The Crimson Thread

Ideas for Australian Society: The Henry Parkes Orations 2001-2014

A high-quality book, published 27 May 2015, brings together the 13 Henry Parkes Orations delivered 2001-2015, plus Parkes’ original Tenterfield Oration, in a bound volume to commemorate the bicentenary of Parkes’ birth.

Insights and ideas for Australian society, inspired by Parkes’ vision and achievements
… from models of government to options for a republic,
… education policy to federation and rail infrastructure,
… and from social justice through constitutional change to evolving multiculturalism and the broader ‘crimson thread’ of kinship that is emerging to unite Australians today.

A must read for anyone who hankers after more long-term thinking and creative problem-solving in contemporary Australian politics.

Publisher: ETT Imprint


Paperback, 208 pages, RRP $30 through Booktopia.

A limited number of special edition hardbacks are also available direct from the Foundation at a cost of $45 plus $10 postage. Email us for more details.


“Many of those characteristics for which Australians are renowned across the world – egalitarianism, the rewards of integrity, access to education, fine health services, and working towards the common good – can find these ideals in an examination of the example and leadership of Henry Parkes.”
Professor Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO

On what it means to be ‘Australian’

“We have the opportunity for unity. We must see this despite our fears of disunity. We need the opportunities, and the freedoms to take part in public activities at all levels. The framework for such freedom lies in our commitment to democracy and the public good. It is here that the crimson thread still runs.”
Professor Helen Irving: ‘What unites Australians today?’

“What we hold in common in Australia is a civic faith … represented by adherence to the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, the right of free speech, the notions of tolerance and fairness, a preference for equality rather than privilege and a readiness to help one another.”
Gordon Samuels, ‘Australia in the 21st century: living in peace and freedom?’

On education

“For a democratic society to prosper, it must be built on an education system of the highest standard, open to all without fees or religious tests, accessible wherever school age children live. A public system was the right priority for the founders of our nation a hundred years ago. It is the right priority now.”
Susan Ryan: ‘Priority public: the supreme legacy of Henry Parkes’

“Urgent action is needed to put right the relationship between the two great legacies of Henry Parkes, public schooling and our national system of democratic government. For both are critical to our common wealth. …The time is right for a Henry Parkes Act. What is needed now is legislation which provides that, in all its dealings with schooling, the primary obligation of the Commonwealth is to maintain and safeguard strong and socially representative public school systems that are of the highest standard and are open, without fees or religious tests, to all children and young people.”
Lyndsay Connors: ‘Public education and the common wealth: towards sustainable democracy’

On social justice

“We aspire to be a country that treats people fairly and equally. Yet we still have a Constitution that expressly recognises that people can be denied the vote or subject to different treatment because of their race. It is hard to describe us as a free and tolerant democracy when this possibility remains. … Australia needs to recapture Parkes’ vision for achieving social justice through constitutional reform.”
George Williams: ‘Social justice through constitutional change: mission impossible?’

On democracy and government

“The first lesson is that if the people have got the bit between their teeth, then even a united stance by the political elite may be insufficient to prevent change, indeed in the present climate of opinion may even enhance its prospects.”
Neal Blewett: ‘A presidential republic or a republican president’

“Politics is a valuable activity, a way to bring about real change for the better, and a means of managing substantial disagreements within a society or a community. Cynicism about politicians and our motives corrodes faith in that process.”
John Faulkner: ‘Apathy and anger: our modern Australian democracy’

“No serious observer of politics in Australia, except those with specific interests, can pretend that we do not have major problems with our system of government or that we are incapable of achieving any improvement after a century of experience.”
Ted Mack: ‘State of the Federation’

“Many of the people who founded Australian democracy may have been self-taught, but they were good philosophers who were unafraid to think in terms of first principles and ideals … We, by contrast, have allowed ourselves to become utilitarians and technocrats, dominated to the exclusion of almost all else by economics and accountancy.”
Geoff Gallop: ‘Whatever happened to Australian radicalism?’

“Our Australian tapestry is fascinating, strengthened by the weaving together of many threads and colours. The last 220 years make up a small section compared to the 60,000 years or more of Aboriginal life that preceded it. … I don’t believe democracy has ‘had it’. But it needs our attention: more responsibility on the part of leaders and the citizenry, more truth-telling.”
Linda Burney: ‘Weaving the Australian tapestry’

On federation and infrastructure

“There are strong arguments for the federal system, strong when Henry Parkes and the colonial statesmen of the 1890s devised the Constitution, and strong in today’s complex and globalised world.”
John Bannon: ‘National questions and local matters: Australian Federation then and now’

“Although Federation has conferred many benefits, the failure during the 1890s to include railways along with defence and communications as a federal responsibility has been costly to the nation. The railway gauge question, resolved in the late 19th century in Britain, Canada, the United States and New Zealand, still awaits resolution in Australia.”
Philip Laird: ‘Railways in Australia: Federation unfulfilled’

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