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Tuesday, 28 June 1994
Page: 2181

Senator WOODS (11.54 p.m.) —I want to discuss today one of the most important issues facing Australia, which is the future constitution of this country. There seem to be three main arguments put forward by the republicans for a change. The first is to make Australia truly independent, supposedly. I understand that Hugh Stretton, who is a leftist republican supporter, dismisses this and says, for example, that it is:

perhaps because Paul Keating is selling off our real independence that he is directing our attention to the symbolic independence of a republic.

Does anybody really think Australia is not a totally and entirely independent country? If people do, they only have to look at the findings of the Labor Party's own constitutional committee, which reported in 1985 and said that `Australia has achieved full independence'. If there is any threat at all to our independence it comes not from our monarchy, not from our system of government, but from the Labor Party's moves to allow the United Nations and its subcommittees—many of those committees being populated by dictators and communist autocrats—to intervene in our own internal affairs. That is the only real threat to our independence at present.

  The reverse of course is true. In many republics individuals lose their independence under a presidency where there are no brakes on the power of the executive. Individual independence is our real independence. It should always be striven for above less meaningful and less tangible national independence.

  The second argument seems to be that the head of the nation is never an Australian citizen. The Prime Minister is of course always an Australian citizen. This is the highest elected office in the land and this is the position with the greatest capacity for making its mark upon Australian society. The monarch is not in a position of power and indeed should not be. The monarch is in a position of imposing brakes on otherwise unfettered power. No-one, except for Australia's elected representatives, should have the power to create legislation and policy. The Queen never represents Australia overseas. The head of state in Australia is the guardian of the constitution, and this position at home and overseas is undertaken by the Governor-General, who nowadays is always an Australian.

  The third argument is that the royal family is badly behaved and not fit to rule. Some of the controversial personal affairs of the current members of the royal family are sometimes quoted as an example of this. It is true that there have been exemplary monarchs, and it is true that there have been those who have been less than exemplary. Edward II consistently upset his English subjects by cavorting publicly with his boyfriend and was eventually put to death in a singularly unpleasant way. But the monarchy survived. Charles I was beheaded—the monarchy survived. As far as the damage caused by royal separation and divorces is concerned, we only have to look at Henry VIII and his marital woes. In that situation divorce was the preferred alternative for his hapless wives, since the alternative of course was beheading. But the monarchy survived.

  Like all humans, royals come in all shapes and sizes, capable of great good and great evil and of setting fine examples and of setting excessive examples and extravagances. The royals have spawned scholars and lunatics, rulers and renegades, and the same would be true of a president—the head of a republic in Australia. The essential point is that we have a monarchy which has hundreds of years of history behind it. It offers something no temporary political president can offer—long-term stability.

  Presidents can be compassionate. They can be dictatorial, dangerous, ignorant, ruthless, competent or corrupt. Just think of Idi Amin, Hitler and Ferdinand Marcos. They cannot be prevented but their ultimate power can be constrained by a constitutional monarchy such as we have. Their totalitarianism would be difficult to achieve under a constitutional monarchy such as ours.

  Our present system caters for human weakness and frailty. Republics by and large do not, and republics are inherently less stable. Look at the five republics that France has had. Which of those options would our republican colleagues choose? Look at the 40 to 50 prime ministers in Italy since the war. There is no stability in the political system in Italy. Italy is a wonderful country in spite of its political system, not because of it.

  All power in Australia is watered down by a system of brakes and checks, including this chamber—the Senate—a tiered system of government, the monarchy and its representatives. Forcing a republic would endanger all this. Our safety mechanism, which has been long used and proven, would be dismantled or at least fragmented even with the adoption of the so-called minimalist position. Only 39 words of our constitution have been changed in almost 100 years. The minimalist position of the republicans by itself would require at least 2,000 words to be changed. There would need, therefore, to be a profoundly compelling argument to persuade Australians to cast aside a unique system of democracy which has served us so well for so long.

  The pro-republican activists are not a coherent group. They have no uniform ideas of how to implement a republic. The reason for that is simple: there is no workable suggestion that is acceptable to the Australian people. This is why they resort to emotive rhetoric rather than coherent debate—the lickspittles, forelock tuggers type of approach.   We do not want an appointed president beholden to political considerations over which we have no control. We do not want an elected president who would be beholden to those who funded his or her rise and whose longevity as a president would be dependent upon his or her popularity. The head of state must be completely non-political. The head of a republic might, for example, be appointed by a prime minister, elected by the parliament or elected by popular vote. All of these result in a political head of state, and we cannot and should not accept that.

  There is no substitute for a non-elected, non-popular, non-political head of state with limited powers. Australians will not be sold a pup. We will not embrace change just for the sake of change. We know that freedom and independence is ultimately for the individual. That, indeed, is the very essence of the Liberal Party philosophy.

  A nation's character is built by the individuals within it and it is protected by the constitution that it built. Thus far, it has served us very well. We are constitutionalists rather than monarchists, in the sense that we are first and foremost the defenders of our constitution and of our political way of life and only as such are defenders of the monarchy because the monarchy is intrinsic to our constitution.

  One of the strongest arguments for the monarchy is that the alternatives are so appalling. A powerful president involved in policy decisions could withdraw power from the currently elected representatives. It is likely that such a president would be a failed politician, probably from the Labor Party, who was kicked upstairs simply to get him or her out of the way, or as a reward for treading the party line.

The republicans fail to answer three vital questions. One is why we need a republic, and I have addressed that; secondly, who is insisting upon change; and thirdly, how would we be better off?

  Who wants this change? I simply make the point that, according to the polls, half of Australia does not want the change. Therefore, at best this issue will split the nation in two. The republicans can never answer the third simple question as to who would be better off. Bob Hawke gave the answer in 1985 when he said:

  The well-being of ordinary Australians would not be changed one iota if we became a republic.

I seem to be agreeing more and more with Bob Hawke over the past few days. He was supportive of the findings of the constitutional committee appointed by the Hawke Labor government in 1985.

  That committee said three things. It said first that Australia has achieved full independence. The second point it made was that the British government has no responsibility in relation to matters that are the responsibility of the federal government and the parliament. Thirdly, that committee said that the development of Australian nationhood does not require any change to the Australian constitution. Remember that this was a Labor-appointed constitutional committee. But of course this does not stop Mr Keating rewriting Australian history.

  This is the most divisive issue in Australia today. Paul Keating has a reputation, thoroughly deserved, as the most divisive Prime Minister this country has ever had. He is tearing us apart over something that does not need to be fixed. He has already set Australian against Australian over so many issues. We need a healing leader, not a destructive one. There are many more urgent problems than this facing Australia. It is vitally important that we do not allow our community to be torn asunder when the end result is that the country would not be better off in any way at all as a result of a switch to a republic.

  We all believe that our country is the most independent, most freedom loving country in the world. This is due in no small part to our system of government, which is the envy of

most countries in the world. Constitutional monarchies are indeed very popular. Within the OECD, half the countries are constitutional monarchies. Indeed, the freest and most tolerant societies in the world tend to be constitutional monarchies, including countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Japan, Canada and the United Kingdom. Thousands of people have come to live in Australia because of our freedom, our independence and our stability, which are due in no small part to our system of government.

  There are enormous legal problems. The very best legal brains—people like Harry Gibbs and Michael Kirby—tell us that the legal problems and difficulties are almost insurmountable. This is confirmed by the report of the Turnbull committee which filled 600 pages and cost $500,000. Our Australian system of government is uniquely Australian. It embodies our history, our culture, our symbols and our traditions. It has survived many generations. It was summed up by Viscount Bryce who said:

The value of the Crown lies not in the power that it wields but in the power it denies to those who would abuse it.

The system is a safeguard that has served us well for so long. It is a safeguard that we should maintain.

  Let me say, in summary, that we have a system that is the envy of the rest of the world. It has worked well for almost a century. We should not throw away such a wonderful system simply to satisfy the petty jealousies of the Whitlamites opposite. We should be proud of our country and should shout its virtues, including those of its political system, from the rooftops. There should be no place for a divisive political agenda or for petty revenge in this great country of ours. Let us maintain our tradition. Let us maintain our way of life. Let us reject a republic. Let us be proud of our Australia.

Wednesday, 29 June 1994