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Republic: views about the preamble following its defeat at referendum.

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PETER CAVE: The Prime Minister is being attacked for not mounting a more vigorous campaign in favour of the preamble. The preamble’s co-author, poet, Les Murray, says that Mr Howard allowed the issue to deliberately disappear. Mr Murray says the whole exercise turned into a waste of time because the Prime Minister’s heart was not in it, and the text had to be butchered to the point where there was nothing left to vote for. Sally Sara reports from Melbourne. 

SALLY SARA: It’s easy to get the feeling that the preamble won’t ride high in Les Murray’s memoirs, nor will the poetic skill of the Prime Minister. Mr Murray has little regard for both and he says, if he had his time again, he would not have agreed to put pen to paper.


LES MURRAY:  No, it was a waste of time. It was a whole sea of grief. I mean, this exposed me to a hurricane of vilification and no satisfaction of any sort.


SALLY SARA: So where’s this whole process left you and your work?


LES MURRAY:  The work’s been ground up … I’ve been vilified. Those are the things that sting. At least in literature, you have the privilege of not having your words changed by people who have no ear - no ear and no sense.


SALLY SARA: Is that the Prime Minister?


LES MURRAY:  Look, let the brick bats fall where they may.


SALLY SARA: And fall they are, but no so much for the content of the preamble, more so it’s promotion. Mr Howard says the preamble was always going to struggle because of the incredible focus on the republic, but indigenous leaders are disappointed it wasn’t given more of a hearing. Former ATSIC chair, Lowitja O’Donoghue, says the Prime Minister didn’t get behind the preamble.


LOWITJA O’DONOGHUE: Well, he paid no attention until about the last four days of the campaign, and while he was the architect of the preamble, one would have to wonder how serious he was about getting it up.


SALLY SARA: The same questions can be asked of co-architect, Democrat Senator Aden Ridgeway. Senator Ridgeway helped to remodel the preamble, but his campaign to promote it also failed to attract sustained and high-profile coverage. In a written statement, he concedes the preamble played second fiddle to the republic debate, and he describes its defeat as a sad moment in Australian history. But Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Daryl Melham, says Senator Ridgeway only has himself to blame.


DARYL MELHAM: Well, I think Senator Ridgeway has handled this appallingly. He needs to start sitting in the sand, with his colleagues from Western Australia and the Northern Territory. I think he’s got a bit too big for his boots, as has John Howard. They went to the dictionary looking for weasel words so they didn’t have to say ‘sorry’ or they didn’t have to say ‘ownership’ or ‘custodianship’, and the people rejected it. Well, now you’ve got the Prime Minister saying ‘Oh, people voted against this because of apathy and they didn’t know about it.’ Well, whose fault is that, Johnny?


SALLY SARA: Although Daryl Melham hasn’t supported the preamble, the Labor Party has, but it’s not making immediate commitments to do it all again. All it will say is that it will commit to a serious reconciliation with Aboriginal people. A spokesman for Kim Beazley says this preamble became John Howard’s deliberate distraction from the republic. The Democrats, too, are busy analysing the wash-up. Leader, Meg Lees, is defending her party’s role. She claims, in the end, the responsibility for the thumping defeat rests with the Prime Minister.


MEG LEES:  I think it just got completely lost. He needed to have done a lot more work on it, but given history, which shows clearly that Australians need information before they change the Constitution, I think there was always that risk, that unless we really did some work, it would go down.


SALLY SARA: But celebrating its defeat is Independent federal MP, Peter Andren. He says the process surrounding the preamble was all wrong. Mr Andren says it should have been left until the Constitution was sorted out, and he rejects suggestions that Australia is now open to foreign criticism for failing to endorse the preamble’s acknowledgment of Aboriginal people.


PETER ANDREN:  The media got it wrong in a big way on a lot of this debate, and I think they’ve got it wrong again on this pitch because, in fact, all it means is that one model that was devised by two Democrats and the PM has been given the flick, which it deserved.


PETER CAVE: Independent federal MP, Peter Andren.