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Monday, 29 March 1999
Page: 3412


Senator ELLISON (Special Minister of State) (4:58 PM) —I mentioned earlier that there was $4.5 million for a public education campaign. One of the aspects of that campaign will be to let the people of Australia know what the process will be. That of course will involve a question of consultation and public scrutiny via parliamentary debate and a parliamentary committee. We will be advising and informing the people of Australia as to the process in that first phase of public education and information.

I believe that will address Senator Brown's concerns about letting people know what is happening and how the whole process is being conducted. Can I say that, in any event, there has been extensive discussion on this preamble. It has been out in the public domain with the draft bills. It is not normal that the government of the day introduces a bill in a draft form and releases it for discussion. We have done that in relation to those other amendments.

We have released into the public domain draft legislation, and a preamble, which is the subject of great discussion across this country. You merely have to pick up any newspaper to see the attention that this is getting. So, in the first phase, I would suggest that a good deal of information has already been imparted from the nation's press in relation to what people think.

On the question of the preamble itself, no matter what preamble is put to the people, there will be differing views as to the wording. You will never settle upon a wording which will satisfy all Australians. Anyone who thinks that that can be achieved must have the assistance of the Archangel Gabriel, because I can tell you that it is just not feasible. We are putting up a model for the republic which was suggested by the Constitutional Convention and already on the republican side of the debate you have people saying, `This is not the model we should have.' Even if we put up a direct election model, people would still say, `I think you should have the other model.' No matter what is put up in this referendum, there will be differing points of view.

I think that the government has a duty to put to the people something to which they can answer yes or no in relation to the republic and yes or no in relation to the preamble. What we have a duty to do is to give due process to this, which we are doing. Public education is the first thing. The second is the parliamentary debate and parliamentary committee scrutiny. Added to that you have the next phase of yes and no arguments in relation to the republic and, finally, the dissemination of the yes and no cases by the AEC. That is sent to every elector in this country. I think that is a pretty extensive process which is going to cover the next eight months or thereabouts. I say to Senator Brown that this is perhaps one of the most expansive processes embarked upon by government since Federation.