John Howard’s Speech to the Ceremonial Federation Sitting

The Prime Minister, John Howard, has addressed the ceremonial Federation sitting of the Commonwealth Parliament, in the Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne.

The sitting took place 100 years to the day since the first Commonwealth Parliament met. The Prime Minister on that day was Edmund Barton.

  • Listen to Howard’s speech (5m)

Text of Prime Minister John Howard address to the Ceremonial Federation Sitting.

HowardAs Edmund Barton and Alfred Deakin and all the others gathered here a hundred years ago there was no way that they could predict what lay in front of Australia. They would not have foreseen that within fewer than 20 years 60,000 out of a male population of 2.5 million would die in a horrible war. They would not have foreseen the Great Depression. They would not have foreseen the social changes. They would not have seen the determination of later generations to overturn the White Australia policy, regarded by those generations as morally repugnant. They would not have foreseen the technological and fashion changes that were to occur. And indeed if they were to return to our gathering today they would find much that was unfamiliar.

But if they were to move amongst us and talk to us they would find some things that were very familiar. They would find that we were still a federation, and that what they gifted us in the constitutional sense had worked. They would find that some of those fundamental values that helped cement the federation remain. They would find that we were still an egalitarian society. They would find that we were still a nation that sought to give basic national standards for all of our citizens. They would find that we were a nation that pulled together in time of adversity and that we had a great volunteer spirit. and they would hear wonderful stories of how the volunteers did us proud at the Sydney Olympic Games.

They would find as we were in the 19th Century an innovative, can-do society. And they would find that over the last 100 years creating a climate where individuals could strive and achieve and where the family unit was the most cohesive element in our society, had remained true and constant.

And perhaps this commonality of values amidst a sea of change in other areas gives us a clue about the next 100 years. We cannot imagine what will come the way of this nation over the next 100 years. We have no way of knowing. We can of course predict though that the application of the values that have served this country well over the last 100 years are likely to produce better outcomes than otherwise.

We know that we face a world which is increasingly borderless, a globalised world. We know that we face a society where medical science presents us with not only great ethical challenges but also enormous opportunities. We carry, as did the people of the last 100 years, a great responsibility to nurture and strengthen those constant Australian values. Only by preserving egalitarianism, only by preserving a society in which individuals can work hard and achieve, and where the family is honoured as a great national institution can we dare to hope to respond effectively to the challenges of the next 100 years.

The great challenge ahead of the Australian nation is to remain true to those values which Barton and Deakin would have identified amidst a world and a changed environment that would have been beyond their comprehension.

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