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Sydney, 3 February 1999: transcript of doorstop interview [Republic; President]



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THE HON PETER REITH MP

MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT, WORKPLACE RELATIONS

AND SMALL BUSINESS

LEADER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

 

3 February 1999

 

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON PETER REITH MP

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW - SYDNEY

 

e&oe

 

REITH:

 

We had a discussion about various Republican models. Ted gave me a good idea of his thinking on the current proposal and we talked about our mutual interest in encouraging greater public participation in Australian democratic institutions.

 

REPORTER:

 

So will you support a ‘no’ vote if there’s basically no option for the people to elect the President?

 

REITH:

 

Well I will say more about my detailed position in due course. Today was simply an opportunity to talk to Ted Mack about his views and we’ve had many discussions about the constitution over the years and so it was good to catch up with him again.

 

REPORTER:

 

You are committed to a popularly elected President are you?

 

REITH:

 

Well I am in favour of a conversion to a Republic. I think in due course that will happen in Australia. I think the public at large sees that that’s a break which would be appropriate for Australia as an independent Sovereign State, but the form of that conversion is obviously a matter of debate.

 

The Government is committed to a referendum, we made a promise about putting the issue up and that promise was predicated on a convention being held which has been held and that convention model is the course of action which the Government said that we’d take and the Government obviously intends to proceed accordingly.

 

As to whether or not that is the best model that I think is the issue and that’s the reason for talking to Ted Mack. Ted does have a long history of encouraging greater public participation in the democratic process, we’ve joined before to discuss these issues, to air them, we once were at the National Press Club talking about how you can encourage greater participation and I do think that the public at large, whilst generally supporting a move to a Republic, would feel more comfortable if they were given a greater say in that process and in the election of a President. So....

 

REPORTER:

 

Would you rather keep the status quo than have a parliamentary-elected President?

 

REITH:

 

Well I suppose my basic point is that you know this is a significant issue. It’s not the number one issue from the Government’s point of view, we’ve got a lot of other issues and as the Minister for Employment obviously jobs is a big issue, as the Minister for Small Business looking after small business are my principal responsibilities and my principal priorities for this year, but the Constitution is very important and if Australia is to make a change then I’d like to see us go to the first class republican model.

 

If the proposal is a second-class model then I obviously have grave doubts about whether that was the right thing for the country to do.

 

REPORTER:

 

Are you concerned that you’re at odds over this with Mr Howard and Mr Costello?

 

REITH:

 

Well it’s not a matter of being at odds with anybody.

 

The Government’s view is that we’re putting a referendum but as to whether people support that referendum’s ultimately a choice for individuals to make and I think that’s a very mature approach to what’s an important issue for the country.

 

REPORTER:

 

(inaudible) your comments today did you have a call from the Prime Minister at all to sort of say it’s not quite the idea he was thinking of?

 

REITH:

 

We’ve had a discussion obviously amongst Cabinet members about how people conduct themselves in expressing a point of view. There are absolutely no problems within the Government about people having a point of view. I think it’s sensible that people stick to the issues rather than personalities and what I’m doing is simply looking at the issue in a constructive, reasoning way.

 

REPORTER:

 

Mr Reith you’re probably the only front bencher to support a popularly elected President and possibly the only Conservative. How does that make you feel?

 

REITH:

 

Well all I can say is that if I’m alone I’m not alone as far as the public is concerned. The fact is that as polls have repeatedly shown, the public at large if you give them a choice they reckon they ought to have a say and I have a long history of saying I think the people ought to have a greater say.

 

So look I have a point of view, it’s based on a consistent, principled position expressed over many years and obviously what I’m saying now I think is entirely consistent with what I’ve said in the past. As to how people react to that, well...

 

REPORTER:

 

but can you (inaudible) side with you?

 

REITH:

 

Well in the end you know these are judgements that individuals have to make and you know in a mature democracy there’s nothing wrong with people having a point of view and expressing it, I think that’s entirely healthy.

 

REPORTER:

 

Could these differences....

 

REITH:

 

Thanks very much...

 

ENDS

 

Telephone: (02) 6277 7320   Fax: (02) 6273 4115

 

 

KD