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Monday, 20 June 1994
Page: 1724


Senator KEMP (4.01 p.m.) —Colleagues may have seen in the Australian Financial Review today the headline which included the words `Keating off on walkabout'. It says:

Paul Keating is bored with politics and would much rather concentrate on aesthetics. He'd better change his mind.

Mr Keating should not worry about aesthetics; he should start to concentrate a little bit on getting his facts right on Australian history. As was pointed out in question time today, the disgraceful comment made by Mr Keating that the Australian constitution was written in the British Foreign Office was absolutely and totally wrong.

  I think it is important that it be admitted that not all those on the other side of the chamber and not all Australian Labor Party people are enthusiastic supporters of Mr Keating's push to tear down the Australian national flag and to overturn the constitution of this country. Not all Australian Labor Party members of parliament and, particularly, not all Labor Party supporters are in favour of that. In fact, the word has come through to Mr Keating and the caucus that they should lay off the flag. After a week of blundering around overseas, as he regularly does, Mr Keating is hoping to take the Australian flag off the debate.

  Today we have presented a Flags Amendment Bill to the parliament. That bill will ensure that if our national flag is to be changed it will not be changed by the edict of Mr Keating but will be changed by a vote of the Australian people. I put it to you, Mr Acting Deputy President, there is no sign at all amongst the Australian public, nor indeed in Labor Party research—if Senator Schacht does not believe me, he should believe Labor Party research—that there is a move to change the Australian flag. Indeed, traditional Labor Party supporters, and I am not speaking of the new lot which has come in in recent years, are as proud of the flag as are we in our party. They will not tolerate a change, and neither will I.

  Mr Keating says that he wants to dump the constitution. When we reflect on what his aims are, I think it is important to think about the nature of the task he has ahead of him and of what this constitution means to Australia. If he wants to argue the case for a change in the constitution, I say that he should present his alternatives because the government has had three years to present its alternatives. Then we can weigh up what the Labor Party is proposing compared with the current constitution.

  I happen to think that Australia's constitution is one of the greatest achievements of Australian history. I sustain that by saying that there are few, if any, countries in the world that can claim a longer, continuous, democratic history than Australia. I say that because it was Australia which, just after the turn of the century, gave women the right to vote and the right to stand for parliament. There was only one other country in the world at that time which was prepared to give equivalent rights, and that was New Zealand. This long period of constitutional stability, this long history of a nation involved in nation building, war, peace and depression, has been one of the pillars which has provided the stability which this nation of ours enjoys.

  In the light of the Prime Minister's comments, I want to point out that this is truly a people's constitution. I sustain that by pointing out that the constitution was drafted in Australia by Australians and for Australians. In order for that drafting process to be carried out, Australians elected their representatives to be involved at the various constitutional conventions to undertake that drafting. When, towards the end of the last century, this great work had been completed, this constitution, drafted by the representatives of the people, was put to the Australian people in all the states in a referendum and, of course, was passed.

  It is interesting to reflect on this people's constitution compared with other great constitutions. The constitution of the United States of America was never put to the people in the US for their approval; neither, and nor could it be, was the largely unwritten constitution of the United Kingdom; nor was the constitution of New Zealand. None of those could be described as people's constitutions.

  Mr Keating has acquired a great love for things French, and as he walked around the silver room where Napoleon resigned he discussed with the French, in one of the most demeaning performances of any political leader, his plans to make Australia a republic. He has not discussed them with us. When Senator Schacht stands up and starts talking about the republic he should tell us about the republic he wants; he should tell us precisely so that we can debate the government's constitution, when those opposite are prepared to put it down on paper. Of the first three French republics, none were put to the people in a referendum.

  This constitution is truly a people's constitution. It is truly an Australian constitution. It is clearly a constitution which, by all the tests involved, has been a massive achievement for this country. Now Mr Keating wants to have this overturned. The question is why? Was there an upsurge of republican feeling amongst the public? No. The Labor Party at the Hobart conference ran out of puff. As Senator Schacht said, the Labor Party has to attempt to attract new ideas and maybe it should start to promote the republican movement. There was no upsurge of feeling or concern. This is why I say to Senator Schacht that this is a very divisive debate which has been launched by Mr Keating.

  As was well put by my colleague Senator Abetz, this was the constitution of the Australian people. If Mr Keating wants to change it, those opposite can put their views up but they should not attempt to denigrate or rewrite the history of this country. What is the point of demeaning this historic Australian document, which I believe is one of the great achievements of this nation, and demeaning the work of the founders of this constitution by pretending that it was somehow the draft of the British Foreign Office?

  Mention was made of the great names such as the Alfred Deakins, the Kingstons and the Griffiths—all those people who joined together to draft the constitution which, with the efflux of years, has been shown to be a truly successful constitution. Those people on the other side who constantly complain about it should tread very warily because this constitution has provided this country with great stability, protected its independence, maintained its unity and protected the liberties of our nation. Alfred Deakin, in his book The Federal Story, when referring to the Australian constitution, said:

To say that it was fated to be is to say nothing to the purpose. Any one of a thousand minor incidents might have deferred it for years or generations. To those who watched its inner workings, followed its fortunes as if their own, and lived the life of devotion to it day by day, its actual accomplishment must always appear to have been secured by a series of miracles.

It is this document that Mr Keating in his disgraceful comments sought to demean.