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Opposition Leader discusses republic; News poll; and Iraq.



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FEDERAL LABOR LEADER

INTERVIEW WITH HOWARD SATTLER 6PR Perth

TUESDAY 20 APRIL 2004

Subject Republic, News Poll and Iraq:

Introduction inaudible

Sattler: Because what we got to vote for was just too confusing for people to contemplate, how are you going to simplify it next time around?

LATHAM: Well I think you’re right the last time, the process just got in the way of republicans falling in behind the cause and letting their views be known and this time we want to hand the process over to the people, no constitutional

convention, no business with Malcolm Turnbull telling us what to do with drawing up the model and we want the people to have their say and we’ll hold a series of plebiscites so the public ca n get it’s view across and ensure that the Republic belongs to the Australian people rather than the politicians sitting in Old Parliament House making all the decisions about the model

Sattler: Don’t you think what we need to establish clearly is whether Australians by majority want a Republic?

LATHAM: Yeah, well that’s the first plebiscites we’ll have, that simple question, do we want to become a Republic, yes or no? If the majority of people say no well that’s it, it’s dead at that stage. If they say yes, we go to a second plebiscite. Which model will the people support, is that the direct election model or the Malcolm Turnbull model or the minimalist one? It’s up to the people to decide which model. Once you got that sorted out by the Australian public itself, then you can go forward to the formal constitutional referendum knowing that this is something the public has determined by its own choice and hopefully have enough confidence to get it through at a referendum

Louise: Mark, do you think this is a big election issue, or do you think people might be saying, look why not just focus on the things that are really stuffed up at the moment like education and health and all the bigger issues like national security

LATHAM: Well, they’re important issues but I got to say Louise as I get around the country a lot of people raise the Republic and I think it’s an important Australian emotion, you know. My own feeling is that young children in this

country they should be able to aspire to every single job, the highest office in the land. At the moment the Head of State is a citizen of another country, it’s not an Australian citizen, it’s not someone that’s one of us and I want Australian

children growing up and aspiring. Being ambitious for the future, the thing is they can become our Head of State, it’s not reserved for a foreign citizen, it’s actually going to be an Australian citizen. So as a parent that’s the emotion that drives me with the Republic and I think when Australians have got strong emotions we have to deal with those issues, the Republic is important and we can do that while also making big improvements in health, education and all the other areas you mentioned.

SATTLER: Professor David Flint, surprise surprise, national convenor of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy has had a go at you saying you shouldn’t have chosen a plebiscite model we should go back and have another referendum. Now what do you say to that?

LATHAM: He probably wants to go (inaudible) to another convention there in the old Parliament House in Canberra and be part of a process and leave all the Australian people outside the building. I want to hand the process over to the public and that’s the only way you can have confidence in a democracy. I don’t want this to be David Flint’s model or Mark Latham’s model or anyone’s model other than the Australian people so if he’s opposed to democracy that’s a very bad sign.

SATTLER: Now what’s the timetable for all this, of course all this presumes Labor gets elected to office, and we know that’s no certainty but you hope so. So if you get elected, and I reckon the election will be between August and October this

year, when would you have this first plebiscite?

LATHAM: Within 12 months, and we’d want the whole thing dealt with in our first term in office. Three years is a fair time to sort out an issue and I’d like to think that if (inaudible) it’s going to give us the definitive answer on the Republic. As I say if people in the first plebiscite said no well that’s the end of the matter.

SATTLER: If it proceeds on and its yes yes yes all the way and we choose the model, when would we become a Republic?

LATHAM: The following election, the election after the next one so within a three year period to get it sorted out. If we left it any longer, five or six years I think it

drags on too long. I think three years is a fair amount of time to get this sorted and give the Australian people their say.

SATTLER: Now you lost out in the polls initially when you said you plan to withdraw the troops around Christmas from Iraq and you went down a massive 14 points in the opinion polls or the one that is being quoted today, you’ve bounced back a bit, are you going to stick to your guns about that commitment about the troops and do you think that the Australian public are going to turn around in your favour?

LATHAM: There’s a lot of issues out there that people judge and when the telephone pollster rings them up they have their say. I don’t think anyone’s surprised that Labor’s got this commitment, we didn’t want the troops there in the first place and we certainly don’t support Mr Howard’s plan that Australia will be there forever. You’ve got to have an exit strategy, we had that in Afghanistan, that was the Howard Government’s exit strategy out of Afghanistan and the RSL is making the same point last week that you need an exit strategy and from a Labor perspective we believable that’s feasible by Christmas.

SATTLER: Do you reckon that if you stick to your guns the polls will continue to turn in your favour?

LATHAM: I’m doing this cause I think it is right for Australia. (Inaudible)

SATTLER: It’s not much good if you are still in Opposition is it?

LATHAM: You've got to be true to your principles and we had strong reservations about joining this war in the first place. It has diverted resources away from the real war against terror. An Australia being bogged down there indefinitely is not in Australia's national interests so we've got to develop an exit strategy. We've done that in the past in other engagements. We think it's appropriate in Iraq, especially when we have so many other commitments. The Government is saying our military is overstretched, the commitments in Timor, the Pacific, the defence of Australia, the War Against Terror itself, we see those as bigger priorities.

SATTLER: Expect that the head of the interim Government, an Iraqi has had a go at you and said that we need the troops there for at least another 18 months, what do you say to him?

LATHAM: I've got to make a decision that's in Australia's best interests and he's got his point of view…

SATTLER: He's a Washington puppet isn't he?

LATHAM: I'm not going to get into character assessments and the like but he's got his point of view, but quite frankly if Labor's point of view had carried the day then we wouldn't have been there in the first place and we wouldn't have the sort of mess that we have at the moment that the Howard Government can't get us out of.

SATTLER: Okay, good on you Mark, thanks for joining us today. We'll catch up with you again soon.

LATHAM: Okay, thank you, pleasure.

LOUISE: We can't let him go just yet, we haven't mentioned about the Fremantle v Collingwood game…

LATHAM: Oh, sorry I better go then…

[ends]