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Canberra, 27 September 1999: transcript of doorstop interview [Constitution; referendum].

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Media Release

The Hon Peter Reith, MP

Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business

Leader of the House of Representatives


27 September 1999









The statement from Mr Beazley yesterday is quite an important one in the debate about Australia’s constitutional arrangements. Mr Beazley ought to state very clearly exactly what is his position. He is supporting the ‘Yes’ case, but it seems that he’s now advocating a further referendum on the issue of a direct election for the Presidency. That in itself is an admission that the proposal on the 6th of November is a compromise proposal. And I think it also betrays Mr Beazley’s increasing concern that the Australian public are not satisfied in having a third rate compromise put up to a system which is one of the world’s best democratic institutional arrangements.


This statement of Mr Beazley’s also, of course, throws chaos into the ‘yes’ campaign. There are some who are saying ‘yes and more’, there are some who say that if you vote ‘yes’, then that will be the end of the matter. I don’t think there is any doubt that it will be the end of the matter if people vote ‘yes’, simply because the politicians will then control the process and they will have no interest in giving the people a greater say which is the essential core of the direct election proposal.


So, we have Mr Beazley now equivocating on the central issue. He ought to simply declare exactly what is his position. Is he in favour of a direct election or isn’t he? He has himself said that many in the Labor Party support the concept of direct election. This again just demonstrates that the Labor Party are prepared to compromise Australia’s constitutional arrangements and they don’t have the fortitude to actually stand up and actually say what is in the national best interest and to support a proposal which would give the Australian public a greater say.




You must be worried therefore that a follow up referendum will encourage direct electionists to vote ‘yes’?




Well, no, I’m not. I mean my basic view has been all along that when the issue comes to a head I’ve always said that I think most people will vote ‘no’. The reason for that is that this proposal increases the power of the executive and the Australian public have always been very concerned in constitutional referenda about increases in the power of the executive. So, my view about the likely outcome hasn’t changed by Mr Beazley’s remarks, but his remarks do throw confusion into the ranks of the ‘yes’ people. But also I think are deceptive in as much as he is suggesting that there will be a further referendum for direct election if this gets up. As I say I don’t think that’s possible because the fact is that the politicians control the referendum process and they would have no interest.


I think the other point to make about it though is as I’ve always said if there’s a ‘no’ vote there will be a lot of pressure for a further vote and the reason for that is that the public would prefer to have on Mr Beazley’s reckoning clearly a direct election President. If there is a ‘no’ vote I don’t think there is any doubt that the issue will not go away and we will then hopefully move onto a first rate amendment rather than a third rate compromise that is now put up.




Are you saying that the politicians have no interest in pursuing this plan? But isn’t Mr Beazley committing to pursue it if he, after the thing, if he wins Government?




I don’t think he is committing to it. I think these are just very vague and generalised words to hold out some hope for the ‘yes’ and ‘more’ advocates. One of the other proponents for the yes’ case made it very clear last week that there wouldn’t be a further vote if the ‘yes’ case gets up and that to me is very obvious. Why would the politicians give you another crack at it if they themselves are the ones who control who gets the top job? I mean the political process enjoys having control over who gets appointments.




What did you think of the comments over the weekend by Robert McClelland about (inaudible) in the Royal family and the requirements to become a monarch?




I didn’t see them I’m sorry.




Well, he was critical of the way in which you have to be a male Anglican to succeed as monarch.




Well, I’m in favour of direct election. I mean the Australian people ought to make this decision. Steve Vizard gave a very good speech at the Grand Final breakfast and when he sat down I said “well, that’s a great speech for direct election”. And that is that the constitutional temper of the Australian people is that they are liking to be the controllers of the political system in Australia. And they have been through section 128 of the Constitution, you can only change the Constitution if you ask the people and the Australian people have shown themselves adapted advisers and controllers of Constitutional arrangements in Australia for nearly one hundred years.


So, I can see the Shadow Attorney, is that the one? I suppose it is, I didn’t see his remarks but I think it will be a great thing if you could aspire to be the Head of State in this country and I believe anybody ought to be able to aspire to the top office. But I also believe that that process should not be controlled by the political elites in Canberra, which it certainly will be if you vote ‘yes’ and you won’t get another say about it, there’s no doubt about it whatsoever.



md 1999-09-30  10:46