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Friday, December 31, 2010

On A Friday: OCSN in 2010

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Fireworks2010 marks the end of a big year for One Cuckoo Short of a Nest. The year started with a video interview with a federal politician,  the publication of several lengthy essays on Australian History and Politics*, and yet another interview with a federal member in the week before the federal election.

Also this year, One Cuckoo Short of a Nest celebrated its first birthday, had a design and accessibility overhaul, and published this website’s most popular article to date.

On that note, I thought that I would take this opportunity to announce which articles have been the most popular on One Cuckoo Short of a Nest this year. So here it is; the top ten articles on OCSN for 2010! And yes, I’m surprised that some of these are so popular too! (Note: more recent articles have had less time to gain page views.)

1. On A Friday: How to escape a Ninja.
2. Windows 7 ‘Fixes’ card reader eject issues. (A high ranking for a terribly written piece!)
3. Eighth Radiohead Album Coming Soon?
4. Windows 7 Beta 1: 7 Up.
5. Biography: Daniel Mannix and the British Influence on Australia.
6. Interview - Video> Liberal MP for McMillan Mr. Russell Broadbent Speaks to OCSN (29/1/2010).
7. On A Friday: Parliament Speed Dating (Cartoon).
8. On A Friday: Deal or No Deal?
9. On A Friday: Lipstick on a Pig.
10. How To: Install Fonts in Windows and Ubuntu.

So, what’s coming in 2011?
Many, many more interviews, more in-depth analysis and essays, more On A Friday and the return of Cabinet Unpacked after a year in hiatus.

And finally, I wish everyone a happy and safe new year, and my new year’s resolution is to greatly improve the quality of the writing on One Cuckoo Short of a Nest!

*(Links: 1: A biography on Daniel Mannix, 2: Australian independence at federation, 3: Picking apart Tom Keneally’s ‘Our Republic’, and 4: The 1967 referendum and indigenous rights.)

Monday, December 27, 2010

On A Friday: Deck the Parliament with lots (and lots and lots and lots) of emails

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Image of email from Australian PMChristmas messages from politicians and political parties started hitting my inbox on the 20th. The number of messages increased rapidly over the following four days, filling my inbox like Christmas shoppers fill department stores.

One thing that I noticed about these messages was that the “Christmas” theme was often confined to a small paragraph or even just a greeting.

The first festively-themed email that I got was from Greens leader Senator Bob Brown. The subject line, “Seasons Greetings,” and a message that only contained the word “Christmas” twice, once on a personal level and once in the postscript, reflects the secular platform of the Greens.

Senator Brown’s message focused on the successes of the Greens in 2011:

Dear friend,

What a fantastic 2010! And it will flow into 2011, not least with our four new senators increasing our team in the federal parliament to 10 on 1 July.

Three of the great policy challenges for 2011 will be saving the Kimberley's James Price Point from a gas hub, permanent protection for Tasmania's high conservation value forests and getting a decent carbon price for Australia.

But Christmas is coming first. Don't tell Paul, but I've been down to the outdoor gear shop to get him a decent sleeping bag so that we can head off to Tasmania's central plateau, careless about any summer blizzards. I don't need any present as there is a new footbridge over the Liffey River, which will be a boon for platypus watchers and walkers headed for Drys Bluff alike.

I and my fellow MPs, Christine, Rachel, Sarah, Scott and Adam, wish you and yours a brilliant summer with many happy times together.

Yours sincerely

Bob Brown

p.s. If you are looking for a double-win Christmas present: send a donation to the Papua New Guinea Greens whose leader Dorothy Tekwie is currently touring Australia. PNG has elections coming up in 2012 and with your help this young, vibrant party can see its first members elected. You can donate by direct bank transfer to:Friends of the Global GreensPNG Project BSB: 633000 Account Number: 141613 679

Second was Labor Connect, a party website of the Australian Labor Party. From them came a message written by Labor National Secretary Karl Bitar, which wished “members and supporters a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year and a safe holiday”. Bitar goes on to recap the year and looks into the future of Labor and Labor Connect.

Here is Bitar’s message:

Dear William,
We wanted to take a moment to wish all of our members and supporters a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year and a safe holiday.
With your support we have seen the re-election of a Federal Labor Government this year. The Gillard Government has been hard at work with well over 50 pieces of legislation passing through the Parliament since the election, including legislation critical to implementing National Health Reform and building the National Broadband Network.
As with each and every year it is the hard work of unsung Party Members like yourself that make Australian Labor the great political party it is. The realities of the Parliament mean that during 2011 there will be much to do to advance our progressive agenda.
Along with a new year we are also approaching the one year anniversary of the Labor Connect Blog and the six month anniversary of the ThinkTank and the Labor Connect Community. The success of these initiatives have relied on our committed members taking time out of their day to contribute their thoughts and ideas to us, for this we want to thank you.
Please keep involving yourself in the conversation between the public and the Government. Your voice genuinely helps to shape the work of the Australian Labor Party.
In 2010 we have a strong agenda to grow our online program and improve opportunities for participation so we look forward to working with you in the New Year.
Have a happy and safe holiday,
Karl Bitar and the Team @ Labor Connect

The next pollie to send me their Christmas message was leader of the Nationals in the Senate, Senator Barnaby Joyce. Joyce’s email was the only message that I got from a politician, and here I should admit that I’m not signed up to receive emails from Senator Steve Fielding, that actually discussed Christmas and what it meant to them.

After speculating on the details of Christmas, Joyce contends that “the virtue of Christmas is therefore not in an item you purchase for someone, which to be honest is usually quickly forgotten crap, but how you act.” That’s a message which, perhaps, he should have given Tony Abbott before the Coalition leader threw a billion dollars at Andrew Wilkie during the negotiations after the federal election this year.

Here is Senator Joyce’s email, entitled “A Christmas message from Barnaby”:

Christ was not born on December the 25th. It is far more likely that it would have been in late September, autumn, if Mary and Joseph were, as reported, returning to Bethlehem for the census, under the direction of Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus.  Our current celebratory timing has more to do with the pagan Roman season of Saturnalia starting on the 17th of December, the birthday of my wife Natalie a name derived from the word "natal day".

Saturnalia would have quickly paled into obscurity had it not been associated with a person who a large proportion of the globe, including me, believes to be The Christ, the Son of God. Another large portion believes the same person to be a great prophet and many others who would class themselves as not holding a religion find the same individual’s statements as espousing the virtues of a good person and a tolerant society.

The paradox comes when those who laud the views of this Person, Christ, do not appear to follow these values themselves, then others attribute this paradox to a hypocrisy of a religion.

Christmas is a time of great joy and great loneliness. It shines the light on those who have somewhere to go and those who have nowhere. It is a great joy when it is shared by others but it can be devastating if the experience is merely observed through the window. There is nothing as lonely as Christmas carols for one.

The virtue of Christmas is therefore not in an item you purchase for someone, which to be honest is usually quickly forgotten crap, but how you act. There is definitely someone near you now who has no-one and is not so much looking forward to the 25th, but dreading it. Their experience in some instances will be absolute despair. This experience of despair many associate with the homeless on the street but it may just as easily be in the best house on the nicest street. Our part in this scene is to try to be a form of solace to the problem. Despite our reluctance, whatever we give personally is so much more rewarding than any tokenistic electronic good. We should never put out of our mind the idea of saying, “if you’d like to pop round for lunch we’d love to have you”; leave the option open for one of the greatest Christmas gifts. The magic of Christmas is the bravery to take down the barriers and be nice, to the stranger, yes, even to the ex.

Children make Christmas and there is almost an undisputed public shunning of those who think it clever to destroy the magic for kids. Everyone tries to desperately fight the tide of adolescence where the joy of the presents under the tree is lost by the impending mad rush to adulthood. That magic morning of watching children sticks in the memory banks. These are the couple of hours that are remembered in a person’s life; long remembered after promotions at work, parties, disputes and peers are wiped away.

There is nothing more nauseous than to be cynical or politically correct about Christmas. Every time I hear the term “Season’s Greetings” I believe I have just encountered a salutation to be given to the cloaca of a cooked chook. It is “Christmas” for goodness sake. There a four seasons, one Christmas, and I am not in the mind to send people a card  saying, “Happy spring – hope you’re all well.” or “ May the joy of winter find you in good health” or  “Welcome to the magic of mid to late autumn”.

The world is not going to collapse around your ears if you bite your tongue and say live and let live, it is actually Christmas. People who sing carols are not religious zealots. Be nice to someone outside your comfort zone. To all the children I say, as an earnest politician and dedicated representative of the people of Queensland that, Santa is real and I’ve seen one of his sleighs being serviced at Macquarie Island near the South Pole. I suppose he’d have to have a depot in the south as well.

Merry Christmas.

Now for the leader of the Opposition, Mr Tony Abbott. Mr Abbott seems to have taken his self-defined “job to oppose” a bit far, with him seeming to oppose Christmas as much as any Government bill. That’s quite a backflip from a person once training for the priesthood!

Here is Mr Abbott’s Christmas email, with a total of one sentence about the holiday for which the email is named:

A Christmas Message from Tony Abbott

A year ago, I said that I couldn’t promise victory but could guarantee a contest. Back then, only the most optimistic supporter could have anticipated the scale of our political recovery.

The past 12 months have seen the removal of a prime minister, a first term government losing its majority, huge anti-Labor swings in South Australia and Tasmania and the defeat of a well regarded Labor government in Victoria. Right around the country, the Labor brand is becoming toxic. All this is testament to the hard work, unity, discipline and belief of the Liberal team.

I’m extremely grateful for the support of my federal and state parliamentary colleagues, the party divisions, party members and thousands of volunteers – all of whom can take credit for the Liberal Party’s recent performance.

We owe it to all the families struggling with cost of living pressures and to everyone disappointed with a government that’s been all talk and no action to do even better in the year ahead.

I hope all of you have an enjoyable and restful Christmas with family and friends. I look forward to working with you all again next year as we strive to rid our great nation of what is probably the worst government in living memory.

Tony Abbott

The last Christmas Message to hit my inbox was from the Prime Minister of Australia, Ms Julia Gillard. This consisted of a link to listen to Gillard making her Christmas address, accompanied by a significantly shortened transcript of the speech.

The transcript and the speech (both below) reflect on 2010, and try to offset the disappointments of the year with the fact that Labor remains in Government in the Federal Parliament.

One unsurprising omission from the transcript is Ms Gillard’s acknowledgement of the contributions to the Australian Labor Party by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Dear William,

To every member and friend of Australian Labor – Merry Christmas!

Now is a time to reflect on the year just past - its challenges, and its achievements as well.

Most notably, Labor has finished the year in Government in Canberra – which means we can go on making a difference for the people who rely on us.

To the Australian Labor Party membership, from our National Secretary through to every volunteer who handed out a Labor how-to-vote card – my deepest thanks.

For all members and supporters of Australian Labor, my wish is that this Christmas, wherever you are in our country or overseas, you have the chance to do those special things that mean Christmas for you, with people who are special to you.

I look forward to working with you in 2011 to advance the values and ideas of our great party in our great country.

Julia Gillard
Prime Minister

Some time ago I also received a Christmas card in the post from my local member of parliament. The front of the card had my male Liberal MP standing amongst “thee generations of girl guides.” Pushed off to the side of the picture was a small clipart picture of a Christmas tree adorned with the words “Merry Christmas”.

Those two words on the cover were the only mention of Christmas on or in the card, with the message inside simply congratulating the guides “on 100 years of commitment and service.”

All these messages seem to become almost petty and partisan, perhaps with the exception of Barnaby Joyce, when looked at in comparison to the Queen’s Christmas address. For her yearly message, the Queen gained more media attention in Australia than any Australian governmental figure. Of all the people with power in Australia, the top award goes to someone on the other side of the world.

On another note, this year Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young ran a program which invited people to mail Christmas cards to children in detention centres, care of her office. If you didn’t get the chance to send a card this year, keep an eye out for this next year!


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Friday, December 17, 2010

On A Friday: Bad Ads

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I dislike advertisements.
Actually, no, I love a good advert. Artistic or entertaining advertising can really brighten my day and served to lessen the blow of SBS’s in-program ad breaks. Internet advertising, however, can be frustrating.
Not only do you get worthless junk and potential phishing sites flashing in small boxes on your screen, but if you are on a slow connection, a video ad can slow down or break a loading page.
I got so frustrated one day whilst roaming the internet that I felt the need to contact some people of a similar mindset. So, I typed “” into my address bar, thinking that I would be taken to a page of amusing anecdotes regarding advertising. What I was instead greeted with was a page that was as infuriating as it was comedicly ironic.
I landed on a parked domain, but not just any parked domain – the most ad-crammed parked domain that I have ever seen! Pop-up boxes, flash ads, text ads, ads about the page, ads about advertising, the lot!
Page Screenshot
The number of ads on this page have since been toned down a bit, but the subtle and probably accidental mockery of modern day frustrations holds to light the extent to which the internet is used for quick revenue generation these days.
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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Review: “Beeps and Smudges” by Doctor Popular

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The good doctor with a PHD in popularity is back, this time carrying with him a 12-track album made entirely with software on Apple iPads and iPhones.

albumcoverDoctor Popular, previously known as Drown Radio, has been a “chip tune” and “nerdcore” artist for many years now. His experience is clearly shown in the musical maturity that he has shown in this album. Chip tune is a form of electronic music which involves, amongst other things, the physical manipulation of the electric circuits of any device which can produce sound. This creates new sounds an instruments. Nerdcore is, pretty much, rap for geeks.

One of Doc Pop’s first releases was a joint EP with another chip tune artist, the Atomic Brothers. Back then he was producing occasionally amusing electronic music, with a sound which, usually, only hardcore fans of the style would fully appreciate. Also producing non-electronic tracks, such as “California Slowly Sinking Into the Ocean’s Deep Abyss”, and music for other artists, including nerdcore rapper Beefy, Doctor Popular has been a prolific producer of music.

Over two years have passed since Doc Pop’s last LP release, Me Geek Pretty One Day. This latest release, Beeps and Smudges, is a considerable change in style from Me Geek Pretty, ditching the geeky humour and references to Dungeons and Dragons and lolCats in favour of pop songs about love and songs which are slower and sometimes sadder.

The sound of the music has also changed, with much of the harsh beat bashing that Doctor Popular has used in previous releases not featuring. The change is, however, not absolute. Sounds reminiscent of 8- and 16-bit DOS games like Commander Keen still feature in many of the songs.

Despite the change to a more accessible, mainstream style, the album opens with a short track which is very typical of a chip tune album. Track two, however, is one which could easily make it on to radio. “Möbius Strip Tease”, a song about love with the line “I feel like I’m walking on the möbius strip”, is the perfect nerdy pop song, as is track three, “Spider”.

Beeps and Smudges doesn’t feature any standout nerdcore pieces, like “lolCats” on Me Geek Pretty, however the overall calibre and refinement of this often minimalist album makes it well worth a listen.

I would give this album a 10 out of 10 if it weren’t for one track, made in collaboration with Unwoman, called “Get To Know You”. The style of the piece jars with the rest of the album and, although having a good beat, the song just isn’t as refined as the other tracks on the album. I give this album a nine out of 10.

The album streams for free on Doctor Popular’s Bandcamp page, You can also buy a digital copy of the album for just $1 or, for a limited time, a physical copy for $10, which will ship on or around December 18.


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Saturday, November 27, 2010

On A Friday: Pre-Polling Predicaments

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On last Tuesday and today I have been handing How To Vote cards at an early voting centre in my electorate ahead of Victoria’s state election this Saturday. I did the same at the last two federal elections, but this election has been the one which I have the most to say about.

Early Voting Centre VEC Victoria 2010At the particular early voting centre that I was stationed at I have had a wonderful time. The representatives from all parties have been welcoming, and have even handed out the How To Votes of other parties when people have had to leave for various reasons. However, despite all this good sportsmanship I have seen something really quite devastating.

On the Tuesday a carer turned up to make an early vote with two elderly people, one of whom was in a wheel chair. These two people were not physically keeping up with what was going on around them, however they seemed hopelessly aware of what was going on. As the carer approached slowly with the two in her care, pushing the one in a wheelchair and holding the arm of the other, I and the other campaigners greeted them. I tried to offer the carer a How To Vote card which she turned her nose up to. Not taking it to heart I then I then tried to offer the How To Vote to the person in the wheelchair.

This was responded to with the wheelchair being pushed faster as the carer told the person that she “didn’t need that.” This happened to every party handing out How to Votes except the Liberals, who handed over their How To Vote successfully.

The campaigners from the other parties had not actually been able to communicate with the elderly people much at all, and as we tried to make sure that these two knew which parties were present the person in the wheelchair slowly raised a hand to accept the alternatives. We were stymied however when the carer gathered pace again and they were over the line which campaigners are unable to cross before we had the chance to hand them anything.

Once they had entered the polling place all of us campaigners uttered words of dismay amongst each other, including the Liberal party campaigner who later mentioned that he had seen displays like that before. Now there may have been a pre-arranged agreement between the carer and the elderly ladies, however from where I and the other campaigners stood it sure didn’t look like it!

Discussion of reform to the system then arose, with some truly excellent suggestions being raised amongst us. One idea was that inside polling booths everywhere, all the How To Vote cards for parties contesting upper and lower house seats should be displayed in some way. This also gives equal treatment to the small parties whose budget does not allow the mass-printing of How To Votes, or who don’t command the support base to have a campaigner at every booth.

There was another concerning development which came about at the start of the week. The ballot paper for the Legislative Council (Victoria’s Upper House) had a fold in it, made during printing, which hid the last party on the paper. Despite the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) officials opening up the paper for voters to see, this paper could still be picked up by the voter in such a way that could hide the party again without the voter knowing. I was assured by the early voting official at my booth that they were making sure that all voters knew about the issue with the fold, but I am painfully aware that this was just in one booth. I have also been informed that the original batch of ballot papers which had been printer earlier did not have this fold.

The person in control of the booth was at pains to assure me that this was just a printing fault, which I am sure is the case. However the VEC’s slogan that “every vote will shape Victoria” is somewhat undermined by poor quality control with the ballot papers – with the slip of paper on which the actual votes are marked!

We live in a country with a proud democratic history, a country which has been described in the past as the pinnacle of democracy (notwithstanding our position as a constitutional monarchy). This however does not mean we should rest on our laurels – there are clear areas in need of improvement. The VEC this election has been using computers and mobile phones to assist vision impaired and non-English speaking voters cast a private ballot, a move which is a great leap forward in democratic representation for many people. However so long as carers can have absolute control over the votes of those they look after, and so long as ballot papers do not present each party equally, there is still room for improvement in our system. Improvements which, especially in Victoria where seats can swing easily, need to be made sooner rather than later.


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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Essay: The Significance of the 1967 Referendum

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This essay investigates the significance of the 1967 referendum.

A printable copy of this essay with full bibliography can be downloaded here.


The 1967 Referendum question on Aborigines arose in a time of growing awareness for indigenous issues both in Australia and worldwide. Debate in parliament was legalistic under the Menzies Government, whilst pro-Aboriginal pressure groups presented daily petitions to try and influence members of the house that there was a great public outcry for reform. It was not until Menzies’ retirement that the Commonwealth Parliament was convinced to include the removal of all discriminatory clauses from the constitution in the referendum. The public was easier to win over, already aware of the humanitarian issues that the Aboriginal people faced, however pressure groups still worked to achieve a resounding approval for the referendum question. There is a great amount of myth surrounding what the change to the constitution actually meant for the Aboriginal population, however governments gradually utilised the new powers granted to the Commonwealth to advance the Aboriginal people of Australia.

When the Commonwealth Constitution Act (1901) was passed, it was considered one of the most democratic in the world,[1] however two sections of the new document discriminated against the indigenous population, section 127 and section 51 (xxvi). Despite there being numerous people involved in the framing of the constitution who took a humanistic, sensitive approach to the Aboriginal population, including Alfred Deakin, the idea that the new commonwealth government should have some obligation to legislate with regard to the aborigines was not mentioned once in the conferences.[2] The passing of the 1967 referendum saw this discrepancy rectified with amendments made to both of these sections. The most major change was the removal of Section 127, and Section 51 (xxvi) was amended to have discriminatory clauses removed. Section 127 had stated that “in reckoning the numbers of people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted.”[3] Section 51 had provided that “The Parliament shall, subject to the constitution, have power to make laws for peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to… (xxvi) the people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws”. The common perception of the 1967 referendum is that it changed the position of the Aboriginal people in Australian society.[4] Although the referendum did establish a new structure of more equal law-making by including the Aboriginal people in general legislation like all other Australian citizens, it was changes to acts and political institutions that were made both before and after the referendum that did the most to alter the Aborigines’ position in society.[5] In addition to the discrimination against Australia’s indigenous population in the constitution, just three years after Federation, the Commonwealth Parliament voted that there should be universal suffrage for men and women, however not for the indigenous population in a bid for uniformity amongst the states. Voting rights for Aborigines had been strongly opposed by some members, especially those representing Queensland and Western Australian seats. [6] These states would later be in the bottom three states as a percentage of electors in favour of the 1967 referendum question[7] and at the time had the largest aboriginal population of any state, however each smaller than that of the Northern Territory.[8] There was resentment from the Northern Territory as its people were unable to vote in referenda at the time.[9] Constitutional alteration bills for a referendum on section 127 and 51 were presented to the House twice before its successful passage, once in 1964 by Labor Opposition leader Arthur Calwell, and as a private member’s bill from Liberal MHR William Wentworth in 1966.[10]

A referendum on removing all exclusions of the Aborigines in the Commonwealth Constitution was hotly debated in Parliament, with strong views of prominent parliamentarians being shown and many submissions from pressure groups. The Federal Council for Aboriginal Advancement (FCAA), later the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Straight Islanders (FCAATSI), was established in 1958 and lobbied the states for the removal of restrictive laws for the Aborigines.[11] In 1961 the Minister for Territories, Paul Hasluck, persuaded all mainland states to work toward the assimilation of the Aboriginal people into Australian culture so as to “[enjoy] the same rights and privileges, …the same responsibilities, …the same customs and… the same beliefs and loyalties as other Australians.”[12] This achieved bipartisan support in the Commonwealth Parliament,[13] however was rejected by the FCAA, which saw the potential of Aboriginal contribution to Australian society and argued instead for “integration”. A year later the FCAA began its fight for constitutional amendment. The FCAA was to become a significant influence on the Federal parliament, and achieved this through its awareness that it needed to prove to parliamentarians that there was significant public support for the referendum. The national campaign conducted by the FCAA included a petition ‘towards equal citizenship for Aborigines”, which argued that sections 127 and 51 “in effect give support to other laws and regulations which deprive Aborigines of equal wages and employment opportunities”.[14] The petition, which argued that “the Commonwealth constitution discriminated against the Aboriginal people in two sections”, was signed by more than 100,000 Australians in one year, with Australia’s population at the time being just over ten million people (excluding the indigenous population).[15] Petitions from the FCAA were strategically presented to parliament to bring the issue of constitutional change to the forefront of federal politics. Petitions were presented to parliament daily over a seven-week sitting period, making the debate a part of daily proceedings as it became ‘similar to the opening prayer’.[16] The petitions were successful and in 1966 cabinet agreed to hold a referendum to repeal section 127.[17] Prime Minister Robert Menzies was a high profile opponent to the constitutional change, and it was under his coalition government that the constitutional alteration bills of Calwell and Wentworth were defeated. Menzies opposed the proposed amendment to section 51 (xxvi) for mainly conservative reasons, arguing that the words of the forefathers who wrote the document should not be altered. Menzies was particularly vocal in his rejection of the proposed alteration to section 51 (xxvi), saying during a debate on the repeal of section 127 that if the clause “other than the aboriginal race in any state” was removed, that it would allow a future parliament to establish a “separate body of industrial, social, criminal and other laws relating exclusively to Aborigines.” Menzies in turn argued that “the words are a protection against discrimination by the Commonwealth Parliament in respect of Aborigines”, adding that “there can be in relation to them no valid laws which would treat them as people outside the normal scope of the law.”[18] Menzies accepted the removal of section 127, in fact tabling a constitutional amendment bill to remove it[19] saying that it was out-dated,[20] however not the amendment to section 51.[21]

The inclusion of section 51 (xxvi) in the referendum was not achieved until after Prime Minister Menzies retired from parliament and Harold Holt took control of the governing Coalition. The amendment to section 51 (xxvi) as well as the repeal of section 127 had been part of the Labor party’s policy since 1959.[22] Holt agreed to include section 51 (xxiv) in the proposed referendum in 1967. The year before Barrie Pittock and Lorna Lippmann had started a second petition, this one argued that “specific provision should be made in the constitution for the advancement of the Aboriginal people.” This petition, although loosely worded, called for the amendment to section 51 as it called for the commonwealth to establish laws to assist the Aboriginal people. This was in line with other words already established in the constitution, which Labor Parliamentarian Gordon Bryant pointed out during the debate allowed the Commonwealth Parliament to pass legislation peculiar to other groups in the community, such as migrants or pensioners, but could not give the same benefit to Aborigines.[23] A “silent vigil” conducted in 1952 and consisting of Aboriginal people from New South Wales lobbied the government to “give us equality in all States: include section 51 in the referendum.”[24] The call for change to section 51 was accepted by the Holt government and the referendum bill was passed through Parliament with almost bipartisan support.[25] No party presented a “no” argument against the referendum,[26] however the lack of support from both the Holt and Menzies governments at various stages shows that support for the referendum was not entirely bipartisan.[27] Although a key part of other discussions in regard to Aboriginal rights, land rights were not widely discussed in the debate on the referendum, with the social and humanitarian aspects of the legislation being the focus of the debate.[28]

The general public had been exposed to shocking news footage of desert-dwelling Aboriginal people suffering from starvation and illness in 1957, an image that brought to the attention of all who saw it the need for a change in the way in which Aboriginal people are treated by Australian governments. The footage, shown by the Council for Aboriginal Rights, was utilised by the Victorian Aborigines Advancement League, which took hold of the horror felt by the public after seeing the images. The League circulated a leaflet that year, which used images from the film with the title “WE WANT TO STOP THIS:… HELP US TO HELP THEM!” and a caption to one of the images reading “Flies! But too weak to bother.”[29] One journalist commented upon seeing the film that it was “one thing to read about a tragedy – it is another matter to see it.” The pictorial and cinematic campaign had had a profound effect on the electorate and gained support for constitutional change.[30] Another early campaign which drove for public support for the change was that of Aboriginal activist Charles Perkins. Perkins led a “Freedom Ride” through country New South Wales in 1965 to raise awareness of discrimination against the Aboriginal people in local laws.[31]

The 1967 referendum question on the revision of section 51 (xxvi) and the repeal of section 127 was only the fifth referendum to be approved by the Australian people at the time and, with 90.77 per cent of voters in support, was and remains the single most supported referendum question in Australian history.[32] The alteration to both discriminatory sections had been supported by the Labor party since 1959, however support from the coalition remained conservative on the issue until Holt’s assent to the Prime Ministership. Menzies’ complex legal argument, where he argued that the constitution in fact allowed for better treatment of Aborigines, was seen as archaic and no longer represented the views of the population.[33] The clause “other than the aboriginal race in any state” in Section 51 (xxvi) was seen as discriminatory by the public after years of activism working toward the referendum.[34] Since the shock of the 1957 footage, Australia underwent what Jessie Street of the London Anti-Slavery Society described as a “psychological movement” in which reforms might be successful.[35] The FCAATSI, in trying to convince the maximum possible voters that constitutional change was needed so as to make a result in favour of the question, attempted to associate a “yes” vote for the referendum question with Australianness,[36] and with fairness and justice.[37] Political scientist Charles Rowley noted that the 1967 referendum showed that Australians were seeking direction to an ideal Australia, as evidenced by slogans of the “Yes” campaign including “Towards an Australia Free and Equal: Vote Yes.”[38] The referendum campaign occurred during a greater international movement of decolonisation, where numerous colonies in Africa, Asia and Central and South America and the defeat of the referendum would have damaged Australia’s international standing and reputation around the world.[39] The Vote Yes campaign utilised this international pressure, clearly shown in a campaign song sung to the tune off Waltzing Matilda which went: “Vote Yes, Australia, Vote Yes, Australia, The eyes of the world are upon us today” and the campaign directors’ assertion that “a “no” vote… will brand this country racist and… in the same category as South Africa.”[40] Similar international pressure would later prompt Paul Keating to make his “Redfern Address” in response to the international Year of Indigenous People. The American Black Power movement would also have an effect on Australian Aboriginal Rights campaigns in the 1960s and 70s.[41] Despite there being no political “no” case at the time of the referendum, there was some public opposition to the alteration to section 51 (xxvi). Arguments included that a potential “Yes vote would allow a future centralised Commonwealth Government to pass legislation discriminating against Aborigines on racial grounds”, and that “the Aborigines who link us with the pre-historic past have remained free in their nomadic state”, with the proposed amendment to Section 51 “[requiring] that [the Aborigines] be counted, …put on an electoral role, be fined if they don't vote, submit an income tax return and generally come under all the controls that go with civilised progress.”[42] The latter of these arguments also motioned against the removal of Section 127. There were other concerns in that the states were more locally equipped to deal with Aboriginal affairs than the often remote Federal Parliament, and that the referendum was taking away more of the states’ rights.[43] The reason for Section 127’s provision in the Constitution is considered to be one of two possibilities – amongst others, including Labor MP Kim Beazley Sr,[44] Menzies acknowledged the difficulty in counting the Aboriginal people which became less of an issue as technology improved.[45] The other possible reason was that Aborigines were seen as a “dying race” with no significant future. Ironically, poor estimated counts of the Aboriginal population had estimated the “dying race’s” numbers at much lower than they probably were.[46]

The effects of the 1967 referendum are surrounded by myth. Although the event did change the mentality of the general public, the actual immediate achievements were few.[47] Many other acts that are associated with the referendum were actually not the direct result of the referendum or were passed prior to the referendum coming in to action. Guaranteed voting rights for Aborigines were established prior to the referendum, and other important steps like the granting of award wages occurred the year after the referendum.[48] There was some disappointment from activists that there had been little action from the Commonwealth Parliament in legislating for Aborigines “on education, housing, wages, trade training and land grants.”[49] The referendum had however made a pathway for several other developments.[50] Charlie Perkins lobbied Harod Holt to establish a federal Aboriginal Affairs Bureau.[51] Holt set up an Office of Aboriginal Affairs in his department and appointed Wentworth as Minister-in-Charge of Aboriginal Affairs, and also appointed a Commonwealth Council for Aboriginal Affairs, however no department was established.[52] After Holt, Prime Minister Gorton added no more to Holt’s work, stating that “I believe that the Minister and the Council, in their relations with the States, should seek to… allocate funds from the Commonwealth to the State for Aboriginal advancement,… to gather information regarding Aboriginal matters… [and] assist the States in coordination of their policy.” This approach was little different to the system that was in place prior to the referendum.[53] Prime Minister William McMahon did not see a distinction between the issues of white and black Australia, stating that he “couldn't see there was any problem about Aborigines that was different from unemployed or poor white people.” McMahon did however make a general-purpose lease for Aborigines and their land, which required that Aborigines “make reasonable economic and social use of the land” and excluded all mineral and forest rights.[54] Frustration at the land rights record of the McMahon Government led the establishment of the “Aboriginal tent embassy”, which remained in place until Gough Whitlam was elected Prime Minster in 1972.[55] Whitlam instated a royal commissioner to investigate how land could be granted to the Aborigines in the Northern Territory,[56] and appointed a minister to a new full Department of Aboriginal Affairs.[57] Malcolm Fraser strongly opposed racism and upheld the reforms of the Whitlam Government whilst also passing the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (Northern Territory) which gave Aborigines title to Northern Territory reserves.[58] Further attempts at reconciliation were made under the Hawke/Keating Government, symbolised by Keating’s “Redfern Address” on the 10th of December 1992, where he all but apologised for the mistreatment of Australia’s indigenous peoples.[59] The Howard Government was seen as a step backwards in its approach to Aboriginal issues. When calls for reconciliation and an apology arose, Howard argued that “Australians of this generation should not be required to accept guilt and blame for past actions and policies over which they had no control.”[60] Howard also removed the full-time position of Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, undoing Whitlam’s work from 1972.[61] The Commonwealth’s control over Aboriginal issues had seen vast ideological changes in the way in which Aborigines were addressed in legislation.

Although the immediate effects of the change to the constitution were few, the long-term use of the new powers by the commonwealth worked to advance the Aboriginal people, and the referendum was symbolic of a changed mind-set amongst the Australian people. Although challenges were faced with the referendum, such as the inclusion of section 51 (xxvi) and the inaction of consecutive conservative governments after the passing of the referendum, the change to the constitution has benefited the Aboriginal people.

Footnotes: [1] John Hirst, The Sentimental Nation (South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2000) page 288. [2] Dr John Gardiner-Garden, The Origin of Commonwealth Involvement in Indigenous Affairs and the 1967 Referendum, Background Paper 11 1996-1997 prepared for the Department of the Parliamentary Library, c2007, online text. [3] The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia, Australian Government Printer, Canberra, 1901. [4] Deborah Gare and David Ritter, Making Australian History: Perspectives on the Past Since 1788 (Thomson: Melbourne, 2008), Page 524. [5] Gare and Ritter, Making Australian History, Page 524. [6] Hirst, The Sentimental Nation, page 288. [7] Gardiner-Garden, The Origin of Commonwealth Involvement in Indigenous Affairs and the 1967 Referendum. [8] C.D. Rowley, The Destruction of Aboriginal Society, (Canberra : Australian National University Press, 1970), Page 384. [9] Gardiner-Garden, The Origin of Commonwealth Involvement in Indigenous Affairs and the 1967 Referendum. [10] Gare and Ritter, Making Australian History, Page 527. [11] Ibid, Page 525. [12] ibid, Page 526. [13] Gardiner-Garden, The Origin of Commonwealth Involvement in Indigenous Affairs and the 1967 Referendum. [14] Gare and Ritter, Making Australian History, Page 526. [15] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Historical Population Statistics 2008, Cat. no. 3105.0.65.001, Canberra, 2008, AusStats [16] Gare and Ritter, Making Australian History, Page 526. [17] Ibid, Page 527. [18] Hansard, Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 11 November 1965, pp. 2638-2659. [19] Gardiner-Garden, The Origin of Commonwealth Involvement in Indigenous Affairs and the 1967 Referendum. [20] Hansard, Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 11 November 1965, pp. 2638-2659. [21] Gardiner-Garden, The Origin of Commonwealth Involvement in Indigenous Affairs and the 1967 Referendum. [22] Bain Attwood, Rights for Aborigines (Crows Nest, NSW : Allen & Unwin, 2003), Page 171. [23] Gardiner-Garden, The Origin of Commonwealth Involvement in Indigenous Affairs and the 1967 Referendum. [24] Rights Bain Attwood, Rights for Aborigines, Page 172. [25] Gare and Ritter, Making Australian History, Page 527. [26] Ibid, Page 527. [27] Gardiner-Garden, The Origin of Commonwealth Involvement in Indigenous Affairs and the 1967 Referendum. [28] Gare and Ritter, Making Australian History, 528. [29] Rights Bain Attwood, Rights for Aborigines, Page 151. [30] Rights Bain Attwood, Rights for Aborigines, Page 150. [31] Gare and Ritter, Making Australian History, Page 528. [32] Ibid, pp525-533. [33] Ibid, Page 527. [34] Ibid, Page 527. [35] Ibid, Page 525. [36] Rights Bain Attwood, Rights for Aborigines, Page 175. [37] Gare and Ritter, Making Australian History, Page 527. [38] Rights Bain Attwood, Rights for Aborigines, Page 176. [39] Ibid, Page 176. [40] Rights Bain Attwood, Rights for Aborigines, Page 176. [41] Ibid, Page 321. [42] Gardiner-Garden, The Origin of Commonwealth Involvement in Indigenous Affairs and the 1967 Referendum. [43] Ibid. [44] Ibid. [45] Hansard, Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 11 November 1965, Page 2638. [46] Gardiner-Garden, The Origin of Commonwealth Involvement in Indigenous Affairs and the 1967 Referendum. [47] Gare and Ritter, Making Australian History, Page 524. [48] Gardiner-Garden, The Origin of Commonwealth Involvement in Indigenous Affairs and the 1967 Referendum. [49] Gare and Ritter, Making Australian History, Page 528. [50] Gardiner-Garden, The Origin of Commonwealth Involvement in Indigenous Affairs and the 1967 Referendum. [51] Gare and Ritter, Making Australian History, Page 528. [52] Gardiner-Garden, The Origin of Commonwealth Involvement in Indigenous Affairs and the 1967 Referendum. [53] Ibid. [54] Ibid. [55] Rights Bain Attwood, Rights for Aborigines, Page 347. [56] Ibid, Page 346. [57] Gare and Ritter, Making Australian History, Page 531. [58] Ibid, Page 546. [59] Ibid, pp510-511. [60] Gare and Ritter, Making Australian History, Page 582. [61] Mark McKenna, “A Reconciled Republic?” in This Country (Sydney : UNSW Press, 2004), Page 14.


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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Essay: An independent Australia at the time of Federation?

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This essay explores the question of why the idea of an independent Australia largely died out as the Federation Movement gathered pace.

A printable copy of this essay with full bibliography can be downloaded here.


The Australian federation movement, which started to gather pace in the 1880s, shared many of the agitations and much of the momentum with its alternative, the pro-independence republican movement. Both movements rose to national discussion around the same time. Both federalism and independence in the latter decades of the 1800s found support bases in different groups who needed a union of the colonies to better function in the Asia-Pacific. Whilst independence gained some strong support in the 1880s, many of its potential supporters could find what they sought from independence in federation. The desire for independence in the 1880s drove the republican movement to centre stage, however as the need for a union of the states became more and more important with regional, economic and racial fears heightening, pragmatism led to a growth of support for federation. Indeed, much of the decreased talk of independence from the time leading up to federation was because federation could provide the convenient local central administrative body that would provide the economic and political institutions that independence did, with the added clout of the British Empire in trade and defence. The attachment to Britain was also important in the demise of independence sentiment, as White Australians identified themselves predominantly as British, although somewhat detached from their homeland.

Federation and independence both appealed to the same ideals in the Australian colonial mind-set. This common interest meant that as significant public figures, including the then-longest serving member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly Henry Parkes,[1] turned to support the federation movement, bringing with him public support for the movement. Parkes’ stance helped draw the Australian public to support federation rather than the alternative of outright independence from Britain. The draw away from republican and independent sentiments toward greater support for federation can be seen through the need for economic stability during the 1880s. Prior to the 1880s the republican movement had been a small movement, unable to gain major public support. However, falling wool prices, drought and the unpopular demands of the Australian Workers Union brought republicanism out from the fringes of Australian society.[2] It came to be considered by the Bulletin that to be Australian and to be republican were one and the same, however this was a misconception. The demands of the new supporters of federation were in fact attracted more toward the idea of a union of the colonies, which would allow for more control over their assets[3] under a local, Australian central government. This goal of local central government was common to both the supporters of independence through a republic and to the supporters of federation. Republicanism also gained support from “radicals”, a term which covers those who believed in broader social reform or rejected the status quo.[4] Once again the demands of these groups could be at least in part satisfied by what was offered in federation. From the United Kingdom too there had been calls for a central administrative body to be established in Australia, one which could take over much of the administrative work from the “less competent authority of the British parliament.”[5] There was a British Government proposition put forward to only allow Victoria to split from New South Wales if the colonies agreed to a central administrative body. This early attempt to force a union, the brain-child of British Secretary of State for Colonies Henry George, the third Earl Grey, was to attempt to improve economic relations between the colonies.[6] Parkes was initially a supporter of the republican movement,[7] however he moved to being a supporter of federation, even earning himself the name of the “father of federation”.[8] According to another republican of the time Daniel Deniehy, Parkes had too much ‘“Englishmanism” about him’,[9] which led Parkes and his followers to support the federation movement. This ‘Englishmanism’, although appearing foreign from a modern standpoint, was the social norm prior to and beyond the time of federation, when Australians would become the “Britons of the south.”[10] It is this loyalty to Britain and what Britain represented in trade and raw power that gave strong support to the federation movement rather than the independence movements.[11]

The nationalism that was promoted by Edmund Barton and Alfred Deakin in the 1890s was to promote the feeling that “the nation is coming”,[12] this nation being a British outpost in the Asia-Pacific – a sentiment that was supportive of the federation movement to a greater extent than the independence movement. Due to the common country of origin, it was noted that the White Australian colonies shared a single heritage, language and culture[13] - a trait which leant itself to unification. The Australian colonies were divided over basic political ideologies which nearly saw some colonies not join the federation. The most prevalent of these standoffs was between free trade New South Wales and protectionist Victoria. However, despite this disagreement it is important to note that the colonies all shared the same Queen. Alfred Deakin, the man who would eventually become Australia’s second Prime Minister, said at the 1890 Australasian Federation Conference that ‘in this country, we are separated only by imaginary lines ... we are a people one in blood, race, religion and aspiration’.[14] Just two years before Parkes had delivered what became known as the ‘Tenterfield Address’, in which he called on the colonies to 'unite and create a great national government for all Australia'.[15] Much earlier in 1867, Parkes had delivered a similar speech in which he argued that ‘the time has arrived when these colonies should be united by some federal bond of connection.’[16] These speeches would help drive the federation movement, and what both Deakin and Parkes before him spoke of provided a similar result to independence but with a greater tie to the homeland. In light of this during the 1800s republican John Dunmore Lang along with other “radicals” founded The Australian League, which sought freedom and independence for the Australian colonies,[17] and reformist William Charles Wentworth established The Australian Patriotic Association, which pushed for a union of the colonies.[18] These organisations were founded and followed by nationalists,[19] however this nationalism was not for an Australia separate from Britain. The Australian Natives Association (ANA) is a particularly good example of a belief of being Australian but British. The ANA was established in 1871 and in just over a decade limited its membership to solely those Australians who were born in Australia.[20] The ANA quickly became a large organisation[21] and redefined the word “national”, promoting Australian literature, history, the celebration of “Australia Day” to mark the arrival of the British in Australia, and the progression of Australia from the “old world”.[22] This however did not mean that the organisation did not support the Empire. The organisation was instead promoting a respectable place in the Empire for Australia.[23] This shows the common definition of Australians at the time to be British, a part of the British Empire and “more British than the British.” As a result of this definition of nationalism, it can be seen that the federation movement drew strong support from Australians because of its attachment to the British Empire, unlike the proposition of independence. Further evidence can be seen in the celebrations of federation, which had a particularly great ceremony for the swearing in of the first Governor-General, the Queen’s representative in Australia.[24] Regional fears in the psyche of nationalistic Australians during the discussions on an Australian federation meant that there was an even further decline in support for independence.

Pressures on the economy and security of Australia in the decades leading up to federation also drew support away from independence. The military support of an expansive Empire during aggressive territorial acquisitions in the Asia-Pacific in the 1880s and 1890s by rival countries, and the sheer amount of trade with the mother country saw federation being heralded as the best way forward, and independence a danger to Australia. The German attempts to control New Guinea and the French in the New Hebrides accelerated the actions of the colonial governments to unite with a stronger political body under the protection of Britain.[25] Queensland even went so far as to attempt to annex New Guinea before Germany, a move which was condemned and reversed by the British parliament.[26] The push for federation as a method of dealing with issues of inter-colonial importance was accentuated by this concern of isolation, as too was it driven by economic concerns. Earl Grey attempted, during the separation of Victoria from New South Wales, to force on to the colonies a form of central government as a way to combat the already numerous customs duties that had been established by the colonies. Grey’s concerns were that the competing colonies would impede economic development.[27] Economic rivalries had been so great between the colonies in fact that customs houses were established at both ends of the Murray River bridge which, although shared the Queen’s “HM Customs” name, were in place to levy customs duties on the goods of the other colony.[28] There were even some economic fears at the time which delayed federation, with New South Wales fearing, first in the 1880s during the gold rush that Victoria would dominate the commonwealth, and then in the 1890s fearing that the depression in Victoria would bring down the economy of the rest of Australia.[29] Britain was Australia’s largest trading partner, with exports from Australia to Britain in the four years leading up to Federation accounting for 57 per cent of Australia’s exports, and imports from Britain accounting for 63 per cent of total imports.[30] The economy was a great catalyst for the federation movement. The depression of the late 19th century gave cause for the republican, independence pressures to be dropped for the far more practical, basic political action of federation.[31]

The ultimate success of the federation movement was due to the nationalism aroused by such leaders as Deakin and Parkes. This sense of nationalism, not toward to an independent Australia but to a strong Australia as part of the British Empire, was integral as the close of the 20th century drew nearer. The military strength of the Empire could defend Australia from the potential threat of Germany and France in the surrounding islands of the Asia-Pacific. Through federation, the Empire could also continue to be a strong trading partner, willing to buy Australian materials and sell to Australia, and through this was able to support the Australian economy out of the late-1800s economic slump. The movement for independence was slowly side-lined back to being a fringe movement, as it had been prior to its somewhat mainstream uptake in the 1880s, by the sudden uptake of federation as a move of greater importance for all the Australian colonies. The independence movement had its support stripped down by the vastly similar and more nationalistic implications of federation. Federation also gained pace through its support from prominent colonial politicians, including Parkes and Deakin, whose speeches and the roles played by them in the federation campaign were important in directing nationalist sentiments toward the cause for federation.

[1] AW Martin, “Parkes and the 1890 Conference,” in Papers on Parliament #9 (Canberra: Department of the Senate, 1990), page 3. [2] P. Spearritt, D. Walker and G. Bolton, AUS1020: ‘Democracy and Nation’ Semester Two 2010, (Melbourne: National Centre for Australian Studies, 2010), page 6. [3] Ibid, page 6. [4] Bruce Mansfield, ‘The Background to Radical Republicism in New South Wales in the Eighteen Eighties’, Historical Studies, vol 5, no 20, May 1953, 338-348 [5] Radio National, ‘The Commonwealth, Democracy and Nation, Program 2’ [6] John Hirst, The Sentimental Nation (South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2000) pages 45 to 46. [7] Australian Dictionary of Biography Online Edition, “Parkes, Sir Henry (1815 - 1896),” Australian National University, Canberra,, (accessed September 11, 2010). [8] P. Spearritt, D. Walker and G. Bolton, AUS1020: ‘Democracy and Nation’ Semester Two 2010, (Melbourne: National Centre for Australian Studies, 2010), page 11. [9] Australian Dictionary of Biography Online Edition, “Parkes, Sir Henry (1815 - 1896),” Australian National University, Canberra,, (accessed September 11, 2010). [10] P. Spearritt and D.Walker, AUS1010: ‘Out of Empire’ Semester One 2010, (Melbourne: National Centre for Australian Studies, 2010), page 9 [11] Radio National, ‘The Republican Idea, Democracy and Nation, Program 1’ [12] Radio National, ‘The Commonwealth, Democracy and Nation, Program 2’ [13] ibid [14] Australian Government Information Management Office “Federation,” Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Canberra, (accessed September 11, 2010). [15] ibid [16] P. Spearritt, D. Walker and G. Bolton, AUS1020: ‘Democracy and Nation’ Semester Two 2010, (Melbourne: National Centre for Australian Studies, 2010), page 11 [17] The People who made Australia Great, 1st ed. (Sydney: Collins Publishers Australia, 1988), page 146 [18] Ibid, page 279 [19] Ibid, page 279 [20] Radio National, ‘The Commonwealth, Democracy and Nation, Program 2’ [21] Hirst, The Sentimental Nation, page 36 [22] ibid, page 39 [23] Hirst, The Sentimental Nation, page 40 [24] Radio National, ‘Framing the Constitution, Democracy and Nation, Program 3’ [25] Radio National, ‘The Commonwealth, Democracy and Nation, Program 2’ [26] P. Spearritt, D. Walker and G. Bolton, AUS1020: ‘Democracy and Nation’ Semester Two 2010, (Melbourne: National Centre for Australian Studies, 2010), page 11 [27] Hirst, The Sentimental Nation, page 46 [28] ibid, page 45 [29] Radio National, ‘The Commonwealth, Democracy and Nation, Program 2’ [30] P. Spearritt, D. Walker and G. Bolton, AUS1020: ‘Democracy and Nation’ Semester Two 2010, (Melbourne: National Centre for Australian Studies, 2010), page 35 [31] Radio National, ‘The Republican Idea, Democracy and Nation, Program 1’


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