Journal: 24 May 1999

Not much time to recover from the bicycling trip since we were off to Scone in the northern Hunter Valley this week.

A group from the Inland Revenue were in town in the early part of the week, and I gave them and their counterparts lunch. A well-timed visit since tax reform is top of the political agenda in Canberra at the moment, with the Government struggling to get the GST and associated tax changes throughout the Senate.

Then off on Wednesday to Sydney where I was speaking at a citizenship ceremony in Woolara. A fascinating experience, with nearly 30 people from every part of the world taking out Australian citizenship. We don't have anything comparable in the UK so far as I know--perhaps we should. After they had pledges allegiance to Australia, each new citizen in turn was invited to come and receive a certificate from the Mayor. This year marked the 50th anniversary of Australian citizenship: before 1949 all Australians were British citizens. Since then, there have been over 5 million new immigrants and the Australian population has grown from 7 million to over 18 million. That has laid the basis for Australia's multiculturalism, though the number of Australians with British ancestry is still substantial.

Wednesday also saw the announcement in London that Andrew Motion is the new Poet Laureate--when he was in Sydney at the Writers Festival. Sadly I couldn't get to any of the events he was speaking at.

Then off to Scone, where it was Horse Week--it is a major centre for studs and has a delightful country race-track. Lots of social events and a fun day's racing, where I presented one of the trophies--and Katie picked the winners of three races in succession. We missed the big yearling sale--which was perhaps just as well as Katie was enthusiastic about bidding for several of the colts we saw when we saw round the sale yard. The horse in which we have a (small) share had been having a spell just next door to where we were staying, but she had gone back to Sydney the week before.

Back to Canberra via a night in Mittagong. The Schools Minister, Estelle Morris, is visiting Australia, and I went with her to meetings at Parliament House this afternoon and am hosting a dinner this evening. She impressed all she saw with the British Government's enthusiasm for raising educational standards, and its willingness to consider radical reforms to achieve that.

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