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Thursday, 9 June 1994
Page: 1626

Senator KEMP (3.07 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Defence (Senator Robert Ray), to a question without notice asked by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Hill) this day, relating to statements by the Prime Minister overseas concerning Australia.

There has rarely been a bigger leap in Australian history from branch stacker to Acting PM. That is what Senator Ray did today, and it was a mighty leap. On his first day as the acting leader of this country, he was given a very great task to defend the utterly absurd remarks that Mr Keating made overseas on his visit to Paris. It is well known, of course, that Mr Keating does not like Senator Ray. He calls Senator Ray names and there have been press reports that Mr Keating does not, in fact, speak to Senator Ray all that much. But, when Mr Keating comes back from Paris, he should give a big thank you to Senator Ray because today at least he tried to defend the indefensible.

  Mr Keating has made a lot of foolish comments on his overseas trips, and the comment that he made in Paris is just one of a continuum. He somehow said, `It's not going to be acceptable for Australia in its trading relations with the Asian region for us to have our current constitutional arrangements.'

Senator Reynolds —That's right.

Senator KEMP —Senator Reynolds says, `That's right.' I take it that she agrees with that and with my interpretation of what the Prime Minister said. What on earth would the French—a nation steeped in national pride and history, a nation proud of its past—think of a Prime Minister going over there and attacking his own country's constitutional arrangements? I have a French wife and I know a little about French culture. The contempt that the French would feel for Mr Keating is only matched by the contempt that the Australian people would feel for him. Senator Reynolds agrees with Mr Keating that we have to change our constitutional arrangements in order to expand our relationships with Asia.

  This issue was put to the leader of the Australian republican movement. Some weeks ago he was asked to comment on whether he agreed with Mr Keating's view. According to a newspaper report, Malcolm Turnbull basically said that what Mr Keating was saying in relation to our constitutional arrangements and our links with Asia was absolute nonsense and was not a line that the republican movement accepted or was prepared to run. Malcolm Turnbull, who has got it wrong on a number of occasions on this issue, has got this absolutely right.

  Senators Reynolds and Schacht should look at the logic of the argument that we have to express our national identity more effectively and become a republic in order to please our neighbours. That proposition is absolutely absurd. Those opposite run a nationalistic line and say, `It is absolutely vital that we change our constitutional arrangements because that will please our neighbours.' That is absolutely insulting to our people and, frankly, insulting to our neighbours, who could not care less. If any of our neighbours did care less—and I do not believe they ever would—and came to me and said, `Senator Kemp, you really should change your constitution because we are not too happy about it,' we would send them packing. But they are not the slightest bit interested, and the republican movement is not the slightest bit interested, in such a proposition. What we have is a foolish and ignorant Prime Minister who is embarrassing Australia and embarrassing the French by running these silly lines.

  Senator Ray was asked by Senator Hill whether he could give one example of where changing our constitutional arrangements would affect our trade with the Asian region. Basically, we got a very convoluted answer from Senator Ray, which is fairly rare because Senator Ray can string a few words together quite cleverly. I will not bother reading into the record what he said, but he could not answer that straightforward question from Senator Hill. (Time expired)