Permit me to share with my friends at The AIMN some thoughts I had on recent events, from public sources such as the ABC and SBS. It is now impossible to rely on printed press in this country, one being in the hands of an American: the well-defined Catholic Boys Daily and the others being ‘independent always’ but as a branch of a major Australian commercial free-to-air television network.
As SBS put it: “Australia’s 46th parliament finds its feet.” That quaint title refers to the opening of the Australia Parliament on 2 July: a “lot of smoke but little roast” you could very well say.
Six weeks after Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government claimed an election victory, the nation’s 151 members of the House of Representatives and 42 of the country’s 76 Senators would be sworn in, or affirmed, at Parliament House.
The Australian government’s new day had begun with parliamentarians from across the political spectrum at church, where the Reverend Dr Mark Short, elected in November 2018 as the eleventh Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn, one is informed, “preached a sermon at an ecumenical service to mark the opening of the 46th Parliament.”
The bishop told the flock that in the “high calling” to serve Australia and its people, they could be assured of his prayers and the prayers of the churches of Australia.
One could object to such display of good, old-fashioned Christian belonging, having in mind the much vaunted secularity of Australia, the presence of a large minority which professes no religion (almost 30 per cent), and of other religions adhered to by small groups of Australians which cultivate different temples, mosques and synagogues. The old habits, language, tradition, preconceptions – the things and attitudes which embarrass people who mind their business and regard a form of religion a strictly personal affair between oneself and a divinity – come back on such occasions and point out the ‘kill-joys’. There is where multiculturalism translates in nothing more than food, flags and fashion, and where the bullies have a field in solemnly proclaiming that Australia is a place of Judeo-Christian assertion. Folklore was added by the presence of photographers, busy to record the different motions and expressions of the participants in the ‘ecumenical service’.
On the other hand, some gaseous propaganda is occasionally made of the presence in Parliament of some Jews and some Muslims. And that purely personal circumstance is invoked as a sign of institutional tolerance; why, occasionally the word ‘respect’ is pulled out as proof. That is it.
2 July was a day of ceremonial fanfare opened with the customary propitiatory ‘smoking’ by a group of Indigenous People. What that meant is not really quite clear. Both the Her Majesty Loyal Prime Minister, Mr Morrison and the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, Mr Albanese made their contribution by sharing of the smoke with those present. I am not sure that they knew precisely what they were doing, but they did it with some aplomb and good humour; they are essential when engaging a well-meaning ‘Albo’ and man of iron-like commitment such as Scomo. Actually, a friend of mine who is conversant with the Yiddish language tells me that a better word would fit Mr Morrison. The word is Shmo – almost similar sound with different spellings and meanings, such as shmoo, schmo, schomo, shmuck, schmuck and, by extension, dork, jerk. One could easily settle for Shmo. Yet, every time I see him, I cannot help but think of a hustler, a prosperity theology pushy salesman.
After the smoke, Victorian MP Tony Smith made federal parliamentary history by being chosen for a third term unopposed as Speaker – the duel referee for the House of Representatives.
In wishing him well, Mr Morrison reminded politicians that it is not themselves they should be focused on over the next three years. “We all know that our focus should not be on the people who are inside this building, but, indeed, to serve those who are outside this building, who will always remain our focus,” he said.
Liberal Victorian Senator Scott Ryan was also returned as Senate President.
All these ceremonies, which appear routine and certainly relatively modern, were preceded by one more formal and more solemn – at least in the intention of the participants.
In a triumph of pomp, the Representatives were allowed to join the Senators in the Senate Chamber, for the purpose of listening to the recently appointed Governor-General’s speech.
This is no ordinary walk, as one would have in a modern country.
The performance was left to the Usher of the Black Rod. My guess is that ordinary Australians would not know what that is about and, most likely, would associate the performer and the function with some form of punishment inflicted by a special officer and reserved to reach persons worthy of special consideration in punishment: high placed members of society, officers of a specially high rank, public officers formerly of high position who rendered themselves responsible for blotting the page of Her Majesty’s peace, and good administration.
Actually, the position of the Usher of the Black Rod designates him to the function of maintaining order in what is commonly referred as the upper house of parliament – in Australia, the Senate. The position dates back from the fourteenth century in England, when there was no Great Britain – not even Britain – just England.
Historically, the Usher of the Black Rod was an officer in an order of knights called the Most Noble Order of the Garter and was appointed to serve the king in what is now the British House of Lords. Membership in that august club is granted by appointment or else by heredity or official function. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster. Officially, the present full name of the house is ‘the Right Honourable the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.’
The name Usher of the Black Rod comes from the staff of office which was used to arrest or expel anyone who offended the Order.
So that there be no confusion, one is talking of the period between 1301 and 1399 ce. It was a period of great human suffering as the Black Death crept its way across Europe. It decimated the population of England, which in turn left the survivors in a new world of misery. It was a time during which the king ruled by divine right. In other words, people believed that God had chosen him to be king; consequently, rebellion against him was not only a crime but also a sin.
I am not quite sure how Senator Penny Wong, who came from an Australian woman and a Malaysian of Chinese origin, who happens to be of open unconventional view and lifestyle, would react to such musty antecedent.
The Usher of the Black Rod is charged with keeping order in the Senate. He heads a Senate Department office which provides support services to the Senate, Senate committees and senators. He also undertakes clerking duties in the Senate Chamber.
The attendant staff in the Senate and the galleries work under the direction of the Usher of the Black Rod. A modern feature of this security work is to provide advice to the President and senators on managing demonstrations and the physical security of the building.
A central figure at openings of Parliament, the Usher of the Black Rod announces the arrival of the Governor-General and then escorts the Governor-General and the official party into the Senate Chamber. The Governor-General then directs the Usher of the Black Rod to request the members of the House of Representatives to attend in the Senate chamber. (Senate Brief No. 16 – February 2019, Usher of the Black Rod).
Formerly the New South Wales governor, David John Hurley was sworn in by Chief Justice Susan Kiefel as Australia’s 27th Governor-General at Parliament House on 1 July 2019. He pledged his loyalty first the Queen Elizabeth II, and then turned to a loyalty oath to the Australian people.
General David John Hurley, A.C., D.S.C., F.T.S.E. (born in 1953) is a former senior officer in the Australian Army and the 27th Governor-General of Australia. General Hurley had a 42-year military career.
I might be forgiven for remembering the famous quote by Georges Benjamin Clemenceau, (1841–1929), a distinguished French statesman who led the nation in the first world war. A leader of the Radical Party, he played a central role in politics during the Third Republic. Clemenceau served as the Prime Minister of France from 1906 to 1909, and again from 1917 to 1920.
He remains seared in my memory for saying: “La guerre! C’est une chose trop grave pour la confier à des militaries.” – liberally translated as: war is too important a matter to be left to the military. (J. Hampden Jackson, Clemenceau and the Third Republic, Collier Books, New York 1962, at 228).
In a speech, which is traditionally prepared by the Prime Minister and represents the political position of the government, the new Governor-General acknowledged that his most important role is to protect the integrity of Australian democracy. Whether the Prime Minister/Governor-General was referring to the recent revelation that Mr. Morrison predecessor, Liberal (on va dire) Malcolm Turnbull, had risked a constitutional crisis in an attempt to order to save his leadership is not known – but highly suspected.
At the beginning of his address to Parliament, Governor-General Hurley paid his respects to the local Indigenous community, delivering his words in the Senate Chamber in the language of the Ngunnawal people – “Dhawra nguna dhawra Ngunawal Yanggu gulanyin ngalawiri, dhunayi, Ngunawal dhawra. Wanggarralijinyin mariny balan bugarabang.” Translation please for the Οι πολλοί, the hoi polloi.
His office relied on help from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and Ngunnawal elder Tyronne Bell to prepare the opening words of the address. Such tribute has now become de rigeur, if for no other reason that it costs nothing and impresses the plebe.
Platitudes followed. “The opening of a new parliament marks a new chapter in our country’s history,” he said. He warned that politicians had the opportunity to come together to tackle important issues with a fresh outlook. And explained that: “Democracy is a robust undertaking, and disagreement is a fundamental part of that contest of ideas.” More precisely: “As the prime minister has often noted, the challenge of modern democracies is not to disagree less, but to disagree better.”
Governor-General Hurley said that his most important role was “to ensure the strength of our democracy is maintained.” And he added: “The strength of this country is our democracy that brings stability peace and certainty to all of us. That is worth protecting. That shapes us.”
“To make our democracy work, to serve the people, to act as they expect us to act and put their interests and those of the nation first, that is what we are called to do in service. That is what I am called to do and [his wife] Linda and I will give our utmost to do it.”
The speech went on to outline the government’s agenda, headlined by a $158 billion income tax cuts package to be debated later in the week.
In a speech to welcome the new Governor-General, Prime Minister Morrison had said that the role was “central to the stability of our system of democratic government.” If one remembers that Morrison put his arm across Turnbull to declare him “his Prime Minister” exactly at the time while he was conspiring to replace him, one may get an idea of the sense of Morrison’s appreciation of loyalty and respect for “our system of democratic government.”
He then added: “The office of governor-general has provided the stability in spite of politics for more than a century.” The failed but canny marketeer had obviously and conveniently forgotten The Royal Ambush of 11 November 1975.
In an atmosphere of apparent bonhomie, Mr Morrison and Mr Albanese had shaken hands, posed for a happy snap and shared what appeared to be a friendly chat before taking their seats for a welcome-to-country ceremony.
Several Indigenous Representatives and Senators – including Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt – watched from the front row as Ngunnawal elder Tina Brown led the welcome.
She stressed the need for the nation’s policymakers to get things done.
“Our nation needs to create solutions, drawing on the wisdom of the ancient Australia and the wisdom of the modern Australia,” Aunty Tina said.
Mr Morrison and Mr Albanese acknowledged that such a welcome has not always occurred – an obvious re-statement of the condition of the early and dispossessed inhabitants.
Once again, the government pledged to find a consensus on ‘constitutional recognition’ of Indigenous People and re-committed to closing the gap on health, education and employment. ‘Recognition’ is the latest nom for the swindle of Indigenous People which has been around from the beginning of the past forty-four years of ‘revanchist’, corporative, ‘ample-tent liberal’ – but in fact reactionary, neo-liberal and now ATM.
On his part, Mr Albanese, who is for ‘constitutional recognition’, urged Mr Morrison to support an Indigenous ‘Voice to Parliament’, as suggested and promptly rejected by the Turnbull Government which had orchestrated the gathering of a ‘Statement from the Heart’ released by Indigenous People on 26 May 2017.
It may be desirable to recall the process which led to that Statement.
The 16-member Referendum Council had been jointly appointed by then Prime Minister Turnbull, and then Leader of the Opposition, Shorten on 7 December 2015. The Council was to advise the government on steps towards a referendum to recognise Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution. Incidentally, there is little talk now-a-days about the Torres trait Islanders. The Council was made up of Indigenous and non-indigenous community leaders and co-chaired by Patrick Dodson, and Mark Leibler A.C. Patrick Dodson resigned from the Council on 2 March 2016 after being endorsed by the Australian Labor Party for a vacant Western Australian Senate seat. He was replaced by serving Council member Pat Anderson A.O.
Over a six-month period, the Council travelled to 12 different locations around Australia and met with over 1,200 Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander representatives. The meetings resulted in the first consensus of all Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander People on constitutional recognition: The Statement.
Council member Megan Davis gave the first public reading of the Statement at the conclusion of the 2017 First Nations National Constitutional Convention at Uluru. The Convention was adopted by the 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates.
Continued this afternoon.
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