Where is today’s Henry Parkes?

Does Australia have leaders willing to say what they believe, stand for principles with courage and conviction, marshal evidence, build support and enact?

Professor Ian Chubb spoke with Sabra Lane on ABC Radio today: “I don’t think we get enough of that anymore. We get little bits here and there of course, but we don’t get enough of it.”

Where is today’s Henry Parkes?

“Without a Twitter account between them … Henry Parkes and his colleagues managed to federate this country in what was a pretty hostile environment at the time. They persevered and they mounted an argument, they had vision, they knew how to construct a narrative. They knew how to pursue that story and they knew how to compromise appropriately, but didn’t lose sight of what they wanted.”

Listen to the full interview.

Professor Ian Chubb was the 2017 Henry Parkes Orator. Read his speech here.

Henry Parkes Foundation launches new book to commemorate bicentenary of Parkes’ birth

The Crimson Thread coverIdeas for contemporary Australia, inspired by the vision of founding father Henry Parkes

Wednesday 27 May marks 200 years since the birth of Henry Parkes. Best known as the ‘Father of Federation’, Parkes rose from humble beginnings to become Premier of NSW five times, making significant contributions to democratic and social reform over four decades of public life, including the introduction of universal male suffrage, free secular education for children, the introduction of training for nurses in public hospitals, and funding the state’s first public library.

Parkes’ vision for social justice and equal opportunity infused his work. To commemorate the bicentenary, the Henry Parkes Foundation has released a new book, The Crimson Thread: Ideas for Australian Society. Published in association with ETT Imprint, it gathers together speeches by eminent Australians delivered for the Foundation since 2001.

Launching the book at NSW Parliament House on Wednesday, Professor Dame Marie Bashir acknowledged Parkes’ contribution to the distinctive nature of Australian society: “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.”

The Crimson Thread explores contemporary issues in the context of Parkes’ vision and achievements. The result is a diverse collection ranging across the shape of federal government, options for a republic, the continuing importance of public education to a healthy democracy, the challenges of a national railway system, social justice and constitutional reform, as well as evolving multiculturalism and the broader ‘crimson thread’ of kinship that is emerging to unite Australians today.

Contributors are John Bannon, Marie Bashir, Neal Blewett, Linda Burney, Lyndsay Connors, John Faulkner, Geoff Gallop, Helen Irving, Philip Laird, Ted Mack, Susan Ryan, Gordon Samuels and George Williams.

In the background throughout the book is the example of Parkes himself. As Professor George Williams states in his contribution: “Across many fields, Parkes was a reformer, and an extremely successful one at that. He demonstrated the qualities needed to achieve social justice in a tumultuous and unforgiving political process. He showed that this can be realised when it is backed by a clear vision, sound political judgement, persistence and a willingness to convince the community of the need for change.”

At a time when “democracy is drowning in distrust” according to John Faulkner, Australia needs to rekindle some of this spirit.

“This is essentially an ‘ideas’ book calculated to encourage reflection,” says Professor Brian Fletcher in the introduction. “It is a true feast for those committed to keeping Australia at the forefront of liberal democratic nations, and is particularly germane to an age in which personal ambition and the search for power and wealth seem to have replaced the ideologies which once inspired politicians and citizens alike.”

Find out more.

2014 Oration to be broadcast by Radio National

2014 Oration to be broadcast by Radio National

Our 2014 oration, delivered on 25 July by the then Governor of New South Wales, Professor Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO, will be broadcast by ABC Radio National as part of their Big Ideas program at 8pm on Tuesday 28 October. See the Radio National website.

Dame Marie’s title was ‘The Enduring Legacy of Henry Parkes’. Here’s a quote:

“Modern Australia, often described as “the lucky country”, or “the happy country”, can attribute, I believe, these valid descriptions to the vision, the energy and the inspirational leadership of Henry Parkes. 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.”
Find out more.

Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge celebrates 125 years

Sir Henry Parkes hosted the opening of the Hawkesbury River railway bridge in May 1889. With the massive spans constructed on Dangar Island and floated into place, the bridge was an amazing engineering achievement for the time.

125 years later, on 4 May 2014, Her Excellency, Professor Marie Bashir, Governor of New South Wales, opened an exhibition mounted by the Dangar Island Historical Society documenting and celebrating the construction of this essential link between Sydney and regions to its north.

Ian Thom, Parkes’ great great grandson and Chair of the Henry Parkes Foundation, spoke at the event of the significance of the bridge in the context of Australia’s journey towards Federation. Here’s an extract from his speech:

“Henry Parkes is of course most famously known as the ‘Father of Federation’ for his push to achieve the federation of a group of parochial independent Colonies.

“What you may not know is that he was also known as the ‘Father of the Electric Telegraph’. It was his motion in the Legislative Assembly that led to the establishment of the first electric telegraph in the colony of NSW.

“The introduction of the telegraph made communication faster and later linked all the states into a common network but with rail travel there was still one big missing link between the North and the South before a railway network could be completed.

“The gap across the Hawkesbury River posed a difficult problem that had to be solved.

“It was during Henry’s third term as Premier that he established the Public Works Loan Act to secure the funding for the construction of the bridge and associated rail lines to connect Sydney to Newcastle.

“This was to be a world class engineering feat of excavation, embankments, tunnelling and building world-record deep pylons into the muddy base of the river. There was also the problem of placing huge spans of steel onto those pylons. Most of that construction was carried out here at Dangar Island on a huge pontoon. It was approximately 100 metres long by 20 metres wide and 3 metres deep. Just constructing the world’s biggest pontoon was a challenge.

“The ‘can do’ attitude and the skills and dedication of the Australian and American workers, achieved completion ahead of time and only just over budget.

“During the construction, on 9 July 1887, Lord Brassey, who later became the Governor of Victoria, visited the construction site here. Lord Brassey was the son of a famous railway pioneer in Britain.

“I have here a book of Henry’s speeches that he presented to Lord Brassey, just 2 days later.

“In one of those speeches delivered in Melbourne in March 1867, he said.

I think the time has arrived when these colonies should be united by some federal bond or connexion. I think it must be manifest to all thoughtful men that there are questions projecting themselves upon our attention which cannot be satisfactorily dealt with by any one of the individual Governments. P256.

“Twenty two years later, in his fifth term as Premier of NSW, Henry was still pushing to achieve Federation. Henry Parkes was here at Dangar Island to host the celebrations, on that huge pontoon, for the official opening of the biggest bridge in the southern hemisphere that would enable a direct rail link between the North and the South.”

Download full speech by Ian Thom.

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Henry Parkes Foundation Chair and Parkes descendant Ian Thom wears his great great grandfather’s fob watch at the Dangar Island celebrations – a watch also likely to have been worn by Parkes when he visited the island 125 years ago to open the bridge.

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Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir cuts the bridge’s birthday cake, watched by Henry Parkes Foundation Chair Ian Thom and Senator Deborah O’Neill. [Photo courtesy Senator O’Neill]

 

 

Media release: Time for major reform of the way we do government – Ted Mack

With distrust of politicians and disillusionment with Australia’s political systems at an all-time high, legendary independent Ted Mack believes fundamental change is required. Delivering the 2013 Henry Parkes Oration in Tenterfield NSW, where Parkes gave his celebrated ‘Federation Speech’ on 24 October 1889, Mack called for “examination of the many problems of our system of government in order to establish directions for reform”.

As the only person to have been elected, and then re-elected, as an independent to all three tiers of government in Australia, Ted Mack is uniquely positioned to reflect on this task.

He believes the state of the federation has never been so unsatisfactory, claiming it has reached this nadir “because of the obsolescence and self-regulation inherent in the constitution”. He believes we need “new electoral systems to reflect the will of the people”.

Mack sets out a process for approaching constitutional reform starting with a “fully elected constitutional commission convened on the basis of one-vote-one-value on an Australia-wide proportional basis”. He sees such a commission as having the power to utilise polling and to put plebiscites to the people, ideally to coincide with elections to establish fundamental directions. It would “meet for short sessions over a substantial period of time, and eventually be authorised to institute a referendum on the basis that the new constitution will not come into effect for say, seven years – in order to reduce the impact of short-term partisan motives.”

He also believes there is a need for an “integrity level of government separate from executive government and parliament”. Such a role would be spelt out in the Constitution as having no power in relation to political policy but only power to ensure integrity of government and to ensure the Constitution is upheld.

Mack acknowledges that serious reform is perhaps many years into the future and “the obstacles and enemies of democratic reform are many”. Democracy is making reasonable progress, he says, but there is a long way to go.

Find out more

Media release: Social justice through constitutional change – mission impossible?

The role of constitutional change in achieving social justice is the theme of the 2012 Henry Parkes Oration, to be delivered today in Canberra by Professor George Williams at the Museum of Australian Democracy.

Professor Williams will consider why achieving social justice through constitutional change often tends to be forgotten or dismissed as too hard, despite the fact that Australia’s Constitution has a profound, long-term effect on the nation and our quality of life. He believes this failure has major implications for community well-being in areas such as health, education, environmental protection and Aboriginal justice.

However, rather than accepting the task as ‘mission impossible’, Professor Williams will explore where change is needed and how it can be brought about.

To be held in the historic environment of the former House of Representatives Chamber at Old Parliament House, this is a unique opportunity to hear one of Australia’s most engaging expert commentators on constitutional issues.

Find out more.

Media release: ‘Grand Old Man’ of Australian politics finds a new voice

It’s been more than 100 years since Sir Henry Parkes, ‘Grand Old Man’ and ‘Father of Federation’, spoke in the NSW Parliament. But he was there on Friday 4 June 1999, delivering a speech in the Legislative Assembly Chamber.

Listening to him were the NSW Attorney-General, Jeff Shaw, representing the Premier, as well as the Leader of the Opposition, Kerry Chikarovski, and an audience of 150 guests, including the Governor of NSW, the Hon. Gordon Samuels.

The occasion was the launch of the Henry Parkes Foundation, a new charitable trust which aims to encourage Australians to find out more about their country’s political and constitutional history, and about how they can participate as citizens. The Governor was present as the Foundation’s patron.

Parkes, played by actor Garry Ridgway, reminisced about his first glimpse of Sydney on arriving in the colony in 1839: “Oh! Tis a goodly sight for those who seek a resting place upon Australia’s strand.” He recalled his first public speech, in favour of universal suffrage, in 1849: “The people, growing in enlightenment, will never rest until they obtain it.” And he revisited his thoughts on federation, expressed at a convention in Sydney in 1891: “The seed is sown and it must spring up to maturity. No power on earth can throw back the cause of the Australian federation.” How right he was!

In introducing Parkes, Dr Helen Irving, one of the Foundation’s advisers, quoted his famous words, “The crimson thread of kinship runs through us all”.

“This remains a valuable metaphor today,” said Dr Irving. “From an awareness of our common humanity comes a sense of the common good. Our country’s constitution and political processes are an expression of that awareness, and the more we understand about them the more effective we can be as citizens.”

The Foundation’s Chairman, Professor Brian Fletcher, said that a citizenship project for schools was one of the first activities the Foundation hoped to support.

“It is in recognition of the outstanding contribution Sir Henry Parkes made to the Federation of the Australian colonies, that the NSW Centenary of Federation Committee has endorsed the launch of the Henry Parkes Foundation,” said Prue MacSween, Deputy Chair of the NSW Centenary of Federation Committee.

Members of the Parkes family who were present said it was their aim to carry forward his vision for Australia in today’s context. “We want to honour our ancestor in real and living ways—to do things that will continue to embody his egalitarian ideals now and in the future,” said great grand-daughter Jane Gray, a trustee of the Foundation.