When the British came to Australia, they did not find a country in which there was anything recognizable as a government. They had in other parts of the non-European world, but not in Australia.
To say that is to denigrate neither the Aboriginal history of this continent nor the Aboriginal people. But modern Australia began with the settlement, which had both harsh and good consequences for the indigenous people. Some form of European settlement was inevitable, and the fact that the acquisition was British was, on all historical evidence and comparisons with other places, preferable.
...the rule of law...
Australia has been fortunate in the calibre of so many of those involved in the government of the early colonial establishments. It is worth mentioning Lord Sydney, whom too many glibly dismiss as being of no consequence. He had taken a decision which would have a fundamental effect on the colony. Instead of just establishing it as a military prison, he provided for a civil administration, with courts of law.
The rule of law came to Australia from the founding of the colony in 1788.
Lord Sydney’s decision reflected very much the views of the first Governor, Captain, later Admiral Arthur Phillip who wrote, before leaving England: "In a new country there will be no slavery and hence no slaves.”
Phillip also ordered that Aborigines be treated well, and indicated that the murder of an Aborigine would be punished by hanging.
It is good that there seems to be some attempt to recognize the contribution of our first Australian Governor.
A recent example was an important lecture, enhanced by a video presentation, given by a former UK High Commissioner, Sir Roger Carrick at a function at the American American Club organized by Mr. Richard Nott, the President of the NSW Branch of the Australia-Britain Society on 6 March 2007.
The vote of thanks was appropriately moved by Her Excellency, the 37th Governor of New South Wales, Professor Marie Bashir. Her Excellency offered the professional opinion, based on an assessment of his life, that Admiral Phillip’s death was consistent with a stroke, and certainly not suicide
...not a gulag...
The noted historian, Keith Windschuttle has played a leading role in reminding historians of their need to observe certain elementary standards in their research.
Above all he has demonstrated the need for painstaking attention to the best evidence before conclusions can be drawn, rather than assuming some conclusion because it is consistent with some fashionable ideology.
In an essay on the subject of our early leaders was published in the April 2007 edition of Quadrant he says that many of Australia's early colonial leaders were human rights activists “ahead of their time.”
An extract was published in The Australian on 24 March, 2007. And in a featured column on the same page, which is not in the web but which may be in the Quadrant essay, Dr. Windschuttle wrote:
“The idea that slavery was an affront to humanity that had no place in a free land was part of the original definition of what it meant to be an Australian. “Unfortunately, in today's academic climate…very few academic historians discuss these issues… “Moreover, although NSW founder Arthur Phillip's original anti-slavery declaration was once well known to earlier generations of students, historians today rarely mention it.”
According to a report in the West Australian of 1 August, 2007, Mr. Malcolm Turnbull, the then Environment and Water Resources Minister said: “It is hard to believe ... in our prosperous country, that we were once a gulag, a gulag of the southern seas, a hell on earth."
Mr Turnbull was announcing that eight convict sites on the National Heritage List would form part of a bid for world heritage recognition of Australia’s convict past. It is possible that Mr. Turnbull has come to the entirely mistaken conclusion that the colony was a gulag from his republican uncle, Robert Hughes.
To speak then of the colony as a gulag, as republican Robert Hughes does, is completely wrong. The Soviet Gulags were the most brutal lawless concentration camps for political prisoners.
Even under the broadest definition, few convicts sent to Australia could be called political prisoners. More importantly, the British brought the rule of law to Australia from the very foundation of the colony in 1788.
The Governor, Captain Phillip, came with a Charter of Justice, which unlike the provisions of the Soviet Constitution, was actually applied.
To say Australia was a gulag is wrong, unfair to both Sydney and Phillip, and misleading to student sof our history. Just consider one example. A civil action very early in the life of the colony was brought by convicts against a ship captain for theft. The captain was defended on the ground that at common law felons could not sue.
The court required the captain prove that the complainants were indeed felons. This he could not, because the records were in England. The action was allowed to proceed.
Can Mr. Hughes or Mr. Turnbull give us a similar example of litigation by prisoners in a Soviet or Nazi gulag, particularly one where the Soviet or Nazi judges upheld the prisoners’ assertions? Of course they can’t. The penal colony of New South Wales was one of the most successful experiments in criminal rehabilitation the world has ever seen.
The rate of recidivism, or return to crime, was extraordinarily low, as far as we can tell. The slander on Phillip and the British that New South Wales can be equated with a Soviet or Nazi gulag should be withdrawn before it is taught in the schools - if it is not already being presented as the truth.
...the pillars of our nation...
The British brought with them four of the six pillars of our nation. These were our national language, English, the rule of law,our Judeo-Christian values and our oldest instiution, which provides leadership beyond politics, the Crown.
All were Australianised and made ours. To them were added the other pillars of our nation.
One was a gift of the British, self government under the Westminster system.
The final pillar, while given legal effect by the British, was our own. This was our indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown and under the Constitution.
This was designed by Australians, in Australia and approved by the Australian people.