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Thursday, 9 June 1994
Page: 1613

Senator HILL —My question is directed to the Acting, Acting, Acting Prime Minister. I refer to the continuing offensive comments in France by the Prime Minister, who has assured the French that after we become a republic they will find Australian culture more welcoming than in the past—a continuation of his anti-British sentiment. This morning he added the even more fanciful assertion that we cannot fully make our way in the Asia-Pacific region under our current constitution. Will Senator Ray please explain on behalf of the Prime Minister how our progress in Asia is in any way restrained or inhibited by our current constitution? What specific political, security or economic detriment have we suffered under our existing arrangements?

Senator ROBERT RAY —The republic debate is likely to go on for several years. There will be many shots fired from both sides in considering the relative positions of whether Australia should or should not become a republic. But in the end, that is a decision that the Australian people will make. It is not a decision that governments or oppositions will make. It is a decision that the Australian people will make. The wider and broader that debate is, the more informed that decision will be. As evidence of that, I refer to a statement made on 22 March 1993, in which this individual says:

I think it's an issue that Australians on the whole are pretty interested in and quite happy to have debated. And my point is that the argument in favour, the most potent argument in favour of the republic, is that why should they have a Briton as Queen who, of course, in reality is also Queen of Australia, but a Briton, if you like, as head of state for Australia?

That was said by Alexander Downer.

Senator HILL —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I think Senator Ray has missed the point of the question. The Prime Minister, Mr Keating, in France is telling the French people that it is necessary to change our constitution because we are being inhibited in our Asia-Pacific ambitions. I ask him to explain to us in what ways we are being inhibited or restrained—economically, politically or from a security perspective—from advancing our interests under current arrangements.

Senator ROBERT RAY —I think the region we are most interested in has an updated view of Australia, but that that is by no means a universal view. From my personal experience, I find many myths about Australia exist in our region. The more this government can do to dispel those myths, the better it will be. There are myths such as those reported in today's newspapers in which a survey of the Indonesian general public showed that many of them thought we still had a white Australia policy. The change to a republic would be one of the symbolic acts to demonstrate to people in our region that many of those myths no longer exist.