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Pro-business governments reversing Eureka Stockade achievement

Michael Mullins |  02 December 2012

Eureka StockadeToday is the 158th anniversary of the Eureka Stockade rebellion, in which around 500 miners rose against British colonial authority on the goldfields at Ballarat. It is often described as the birth of Australian democracy and the 'fair go'.

Peter Fitzsimons, who revisits the event in his new book The Unfinished Revolution, explains the cause as resentment towards the government, which was granting wealthy squatters use of large tracts of land for a pittance — 3000 acres for £10 — while the often dirt poor miners were having to pay 30 shillings to lease their 64 square feet mining plots. 

The squatters controlled the government and the miners had no influence. The former built large pastoral empires and became very wealthy. In 1839, a group got together to establish the Melbourne Club, which still exists as a meeting place for Australia's richest and most powerful men. Like James Packer. 

Packer has successfully lobbied the NSW Government to back his proposal for a $1 billion casino and hotel complex at Barangaroo, on the edge of Sydney Harbour, with no competitive tender. It fits the Government's Unsolicited Proposals policy, and has bipartisan support. 

Packer responded: 'I'm incredibly grateful to the Labor Party for not playing party politics and I'm incredibly grateful to Premier O'Farrell and the Liberal Party for doing what it has done.' He also has wide support from other influential politicians and business people who possibly believe they can benefit from his investment's boost to the tourism sector.

But other voices including commentator Mike Carlton and former premier Kristina Keneally are concerned that ordinary people have been cut out. Carlton said: 'Barangaroo is public space, owned by the people of this state, who are entitled to the final say in what happens there. Yet before a sod has been turned, the normal checks and balances have been tossed overboard.'

The NSW Government website says the Unsolicited Proposals policy's 'key objective is to provide consistency and certainty to private sector participants'. Private sector investment is an easy option for governments around the country that face the challenge of having to catch up on decades of underinvestment in public infrastructure. 

Packer is funding much of the transformation of the industrial wasteland into a thriving modern urban hub. But in the end, it will belong to him and not the people, and its management will be geared towards increasing his personal wealth and influence, and not the common good. It amounts to a reversal of the enfranchisement of the people which was the achievement of the Eureka Stockade. 

Former Victorian premier Steve Bracks called Eureka 'a catalyst for the rapid evolution of democratic government in this country' and 'a national symbol of the right of the people to have a say in how they are governed'.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.




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Submitted comments

Unfortunately these days, the "common good" is becoming less and less common, and less and less good. One wonders whether politicians even understand the term, and its long history of developments as a concept and as a principle for guiding moral decison -making. Perhaps we should make available, freely, to every politician a copy of the Australian Bishops' booklet "A Commonwealth for a Common Good", and then invite the pollies to a series of round-table discussions in which the essence of the text is applied to a raft of contemporary issues affecting Australia. At least Julia and Tony and their parties, would have something in common, then!

Garry 03 December 2012

Like many others, I am appalled that James Packer has been successful in his bid to turn Barangaroo into a gambling mecca. Sydney Harbour and foreshores define Sydney - and do we really want the potential of Barangaroo to be defined as a place only for the wealthy gamblers. Horrific choice O'Farrell government!

Pam 03 December 2012

I suppose the ideal government would be pro-business and pro-worker and have a long term goal of a more equitable distribution of wealth within the community. In the meantime democratic governments, like Australia's and NSW's, take baby steps, sometimes falling into the arms of business, sometimes being coaxed along by labour, sometimes even falling over and going backwards. Better than a bloody revolution. In several respects I think the Eureka Stockade's "Unfinished Revolution" has produced a more equitable society than the USA, with its War of Independence and France with the French Revolution, and definitely more equitable than the hypocritically named People's Republic of China. Thankfully we can still criticise and vote out our Governments, without fear of imprisonment or having to spend billions of dollars to elect a new President.

Uncle Pat 03 December 2012

While everyone is busy tut-tutting at the ALP of Suffolk Street and their pals the Obeid family, O'Farrell is hoping no one will notice the corruption of processes outlined here. Politicians in NSW have a long and distinguihed history of rorting, why should we believe it will end, ever, never mind soon? That harbour side area is a horrible mess now, full of crass shopping centres and trams that go nowhere, with a few gems in between it must be said but a casino offers nothing to anyone except the owners. Let Packer run a casino cruise ship outside Australian waters instead. Or, do what should be done for all situations and create a tax regime that punishes useless investments and not socially useful ones. The super-profits tax idea should apply to more than miners but hand in hand we need an end to tax havens and tax break hidey-holes.

janice wallace 03 December 2012

In the spirit of the Eureka Stockade diggers, let's start a campaign to bleed the future casino dry. Let's all learn how to win at blackjack by card counting, and train others in this useful skill. Like the group of American Christians with a mission from God to bleed American casinos dry - if there are enough of us, I'm sure we can put the money to a good cause.

AURELIUS 03 December 2012

Uncle Pat, since it sems to be generally agreed that governments in NSW are the epicentre of organised crime in that state, it hardly matters which gang is in power at any particular time does it? It seems that Australia suffers not so much from having an 'equitable society' so much as a fast asleep punterville, too self absorbed to bother with mere politics beyond moaning about governments.
If we voted O'Farrell out, who would we get?, the ALP, and back to Crime Central again. That's not a real choice, and it still costs us billions with all the kickbacks that go to lobbying for the outcomes business wants at our expense. Better than China though? Indeed.

janice wallace 03 December 2012

I have a great deal of sympathy with Michael's proposition, but I find it more than ironical that he should complain that NSW governments of both political persuasions are denying 'the right of the people to have a say in how they are governed' when his own Church denies its own members any say at all in the governance of their Church. Wasn't there something I remember about motes in others' eyes and logs in one's own?

Ginger Meggs 03 December 2012

Well said, Ginger Meggs. Your biblical allusion reminds me that once upon a time the Jesuits praised and practised 'blind obedience' within their own ranks and some of the Jesuit elite took a special vow of obedience to the Pope. Judging by the activities of the Jesuits not only in Australia but also throughout the world where they are at the forefront in the struggle for justice and peace they have either removed the plank that caused 'blind obedience' or they have recognised the priority of the individual conscience. On the other hand they may have been ordered to do what they are doing and so it is their superiors and the Pope who have removed the planks from their own eyes and have given them carte blanche.

Uncle Pat 03 December 2012

Believe it or not, Uncle Pat, I do have a soft spot for the Jesuits, particularly for the way that they are prepared to question the continuing relevancies of ancient orthodoxies, to think outside the square, to push the boundaries on investigation, and to insist on reasoned discourse. However, I see no evidence of any large scale plank-removal emanating from the Vatican.

Ginger Meggs 04 December 2012

Blind Freddy can see the creature that the Labour Party has morphed into bears verry little resemblance to that which made our Country the " lucky " Country of yesteryore !! Those " Faceless Men"!! Perhaps why people like Bob Katter are driven to push alternative Australian Parties !! Bring on the next revolution !!

Steve Beutel 07 December 2012

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