In the News

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

 Monday, March 15

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (8.28 pm)—I rise in this parliament today to use the time allotted to me to speak about the myth, the legend and the grievance of Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant and his compatriots who were executed under British courts martial about 108 years ago in the Boer War.

Today in the Petitions Committee of the parliament we had the opportunity to examine these matters. We had witnesses who were direct descendants of the fellows who were executed and we had expert witnesses all speaking in relation to a petition brought before the House recently. I will briefly read the key requests of that petition.

The petitioners are asking the House to make representations to the British Crown and seek a review of the convictions and sentences of Morant, Handcock and Witton, seek a British Crown pardon for Morant, Handcock and Witton with respect to the offences of which they were convicted and seek commutation of the death sentences imposed on Morant and Handcock.

That is a serious set of requests from people who have explored, researched and thoroughly delved into this controversial and often difficult issue for historians and people alike. However, I want to rise tonight to record my sympathy for these petitioners and my sympathy for some form of redress of the events that happened 108 years ago in South Africa.

On 26 February 1902, Morant and Handcock were convicted under a British courts martial system for killing Boer prisoners and consequently sentenced to death. They faced a firing squad on 27 February. George Witton, who was convicted of the same crime, had his death sentence commuted to life in prison. He was released from prison in 1905 without a pardon after the British House of Commons overturned his sentence. Witton subsequently released a controversial book in 1907 entitled Scapegoats of the Empire.

I want to come back to this notion shortly about a pardon and the British House of Commons overturning sentences. The questions I want to raise tonight include: how do we judge historical figures and their actions from our own contemporary values and morality? I believe that with any examination of our history we often have to look beyond our own preconceptions. We have to accept that what we have learned as myths or folklore might not pass a critical examination of the facts. We must also ask whether all of the facts are available to us—do we all know enough to judge a person? Are we indeed judging the conduct of someone according to their own standards or the standards of their time or our time?

I think in an examination of this issue the current debate regarding a pardon for Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant, Peter Handcock and George Witton stirs passion amongst many Australians one way or the other, throughout our community and my community of Mitchell. There is in my view serious and compelling evidence that some form of redress should be given all these years later to those men executed by the British.

In recent times the Australian Parliament has passed a law confirming that no state or territory can provide for the death penalty in this country, which I think is a proper and worthy piece of legislation. I think that we all stand united against the use of the death penalty in civilised society. Certainly in relation to the Defence Act 1903, which was passed into law shortly after this incident with Breaker Morant, the Australian government and the Australian parliament took the view

that no Australian could be executed without reference to the Governor-General and therefore the Prime Minister.

So since this incident there has not been a case of an Australian military service person being executed. The 1903 Defence Act was very important in preventing the deaths of many Australian service personnel in World War I, unlike the many soldiers from other countries, such as Ireland, Canada and indeed the United Kingdom, who were shot and executed for desertion and other matters that have subsequently been the subject of pardons from the British government in recent years.

Without going through all the background of the case itself, there are certainly some conflicts in relation to the facts. Today’s popular image of Breaker Morant is that of a charismatic figure, as portrayed by Edward Woodward in the film of the same name, Breaker Morant—an expert horseman, a soldier of the empire who was caught up in not only a conflict against a ruthless enemy in the Boers but also a conflict of orders and a conflict of morality in warfare. Certainly many people have said that the Boer War was one of the first examples of guerrilla warfare in Western experience.

Indeed, as a young officer in the Army Reserve myself, in the 1/15th Lancers, I know that troopers in my regiment were on their way to and from England and jumped ship and the joined the Boer War, without permission as well, so I certainly have a lot of sympathy for young Australian people in the theatre who were of course struggling with a very difficult war in which guerrilla tactics had become common, in which the Boers had obtained a supremacy over the English over a period of time and in which of course, as in all wars, there was brutality on both sides and much death and conflict.

What stands out about this case and where I think this comes into focus for the Australian parliament and indeed for us as a nation is that without any reference to the Australian government or any Australian legal process, the two men, Morant and Handcock, were executed by the British, without appeal. There has been much contention about the trial and many of the circumstances surrounding the trial. Since the Defence Act 1903, of course that has not been the case and so, looking back at the facts of this case, there are only three ways that pardons can be obtained at military law and they are as the result of the exercise of the royal prerogative of mercy, by statutory pardon and by a term called condonation. The royal prerogative of mercy is of course a power vested in the Queen, and indeed in this petition that has been presented to us there is a request for the exercise of that power to overturn the convictions completely.

Some standards are applied to the granting of pardons. Those standards include that the responsible minister has to be satisfied that the convicted person was morally and technically innocent of the offence and there is no remaining avenue of appeal against conviction, or that the convicted person was morally and technically innocent of the offence and there are exceptional circumstances justifying the grant of the pardon, despite the failure to meet the first ground, taking into account the need to respect the separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary.

Statutory pardons have been more common in the UK parliament. On 18 September 2006, the UK Secretary of State for Defence confirmed the UK government’s plan to seek statutory pardons for service personnel executed for a range of offences during the First World War. This has been the common mechanism to redress foreign powers’ complaints about the treatment of their soldiers by the British in the First World War. Indeed, many were executed by the British, even though there were well-documented cases of shell shock and other legitimate reasons that a person might have sought to leave a battlefield. The British pardoned a number of Irish, Canadian and British personnel.

A statutory pardon does not overturn the original conviction, which I think is important and significant in relation to this petition and this case. The parliament can issue the statutory pardon, but the conviction is not overturned. It will not rewrite the events of 108 years ago, but the stigma and dishonour of the original offence and execution will be removed.

The third avenue for a pardon is that of condonation, which is a military term. There is some argument that it could be applied in this case, as two of the people, Breaker Morant and Handcock, were let out of prison to fight against the Boers while they were on trial. That is what condonation relates to—if the subsequent activities of the person on charges ameliorate the original circumstances, whatever they might be.

It was compelling today to listen to the direct descendants of these men and hear all the different arguments for and against a pardon. I think there is something in this petition and there is something in this legend. All those years ago, these Australians, who were very low level in the military, were in one sense made scapegoats for a broader policy. There is no doubt that activities went on in the Boer War that were undesirable, unpleasant and, by modern standards, unacceptable. But I am certain they were not only performed by lieutenants Morant and Handcock of the Australian colonial forces. I am certain that there were other people who committed those acts and were not prosecuted. I am also certain that the last words of Breaker Morant, ‘Shoot straight, you bastards—don’t make a mess of it,’ will continue to echo across the era, because Great Britain did make a mess of the trial. And the fact that the trial was not conducted properly means there is an avenue for redress of those convictions.

Friday, 12 March 2010

The Federal Member for Mitchell, Alex Hawke, is encouraging parents to have a close look at and provide feedback for the draft National Curriculum.

 

Mr Hawke said the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority had released the draft National Curriculum document covering the areas of English, Mathematics, History and Science.

 

The draft document is now available for public consultation and that input will help shape the final Curriculum, which will standardise the topics and requirements of teaching in all primary and secondary schools across the country.

 

"This is an extremely important document which will affect the ‘what’, the ‘when’, and the ‘how’ millions of our school children are to be taught across Australia," Mr Hawke said.

 

"Everyone concerned about our children’s future should have a look at the proposals and provide real-life feedback."

 

Mr Hawke said that while some aspects of the Curriculum, such as the greater emphasis on achieving practical literacy and numeracy, are welcome improvements there are concerns with the direction the Curriculum drafters chose to take in a number of other areas, such as history and science.

 

"People need to clearly tell those designing the Curriculum what they think our children should be taught," Mr Hawke said.

 

The draft National Curriculum documents are available at http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au and http://www.acara.edu.au/phase_1_-_the_australian_curriculum.html and parents and other members of the community can provide their feedback at http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au until the end of May.

Friday, 12 March 2010

 Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (9:42 AM) —I rise this morning to acknowledge the passing of a former Baulkham Hills Shire mayor and councillor and long-time resident of the Hills district, Peggy Womersley, on 16 January after a long and protracted struggle with illness. Peggy was an outstanding contributor to the growth and development of our district not only through her stint on council and as mayor but also within our local small business community in the Hills.

A pharmacist by profession, Peggy opened a store at the Kingsdene shops on Felton Road, Carlingford, before expanding into much larger premises at Westfield North Rocks. When I was growing up in Carlingford as a youngster, my family and I were frequent visitors to Peggy’s chemist shop, and I can distinctly remember the personal level of care and attention that she delivered to our community. She was a very successful small business woman because of her ability with people. She will be greatly missed throughout the communities of North Rocks and Carlingford, where she served the community with distinction for so many years, and her successful small business enterprises, pharmacies, continue to flourish in those communities.

Peggy, together with her husband, Noel, and children, Jan, Roger and Sue, first moved into Carlingford in 1967 before moving to North Rocks in 1986. She was elected to represent the residents of East Ward and the former D Riding for three terms, from 1987 to 1999. During this time, Peggy held the office of shire president and mayor for three years, in 1991-92, 1992-93 and 1993-94. She later went on to serve as the shire’s deputy mayor for a further three years, in 1996-97, 1997-98 and 1998-99.

In December last year, the Baulkham Hills Shire Council moved to thank and acknowledge Peggy’s fine contribution to our community by naming a local reserve in her honour. I am very happy to say that the local oval near where I grew up, a few hundred metres down the road from my family home, Carlingford’s Kingsdene Oval, is now known as the Peggy Womersley Reserve. This reserve is located just a stone’s throw from her former pharmacy and, indeed, is an appropriate and much welcomed development in our community.

Peggy was a much loved community advocate who was always held in high esteem by the residents of Carlingford and North Rocks. She was at one time a state political candidate after the demise of Tony Packard and, in a field of 25 candidates, she missed out by a single vote. Our state, New South Wales, was the poorer for the lack of her experience in small business and her ability with people. It was a great privilege to attend the thanksgiving service held in honour of her diverse and varied life on 22 January. At the service donations were made to the Peggy Womersley Westmead Medical Research Foundation, raising significant funds for research.

Today I want to record that Peggy was a great woman and an outstanding contributor to the Hills community. She will be sadly missed by her family and those who had the honour of working with her, but her legacy will continue, her small businesses will continue to flourish and her family are making a great contribution to the Hills community.

Friday, 12 March 2010

 Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (11:56 AM) —I rise today to speak on the important topics of lymphoedema and funding for lymphoedema in Australia. I want to pay tribute to the Castle Hill Country Women’s Association, who raised this vital issue in two motions in their community group at a recent meeting. The first motion read:

That the CWA of NSW urges the state and federal governments to establish treatment centres for lymphoedema, with a central register of approved clinicians.

And the second motion read:

That the CWA of NSW urges the state and federal governments to cover the cost of prescribed compression garments necessary in the effective treatment of lymphoedema.

This comes on the eve of the 2010 Australasian Lymphology Association conference, which is being held at the Sebel Albert Park in Melbourne from 27 to 29 May. The theme for this year is ‘Reflections of the Past, Inspirations for the Future’.

Lymphoedema is the term given to swelling as a result of malfunction of the lymphatic system. It can be congenital—primary lymphoedema—or secondary lymphoedema, which results from damage to the system, such as trauma, but it more often results from surgery for cancer or melanoma. In recent times it has become more common. With an increase in the number of obese people or of people with weight-related problems, there is evidence of increasing numbers of diagnoses of lymphoedema.

One of the important features of the motions that the Castle Hill Country Women’s Association has passed is that they have some therapists and people involved in the treatment of this area who have some very direct suggestions that can help government with their funding. I note that the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, when he was the health minister in the previous government was one of those who recognised this challenge and provided funding of half a million dollars to the National Breast Cancer Centre for initiatives to help patients affected by lymphoedema after treatment. In a press release dated 15 April 2007 he noted that the Australian government was providing this half a million dollars because:

At present, there are no lymphoedema guides in Australia for either the public or health professionals.

That is one of the consistent themes that I hear in relation to this topic: that there needs to be an improvement in the awareness of this issue generally and, indeed, the attention given to it. So the Leader of the Opposition, as then Minister for Health certainly saw ahead on this particularly important issue.

The Castle Hill Country Women’s Association is concerned about two issues associated with lymphoedema. The first is the cost of the garments used in the ongoing management of people suffering from lymphoedema. The second is the need for designated, trained therapists and, potentially, what they term as dedicated lymphoedema treatment areas in our hospital system. This is of quite serious concern considering that there could be an extra 38,000 people being diagnosed with cancer each year, of whom at least 8,000 are expected to develop lymphoedema.

As to the cost of treating this condition, the garments that individuals are required to wear need to be made to measure—they cannot be factory made or simply one-size-fits-all. For example it was put to me that one made-to-measure garment with two full legs would cost $712. That could be very significant for people already in difficult circumstances. The cost of treatment is not as great as that for other things, but it is a significant impediment to a person’s ongoing healthcare management and there is little or no attention paid to this serious consideration.

There is also a push—which I support, and which is part of the motions put forward by the Castle Hill Country Women’s Association—for lymphoedema to be regarded as an illness in its own right and managed as such, and I accept that that is something that should be looked at seriously. The suggestion that there be dedicated treatment areas within our hospitals has a lot of merit as well. I think if we are seeking to make improvements to the management of ongoing issues related to cancer treatment, then this is an area that could well benefit from attention from state and federal governments.

A great deal of money has been allocated to researching this illness but, from the advice that has been provided to me, the best-practice guidelines that have resulted from the research are not being followed. I think it is important that treatment centres are established, or looked at by government as an option, for early diagnosis and therapeutic management of this condition. I want to record my thanks to the Castle Hill Country Women’s Association for these wonderful motions and to record my support for lymphoedema being diagnosed as an illness.

Friday, 12 March 2010

 Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (6:32 PM) —I rise tonight to speak on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Close of Rolls and Other Measures) Bill 2010. I want to start by rejecting many of the comments of the member for Reid in his typically bleak fashion. He sought to paint a picture of the electoral roll and the agenda of the coalition in relation to the measures proposed by the government. In that bleak assessment perhaps the main criticism I would have of the member for Reid and his arguments was that he suggested that somehow our opposition to many of these changes, particularly the voter identification and other scheduled changes proposed in the bill, was that we were seeking to disenfranchise people, or not have a group of people vote. Of course, the significant problem with the member for Reid’s contention in this regard and with the Labor Party’s contention in this regard is that the argument that more voters were disenfranchised under the coalition’s changes to voter identification in the seven-day grace period is erroneous. The facts tell a different story.

In 2004, under the previous system where there was a seven-day grace period, there were 169,000 people who missed out on the enrolment deadline. But, of course, in 2007, at the last election under the coalition’s changed three-day grace period, there were only 100,000 people who missed out. These are not estimates from us; these are the AEC’s figures. So this argument that somehow this is an attempt to disenfranchise a body of people is of course erroneous and the member for Reid knows it.

The changes proposed by the government today seek to reinstate the seven-day grace period, and this is an argument that I oppose, because the integrity of the electoral roll is something that is paramount to the functioning of our democracy. It is the member for Reid’s assessment that everything is fine and rosy with the electoral roll—that it is fine to contend in this parliament that there is no need to be rigorous in our ongoing examination of the roll and of the system that we have of voting in Australia and that, somehow, just by encouraging everybody to participate, participate, participate, we have a benevolent democracy where everything will end up just fine. Of course, the reality is very different. That is, we do have to have a strong system in place. We have to have a system of ensuring that the right people are casting votes in the right way and that people do not attempt to manipulate our electoral system. We do have examples of people attempting to manipulate the electoral system in recent history. Perhaps you should not take it from me—I know the member for Reid and I have a history in relation to politics which is different—but noted communist author Frank Hardy wrote a book called The Stolen Election: Australia 1987. Maybe the member for Reid would care to read what he had to say about the 1987 election and the potential for manipulation in that election. Frank Hardy is the famous author of Power without Glory. In that work he suggests that there is a propensity in Australia for people to attempt to manipulate the electoral system at various selections. When you consider many of the results in marginal seats or seats where elections are very tight and come down to a handful of votes one way or another, I think it is proper that the parliament ought to remove any opportunities for fraud and seek to constantly improve the system we have in place to ensure that the opportunity for fraud is minimised.

I will oppose schedule 2 and the amendment relating to the evidence of identity for provisional votes. The previous government, in line with long-standing policy, moved to prevent fraudulent voting and impersonations by requiring that people who claim a provisional vote in an election produce evidence of their true identity and enrolled address either on polling day or in the week following polling day. I think that is a proper mechanism. People who live at a location for 21 days are, by law, required to enrol and, if they do not, they are breaking the law. But, as we know, the reality is that many people in our community choose not to enrol within that 21-day period. It is true that they may not be aware of any changes to boundaries which could affect the electorate in which they now reside. However, people are aware of the fact that they have changed address, so they are making a choice in relation to that—that is, not to re-enrol or not to be on the electoral roll—they simply forget or there are other reasons for them not to re-enrol.

However, effectively the changes that are being proposed in schedule 2 mean that there is no consequence for breaching the Electoral Act. The benefits of correctly enrolling are reduced to nothing and there is no disincentive for any person who fails to correctly enrol. That leads to a situation where the whole basis for the continuous roll update, which was something brought in by the coalition in 1999, is severely undermined.

Any proposal to weaken the rules in relation to the identification requirements for provisional voters should be opposed. It should be opposed because it gives the impression that if you do not obey the law and seek to put yourself on the roll, which all responsible citizens should do, somehow you should be rewarded for not maintaining correct enrolment for a substantial period of time. That is a very important argument. The integrity of the roll does matter. While we have a compulsory voting system we should discourage people from choosing not to be on the electoral roll.

I note the member for Reid challenged the coalition, saying that our opposition to the bill is really part of some sort of secret agenda of ours to bring in voluntary voting, which I find a weak argument in relation to this legislation. I can publicly put on the record that I do have a view that voluntary voting is something that we should look at as a nation. We ought to have a free society where people are allowed to choose whether or not they want to vote. Currently in Australia we only compel people to attend a ballot box and mark off their name on election day. There is no such thing as forced voting. You cannot force a person to vote. We simply force attendance at polling booths, and many people register their votes in an informal way or take another way of not voting. We simply force attendance, and some people suggest that is a good thing. I do not violently object to that system; however, if we are continually to push to have a freer society, voluntary voting is a mechanism we should look at. Indeed, looking at the United Kingdom and the United States, there are many good arguments for voluntary voting. However, that is not the agenda of the coalition today and it certainly is not the topic we are presented with in the legislation before us.

Many of the proposals here weaken the integrity of the Electoral Act. The member for Reid said that he was not aware of any examples or any matters which caused him to be concerned about our current electoral system, which I again find to be an unusual contention. The HS Chapman Society was set up in 1996, meets regularly in Sydney and is a society with which I have had something to do. Other members of this place quite regularly have interaction with the HS Chapman Society. That society was purely set up to examine and look at our electoral system. Included in their objectives are:

  • To promote public understanding of the … electoral systems
  • To monitor the operation of the Australian electoral system and … recommend changes to the law and practice of elections
  • To compare the Australian … systems with those of other democratic countries

That is a fine body of objectives for any organisation. It is good to see that we have private citizens taking an interest in the electoral roll and the operation of our electoral system who are prepared to meet in their own time, examine proposals for improvements and make recommendations. Indeed, along the way they have certainly highlighted a number of cases where there have been concerns with the roll. The member for Reid said there have only been 71 instances of people multiple voting or conducting voting fraud. Considering that many of these elections have very close results, I think that is a reason why we should have strong electoral provisions and should constantly look at ways to improve them.

Identification is an important issue. I still find it a very odd situation that if you go to the bank you are required to have 100 points of ID, if you want a passport you have to prove your identity and if you want to hire a video at a video store you have to prove your identity with a licence, but there is no real identification required at a polling booth on election day. However, that is a different matter.

There are some amendments within this legislation that we can support, and the coalition has provided its support for schedules 3, 4 and 5. In relation to the proposed Electoral Act provision that a political party cannot nominate multiple candidates, that is a valid and worthy amendment to the act. It has grown out of recent examples, particularly in the Bradfield by-election, where a political party sought to, I think, deliberately manipulate the electoral process by nominating multiple candidates. The Christian Democratic Party nominated nine candidates for the Bradfield by-election. There has been plenty of speculation about the motives behind that, but it is the case that the AEC records over many elections and many years that the more candidates you have the higher the informal rate. I note from the member for Bradfield’s contribution earlier in this debate that there was an unusually high rate of informal voting in the Bradfield by-election, which should be of great concern to all members in this place. So it is easy for us to support such an amendment. A political party ought not to deliberately seek to manipulate the electoral system in that fashion. Therefore, that is a good amendment.

Schedules 3 and 4 relate to provisional voters and are certainly an improvement in administration for the AEC. Provisional voters certainly caused a lot of difficulty for the AEC and scrutineers alike in terms of the time it took for administrative checking in the weeks following polling day. The proposal to treat them as ordinary voters is a worthy one and something that we support.

The bill before us has some worthy provisions. However, schedules 1 and 2, as they relate to particularly the close of the rolls but also the changes to identification for provisional voters, are changes that I cannot support. The electoral roll is an enormously important mechanism and the administration of it is something that we should constantly be seeking to tighten. The government’s proposals certainly weaken the administration of the roll. As we saw in 2004 and 2007, the coalition’s tightening of the three-day and seven-day periods was not of any impact upon the number of people that missed out on voting; in fact it was reduced. I am happy to support schedules 3, 4 and 5, noting the great concerns that the coalition has with the weakening of the electoral roll.

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