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AUS : Transcript - Howard On Referendum (part two)

JOURNALIST:

Has the Government discussed this question with the Democrats?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. No we haven't quite deliberately. We wanted to have our own view and this is our view and so say all of us and we'll see what happens.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible].. room for compromise?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we have already made a change. No, we will not be making any further changes to this and that is understood by the Cabinet and it's understood by the joint party room.

JOURNALIST:

I wonder if theàI think the Committee's proposals suggested the word replaced by an Australian presidentà

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, we considered that. You want to know why I have taken it out?

JOURNALIST:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, because to call the President àAustralian, to put the adjective Australian in front of the President without simultaneously saying the Queen of Australia and the Australian Governor-General is being selectively patriotic. And I don't think that's honest and it's emotive. So it was making it too long to say Queen of Australia and Australian Governor-General. I mean, nobody can deny that the Governor-General is Australian, he is a creature of the Australian Constitution and he has been an Australian since 1965. The Queen is by law the Queen of Australia so I think if you are going to use the adjective Australian in front of President you have to use the addendum of Australia and also Australian Governor-General so we decided to delete the word in relation to the President.

JOURNALIST:

Was Cabinet agreed on that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Absolutely. I mean, this is a Cabinet recommendation.

JOURNALIST:

You said ôstronglyö though you didn't say ôunanimouslyö to the Cabinet.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, what's the timeframe on the preamble? Does the legislation have to goà

PRIME MINISTER:

This week I understand. Quite soon.

JOURNALIST:

Tomorrowà

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I think it's getting pretty close but I hope to have a further fruitful discussion. But I just don't quite know how all that's sitting at the moment. I had a good discussion with Senator Ridgeway on Friday. I had a previous discussion with Senator Lees. I gather there were discussions in the party room today and it now, you know, we are going to have another discussion. I mean, I'd like to have a preamble. I think this is a great opportunity. I think if we lose this opportunity it won't come our way again for a long time and it would be a terrible shame if we lost an opportunity where everybody wants to, sort of, include a reference to the indigenous people in the Constitution in an atmosphere of goodwill. I mean, surely we can find the way of doing it. I mean, if you want to get something through you try and maximise the common ground, you don't push the envelope out and deride those who aren't prepared to go that far.

JOURNALIST:

Are you surprised that 'mateship' is causing more of a problem in these negotiations than the reference to Aborigines?

PRIME MINISTER:

Good question but I don't want to answer it because I think it's, sort of, an offers an observation on what are confidential discussions.

JOURNALIST:

Senator Lees today on the radio was saying that it's a bit blokeyà

PRIME MINISTER:

Who was saying that?

JOURNALIST:

Senator Lees.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I heard her interview.

JOURNALIST:

Well, she was sort of giving away her viewsà.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, each to his or her own.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, would you like members of your Government may be taking a bit personality out of the republic debate. We've had Tim Fischer calling Peter Reith the republican rogue, Peter Costelloà

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, I think the differences between Peter Costello and Peter Reith on this have been greatly exaggerated. I don't think it's got anything to do with any presumed rivalry. I think you are all getting too excited about that part of it.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, just on a separate issue, what's your view of the new One Nation Senator Len Harris' call for all Senators to be made to prove their credentials before the Parliament in relation to being citizens of only Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I just think people are bound by the Constitution and the electoral act aren't they? I don't think they are required to do anything else. But I am neither a Senator nor I ever had any ownership of anybody else's, any other country's passport or, in fact, any desire to.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think it's possible that some people in the Government may have?

PRIME MINISTER:

I haven't the faintest idea. I wouldn't think so but, I wouldn't think so, Karen, but look, there's a law and the law is very clear and it's been affirmed by the High Court. You can't have another nationality and be a member of Parliament. And anybody who does, you know, has been warned. I don't think you have to go out and, sort of, prove that you didn't have a grandmother or a mother who was born somewhere else.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, is this change of question an admission that however intellectually non-partisan it was that emotively the original draft might have favoured the 'no' case?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. It represents a desire on the part of the Government to put beyond all doubt any suggestion that inviting the question we are trying to influence the outcome.

JOURNALIST:

There was doubt.

PRIME MINISTER:

Hmm?

JOURNALIST:

There was doubt [inaudible]à

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you can write whatever you want to, Gervase. I am just telling you why the Government did it. There's no genuine intellectual doubt but you know in life intellect and logic doesn't drive everything.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, [inaudible] the wording of the question would effect the outcomeà.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don't think so but a lot of people do including, I think, most of you.

JOURNALIST:

What do you think the outcome will be?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't know, I really don't. I think people areàI think it's too early to make a judgement about the outcome. You have a lot of forces swirling in different directions. I still don't find beneath the crust a great deal of interest in the issue, I really don't. I spent over the last month, I have spent a lot of time travelling. I have been to Western Australia, to Victoria two or three times, to Tasmania and I have spent a lot of time in different electorates in Sydney as well and I frankly haven't found anybody who raised the subject. Now, that's not to say people won't get interested in it as we get closer, they probably will. But it is not something about which people feel passionately. Some a small group of people do on both sides but not really passionately yet.

JOURNALIST:

But weren't you trivialising the issue, Mr Howard, yesterday when you suggested that really it would have been a waste of time to be talking about this with Mark Taylor that it would have been better to be talking about cricket. Isn't that really trivialisingà

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, no, I don't think it's trivialising it at all because I don't believe that this country will be advantaged by becoming a republic. So therefore to suggest that I amàI mean, just because I don't bring to the issue the same sense of urgency that you and others do it doesn't mean that I am being trivial. I mean, I don't think Australia is going to be advantaged at all by becoming a republic. I mean, isn't that self-evident?

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible] saying whether the issue was important enough, that's a question of which side you are on not how important the issue is itself.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think it's a question of how seriously you take it. I don't take it as a serious issue because I don't think we are going to be advantaged by it. And Michelle I think you are too intensely analysing my every word. I suppose I should be flattered but it was aàI mean, it's obviously the turn of phrase attracted your attention.

JOURNALIST:

If this referendum fails Mr Howard what's the likelihood of another one in the short term?

PRIME MINISTER:

I suppose it will depend a bit on the margin. I wouldn't have thought there'd be one in a hurry. I wouldn't be sponsoring one for 2001. But itàI mean, it all depends on how people, sort of, feel about it. I mean, you now have the situation where we are having a referendum that I don't support and I am very happy because I made a promise that we'd do it. And I sense that there was a desire on the part of the community to have a vote and I am allowing the people to have a vote. I mean, that's what I said way back in 1995 when Keating made his speech to the Parliament, I said that we would allow a vote. And I mean, I do sense that as doubt about the referendum being carried has increased although I think that doubt at this stage is quite premature. I just don't know what's going to happen. Because as that doubt has increased there's been a tendency to look around for people to blame and I am sort of one of them. And I noticed this morning in one of the newspapers it has now become Howard's republic. I mean, an extraordinary proposition Howard's republic. I don't own any republic. I mean, I don't want a republic but you are saying it's Howard's republic. I mean, I think a couple of the newspapers said that. I mean that's extraordinary. It wasn't yours, I think it was yours Michael.

JOURNALIST:

How much are you of the need to walk a fine line as it were? On the one hand you say you are delivering exactly what you promised, on the other you say that you'll give your view when asked and on a couple of other presumably important occasionsà

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I have neveràlook, I have never said that I wouldn't make my view known. What I said way back after the last election, and that's almost a year ago now, I said that I wasn't going to talk about it on a regular basis and talk about it every day. Now, obviously everybody's talking about it this week because this is the week the legislation goes through the Parliament and naturally I am having a press conference and I will probably talk more to you about it now than I have on any other occasion. And I don't mind doing that, you are entitled to have my views and I think it would be quite wrong of me not to express my views. But I am not trying to force them down anybody's throat. I have allowed a free vote and naturally I want colleagues to handle that in a mature, careful way and I am sure they will. But I am not going to be shy in putting my own view but I am not going toàI think that's a fine line. It seems as though one is damned if one does and damned if one doesn't. I mean, I am required toàI was required to deliver the possibility of people voting for a republic even though I personally don't support it and then having done that when it looked as though it was flagging - I'm to blame. And it's become my republic.

JOURNALIST:

Do you regret agreeing to put the question in the first placeà

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don't because I promised to do it.

JOURNALIST:

But do you regret making the initial promise?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don't because I felt people did want to say something and I always saw this as an issue that the Australian public would want to express a view about it. I do have a view that theàI think the most regrettable feature of this whole debate is that it was used as a partisan political wedge by the former government and I think that's a pity. I think that has discoloured aspects of the debate. I do. I mean, I recognise the republican sentiment historically has been stronger in the Labor Party than within the Coalition ranks. But I do think it would have been better if this was something that came up rather than was pushed down. I think thatàI mean, I think I can make that observation without it being seen as an argument for or against the ultimate outcome. I think that has tended to discolour the debate and I think many people on the republican side would perhaps acknowledge that themselves.

JOURNALIST:

But your promise was also made, Mr Howard, in response to that politicisation by Labor. Yours was political too, your response to the call the Convention and so on.

PRIME MINISTER:

But the point I am making, Michelle, is that the Labor Party as far back as 1981 embraced republicanism as part of its platform when Hayden was the leader. But it lay dormant during the period that Hawke was the Prime Minister because he had a, in my view, a more reflective view on the subject than his successor and his successor picked it up as a way of, in an emotional way, binding some elements of the Labor Party and the broader Labor movement behind him. That's the point I am making. Hawke always in my view had a more balanced view about the handling of this issue.

JOURNALIST:

Just on another issue, the meeting of the Oakdale miners tomorrow with a couple of your Ministers. Will there be any scheme outlined or following that meeting any kind of national scheme, somethingà.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we are trying to get a fair outcome. We think there is a case for doing something. We don't want to load competent, honest companies with burdens. I am not suggesting every company that goes broke is dishonest incidentally but we are not trying to load competent companies and solvent companies with burdens but we have to try and find a way around this that's affordable because it's not fair if you worked all your life in, particularly in a pursuit like that and you find that the wherewithal the help you ease into retirement or something else has disappeared. It's very hard, I have got to tell you because small business doesn't want an additional burden and we don't want to burden them. We don't want to put a load on the budget. Some of the redundancy arrangements are fairly generous, other redundancy arrangements are not so generous. We are genuinely trying to find a fair balanced way of handling it and I don't think we'll have a final outcome to put to the workers tomorrow. That's not the intention but we will be able to put some further propositions to them.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, at the moment if the superannuation fund goes broke there's legislation the former Labor Government put in a big levy at your discretion the rest of the industry to make good the savings that the people would have lost otherwiseàCould that principle be extended to this case, that somehow an industry wide levy to coverà.

PRIME MINISTER:

Only if, just to pick up those that have defaulted. But is that any different than having a fund to which people contribute because that is only drawn on if there's a default. You're talking really about an in-specie or an ad-hoc levy to cover a shortfall as distinct from a permanent fund to which people make contributions. Well, I don't know that cost-wise, George, it would be any different would it?

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]..it would be no different.

PRIME MINISTER:

No. We hadn't thought of that probably for that reason. Okay, I think you have done well. [ends]

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