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Opposition Leaders' Courtyard, Parliament House, 26 March 1997: transcript of doorstop [Australian Head of State]


BEAZLEY: Well, this is a very hard way to get an answer to a very simple question. What needs to be done here is to put a question to the Australian people - do you want an Australian Head of State? It's not complex. There's plenty of precedents for being able to put questions to the Australian people like that. And it goes through constitutional processes that they can understand and feel confident about. This sets up a complex mechanism of doubtful representivity to arrive at a proposition to do exactly that. It is absolutely unnecessary.

JOURNALIST: Don't the people have to know what model of republic you're talking about before they're asked to vote at referendum on it?

BEAZLEY: But then if they want to have an argument about a model, why produce an assembly to consider it over which people will have doubts on its representivity to start with. For example, the small States will think that this ought to be a convention organised around the principle of six separate States and, therefore, equal representation. The large States will think that this is one that ought to be based on representing the population. What they've come up with is neither fish nor fowl. They do not satisfy either. But if they went through the normal referendum process, or the plebiscite process, the issue wouldn't arise.

JOURNALIST: So, how should it be decided on which model ought to be put for the republic in question?

BEAZLEY: There's a very simple way you can go around that. There are two models out there, basically, as far as the republic is concerned. And all that you'd need to do with that is to have a Parliamentary committee look at it then put the questions to the people. It is the vote of the people which counts on the particular models put forward to them, not a process of extraordinary complexity and doubtful representivity. Let's go to the Parliament side, as far as representivity is concerned. The Liberals have organised for themselves a two to one majority. Now, that effectively does represent the Parliamentary balance but it doesn't represent the voting balance. And what we have here is a set of propositions which, at the end of the day, are supposed to be representative of the Australian people. Insofar as we know what the Australian people think about whether or not we ought to have an Australian Head of State, it tends to be running 60-65 to 35- 40 in favour of that. But they've put in place a majority of Parliamentary forces virtually the other way. And the way in which this whole Convention is to be selected, albeit with consultation, which I welcome, is a process which is very difficult to discern where it is headed. It's rather like, you know, Rowan Atkinson's role call in Hell - Blasphemers off there to the right, burglars off there to the left. What you're getting out of this is a process that gets more and more complex as you go along. And it was reflected in the Prime Minister's speech. Rather than a clarion call to the nation to consider a great constitutional issue, except we're going to have bar codes, we're going to have checks on street addresses, we're going to have documents signed by people who are participating in the vote to prove that they are who they say they are. I just had this impression that every few years I turn up at a polling booth, sign my name off and put a piece of paper in a ballot box. It looked to me a pretty simple way of doing things, rather than going through this complexity which will have people in their homes a bit worried about what their legal obligations are.

JOURNALIST: So, is the ALP put out that it's not going to have greater representation?

BEAZLEY: As far as we're concerned, our representation is there to be worthy of comment. Our concern is the representation of the people. Now, when the one fig leaf that they'd put over this constitutional convention, when they put it forward, was that there were more constitutional issues to consider than simply the republic. We'd consider the applicability of treaties and there are a whole range of other constitutional issues which other people said ought to be considered, and National Party members, in particular, went around the place saying well so they could. But when we find this come out, there's nothing about any of that in it. It's back, simply, to the republic. So, that fig leaf, if you like, to justify holding such a complex convention, disappears immediately. If it's just going to be a simple vote on the republic, then have a simple vote on the republic.

JOURNALIST: Is ten days going to be enough to consider what model of republic should be put?

BEAZLEY: The amount of time that you meet over it is a bit neither here nor there. It's how you get there that counts. And how we get there in this particular proposition is overly complex and with a question mark over its representivity from the start. Now, that may indeed be what the Government wants but, at the end of the day, I think a large number of Australian people will justifiably believe that something they think's simple, has been rendered deliberately complex.

JOURNALIST: Is it reasonable to have six appointments from Tasmania and only two from the ACT, for instance, on a population basis?

BEAZLEY: That's gets back to exactly the point I made earlier on. If you step outside the normal constitutional or normal plebiscite processes and go down the road of trying to devise something representative, the small States and the Territories will say there ought to be an equality of representation like the initial considerations of the Constitution. And the large States will say that people ought to be represented according to their population numbers. And what we do is we fall between two stools and then we open up gaps and criticisms on the type that you just outlined. It doesn't happen if you've got a plebiscite or a proper constitutional referendum which, after all, at the end day, is what has to happen.

JOURNALIST: And that voluntary aspect is still unacceptable?

BEAZLEY: Well, I think it's all part of the question mark over the representivity of this particular gathering. We're talking here about the Australian Constitution. It is the document which gives our political system life. There's a life-blood on which we draw. It is at least as significant when it's under public consideration as a normal election. To risk the representative, or the reputation, if you like, of the outcome by being able to say it was deliberated on by people who are not voted for by the majority of the Australian population, who were not voted for on a basis which actually allowed true representivity, who were highly appointive in their background. The Government of the day took advantage of the fact that they had the numbers to ensure that their political representation outweighed that of their opponents, irrespective of the votes for the two parties. At the end of the day you've got a real problem of credibility.

JOURNALIST: Will you be seeking to amend that aspect and others of the legislation?

BEAZLEY: Oh, yes. We'll be looking at amendments to the legislation and the fact that we are under-represented in terms of votes isn't going to cause us to walk out on this. We accept that during the course of the election campaign the Prime Minister went to the people with this proposition. It isn't the proposition he put to them and it's not going to consider the matters that he said it would consider but, nevertheless, he did say that there would be a Convention so therefore we will cooperate. But that won't stop us either moving amendments or offering criticism.

JOURNALIST: You won't block it at the end of the day?

BEAZLEY: No, we won't block it, no.

JOURNALIST: Pauline Hanson's just announced that she is establishing a political party after all and is calling it Pauline Hanson's One Nation Movement. Could Labor or Paul Keating perhaps claim infringement of copyright there?

BEAZLEY: Well, at least it wasn't Ein Reich so we've got to be grateful for small mercies.