and of the Western Europeans, and have shared their pleasure in their 200th birthday.

My Lords, as one who goes regularly to Australia and claims to know the country well, perhaps I may add just one word of additional congratulation to the Australian people on the successful achievement of the past 200 years. Australia, as your Lordships know, is a country with wonderful natural resources, full of active, energetic, dynamic and efficient people. I am quite sure that the century which is now opening will show even greater achievements. Indeed, when your Lordships come to the tercentenary celebrations, Australia will undoubtedly then be one of the great powers of the world. We wish it well.

My Lords, I do not think that the tributes to Australia ought to end without a mention of the word "cricket". They have been our rivals and companions on the cricket field for as long as we can remember, and we hope they will be so for another 100 years.

On Question, Motion agreed to nemine dissentiente: the said Address to be presented to Her Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.