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Conservatives for an Australian Head of State business luncheon, Adelaide Town Hall, Thursday 28 October 1999: address.

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Conservatives for an Australian Head of State

Business Luncheon

Adelaide Town Hall

Thursday 28 October 1999



Address by Senator Amanda Vanstone

Senator for South Australia

Minister for Justice and Customs



Ladies and gentlemen:


I was born a republica n. I am a committed republican. So committed, that as a good, moderately minded Liberal, I’m prepared to stand under the banner of Conservatives for an Australian Head of State.


The notion of conservatives and liberals working together is what the Liberal Party is all about.


Bringing the non-Labor Parties together was the Menzies genius.


I started to wonder what Sir Robert would think of this debate and this issue.


Sir Robert was adamant that our great Party would not be named ‘the Conservative Party’ that it would be ‘the Liberal Party.’


We can be confident he would be appalled at the standard of debate and, in particular, the predominantly misleading, deceptive, and fear-ridden ‘No’ case.


Listen to Menzies’ words: “On far too many questions we have found our role to be simply that of the man who says ‘no’. ... There is no useful place for a policy of negation.”


As to the issue, well there’s no doubt that the Sir Robert born in 1894 was and would be, if he were alive today, a monarchist.


But what of the Menzies mentality. What would such a man, born not in the late 1800’s, but in the mid 1900’s, a man who was Prime Minister at 44, think today?


The now famous remark - “I did but see her passing by ...”, which would be so out of place now, was spot on the mark at the time.


It was actually a bit of gracious after dinner charm from an older Prime Minister to a new and young Queen.


Well, we know he was a man of his time.


However, he rightly saw himself as a man looking to the future. His own, perhaps slightly embellished anecdote, has him at the age of 25, telling the High Court in the Engineers Case, that their own judgments produced a ridiculous result and that he could only present a sensible argument if he was given leave to come back and tell them where they had gone wrong.


Precedent, what we did in the past was no good unless it was sensible for the future.


That doesn’t sound to me like a man of the present who was locked in the past.


He argued with the British, and Churchill in particular, duri ng the war; recognised that their far-east is our near-north; and against strong argument from the United Kingdom established our own representation in a number of countries.


Three of these, the United States, Japan and China, are among our most important diplomatic posts today.


Remember, all this while we were and saw ourselves as part of the ‘Empire.’


Menzies was a 44 year old Prime Minister, a man of his time, very much a Liberal, prepared to break with the past; fiercely Australian and who looked to the future.


No, you can’t say that a Menzies born in the 1950’s would be a monarchist today. Not at all. My bet would be quite the opposite.


So on November 6, all Australians will get a chance to shape our constitutional future.


Vote ‘no’ and we leave things as they are, locking us into the past.


Vote ‘yes’ and we take our Constitution forward with one more sure, safe step.


The ‘no’ case is an acknowledged embarrassment.


There’s something short-lived about any politician who tells their electorate they can’t be trusted. Anyone who says that should toss in the towel.


We now trust just one politician to select the Governor-General. It can hardly be called dangerous to share that responsibility; thus ensuring a bi-partisan choice.


We can heal constitutional wounds.


The two most likely people to disagree on the powers of the Prime Minister and the Governor-General or President would be Malcolm Fraser and Gough Whitlam.


They agree that the proposed model is a better constitutional framework.


In effect, we want to take the Queen’s powers, which are already exercised by the Governor-General, give them to the Governor-General and call that person ‘President’.


In other words, both the seat of power and the exercise of it should be in Australia.


The ‘no’ case has nothing more positive to say than ‘the present system works quite well’.


Which of course it has until now, with the possible exception of 1975.


But it can be improved; those wounds can be healed.


Just think what would have happened if the ‘no’ people were around in the late 1800’s. We would never have united as a nation.


Can’t you just hear them?






Or what about this one?




Well, we are a nation of bravehearts, always looking to make things better. So we ignored the warnings; we did shift from colonies to becoming a nation. And we’ve managed very well.


And in just such a practical step, with a minimum of fuss, we can shift from being a monarchy to a republic.


It won’t cost more.


We’ll stay in the Commonwealth.


We won’t change our flag.


It won’t increase the power of the Prime Minister.


And I’ll lay a carton of Coopers we won’t lose a public holiday.


What we will have is our own Head of State.


We are not now the same nation we were in 1901, nor in 1950 or 60.


We have changed, the world has changed.

Britain moved away from us when she saw her interests and her future in Europe. Her Empire was lost. The globe is no longer predominantly pink.


Our Head of State should be one of our own, an Australian..


If the British monarch - the Australian Head of State - were to open the Sydney Olympics, she wouldn’t be cheering for Cathy Freeman, Ian Thorpe and all the Australian athletes, as we all will, regardless of whether they’re republicans or monarchists.


We’ll be cheering for them because they are our athletes. They are our fellow Australians.


When we play England for the Ashes the British monarch - the Australian Head of State - can never cheer for our team to win.


We have won our independence, we’ve earned it, we are a separate nation. We should have our own Head of State.





jy  1999-10-29  09:32