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AUS: 90 days for a fair debate

Sunday 8 August 1999

Release from the Minister for Justice and Customs

Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Amanda Vanstone, today called for a calm and rational approach to the republican debate in the lead-up to November's referendum.

"There is not much time before the referendum and regardless of the outcome of the vote, it is imperative that Australians have access to reasonable debate which focuses on the issues, not personalities," Senator Vanstone said.

"The media has a critical role to play here. In the past week, in being invited to respond to Peter Reith's comments last weekend, my response has been portrayed variously by a few in the media as some sort of personal attack on Mr Reith, with headlines on electronic media claiming I had 'hit back at Peter Reith,' or 'attacked' my colleague.

"Nothing could be further from the truth. I do not agree with Mr Reith's view. But I strongly support his right to say what he thinks and welcome his commitment to raising the profile of the debate."

Senator Vanstone was commenting on releasing an outline of her position on the republic, which promotes the model endorsed by the Constitutional Convention.

Senator Vanstone also unveiled a 'referendum countdown sign' at the front of her Adelaide electorate office.

"While a lot of us are, naturally focused on the countdown to the year 2000, this sign is designed to attract some attention and focus on the November referendum," Senator Vanstone said.

"I have said before [National Convention of Republicans, February 1999] that "...if the republican debate ends up being no more than a slanging match between two opposing views the public at large will not readily engage in the debate.'

"Perhaps the most crucial element of the referendum, aside from the outcome, is the process of debate in the lead-up to the vote.

"It is a nonsense to suggest that simply because someone has expressed an alternative viewpoint, that they are 'attacking' those who don't share that view.

"Such simplistic reporting of one of the most important debates in Australia this century represents a disservice to all Australians.

"I urge participants and the media alike to consider their obligation to apply a level of maturity to this debate."

Why I'll vote 'Yes' on November 6th

It's time to take another step in our nation's journey.

We are, in reality, an independent nation. Our Constitution should reflect that fact.

Our Head of State should be an Australian citizen. The Queen of Australia is Australian in name only.

The proposed model has three great advantages.

First, it was endorsed by the Constitutional Convention and thereby passed an early tough and fair test.

Second it provides incremental change. I know some would prefer more change, but small and steady steps provide a safe, sure pathway for our Constitution to advance.

And third, it gives Australians the opportunity for greater involvement in the selection of the Head of State than we have at the moment.

We will continue to enjoy peaceful, stable and democratic government under the proposed republican model.

Our history and cultural links with the United Kingdom will always be there.

Nearly a hundred years on from Federation we are a vastly different nation.

Just over 40% of our population are either first or second generation migrants.

Since the end of the Second World War, 5.7 million people have arrived on our shores.

National symbols are important: they should unite the nation, they should touch its heart.

A British monarch as our symbolic Head of State no longer touches the heart of most Australians.

Monarchists who argue that the Governor-General is our Head of State are admitting that the symbol of monarchy no longer means anything to most Australians.

Our de jure Head of State is the British Monarch. The rules governing succession to the throne are in a British Act of Parliament. Australians have no say.

Our de facto Head of State, the Governor-General, is appointed by the government of the day. There is no requirement for consultation or consensus. Ordinary Australians do not have a say.

I believe that every Australian child should be able to aspire to becoming Australia's Head of State. There should be no discriminatory Constitutional or statutory limitation on that aspiration.

By formally making a place for the people to nominate fellow Australians and by giving a much greater role to the Parliament made up of the people's representatives in the selection of the Head of State, Australians will have a greater say than they do at the present.

It will be the people's choice. It ought to be the people's debate. The people must be engaged in the debate. It must be an informed debate.

For this debate, republicans must put party politics and egos aside.

If the republican debate ends up being no more than a slanging match between two opposing views the public at large will not readily engage in the debate.

It is sometimes easy to take for granted the opportunity for involvement in the process of government. Some reflection on the limited opportunities others in the world have should re-awaken us to the reality of our good fortune.

If you want to strengthen our national identity, vote YES.

If you want our Constitution to reflect our place in the modern world, vote YES.

If you want an Australian Head of State vote YES.

Why I reject waiting for a direct election model

Some propose rejecting the current republican model in favour of more radical change, namely a directly elected president.

They ask us to reject a clearly articulated model in favour of the chance that more radical change will come. I don't want more radical change in any event.

There are two reasons why I do not support a directly elected president.

First, a direct election will ensure that a very politically motivated person wins the position; and second, a directly elected president would hold substantial political power and thus be a rival for the prime minister. We would be building instability into our system.

We've enjoyed peace, order and good government for many years. If we want to continue to enjoy that we should avoid building an obvious instability into our Constitution.

If we give a president the same powers the Governor-General has now and the added political power of being the only person directly elected by all Australians, we set him or her up as political competition for the prime minister.

We would be in effect having two political leaders. That's a recipe for instability.

If we give the president the power of being the only person directly elected by all Australians and reduce his/her powers, we in effect make the prime minister's position much stronger. Clearly, if we reduce the powers of the governor-general/president, we remove one check from the checks and balances that provide stability in our system.

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