Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search

 


AUS: Transcript - Howard Interview

11 August 1999

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER
THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP
PRESS CONFERENCE û PARLIAMENT HOUSE

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm very pleased to announce that the Government has reached agreement with the Australian Democrats regarding a preamble, which will be put as a separate question at the referendum on the 6th of November. I've supplied you with a copy of the preamble. It represents a rewrite of the original proposal put forward by the Government. It contains most of the concepts in that original proposal. There is rewording in relation to references to Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. We have reluctantly agreed to remove the word 'mateship'.

I have to say I'm very sorry about that, very sorry indeed. However, I took the view in the end that to allow the whole thing to fall over through a personal passion for a word I love very much would have been a poor ordering of priorities given that we now have within our grasp an historic opportunity to include in our Constitution, in our own contemporary words, a reference to the role of the indigenous people in our society. And to pass up that opportunity simply because I couldn't get my way on one particular word would have been the wrong thing to have done and I wasn't willing to do it. But I don't want anybody to think that I'm any less enthusiastic about that word or the things that it stands for or the things that it continues to mean for the Australian community. And, in a sense, the last paragraph is another way of expressing what is embraced in the contemporary notion of mateship.

The words that have been agreed upon in relation to the indigenous people represent, in my view, an historic achievement. This will be the first time there is a positive, honourable, pro-active, contemporary reference to the indigenous people in our Constitution. And I thank the Australian Democrats for their cooperation in achieving that. There is also included in the preamble for the first time in all the drafts that have been around a reference to those who put their lives on the line and many sadly lost in defending our country in war time. And there is also a reference to our concern for the environment.

This document does represent a compromise but it's a compromise that I can enthusiastically support. It's a compromise that has been endorsed overwhelmingly by the Joint Party meeting this morning. I hope it is endorsed by the Australian Labor Party. It can't be further changed. We need to pass the legislation this week. And if it is not supported by the Australian Labor Party, well, that will represent a smallness of mind and a narrowness of attitude and a combative view of Australian politics which I think is out of step with what the Australian people expect on issues of this kind.

There is no one set of words which is a perfect expression of what ought to go in a preamble. And people will nitpick and criticise and whinge about this or that expression but in the end if falls to the government of the day mustering what parliamentary support it can to get agreement on a set of words. And we have been able to do that and I want to thank Senator Lees. I want to thank Senator Ridgeway, the newly elected Democrat Senator, for his contribution which was very constructive and very positive. And I also want to thank my own colleagues for their assistance and help.

I'm very pleased at this outcome. I think we now have an opportunity to unite the country on an aspirational issue in a very positive way. And those who will stand in the way of that unity will be very small-minded and very negative because we do have within this document, however much other people may want to express it another way, we do have gathered together things that I think do unite Australians in a very positive way and with which all of us can identify.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, originally you said that nobody would wear a reference to Aboriginal people as the original inhabitants, what's made you change your mind?

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

Originally you said the community, the bulk of the community, wouldn't wear a reference to Aborigines as original custodians, what's made you change your mind?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I haven't got custodians here.

JOURNALIST:

No, but you've put the reference in now.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I had û this doesn't talk ofà

JOURNALIST:

But 'the nation's first people' is a major change.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don't accept that 'nation's first people' is the same as custodians.

JOURNALIST:

So you think the bulk of the Australianà

PRIME MINISTER:

I think all Australians will be pretty happy with this. Well, I think most Australians will be quite happy with it. But this is different from û I mean, let's not spend our time nitpicking over this or that word, for heaven 's sake. The language in this is different from the language that I said earlier that we couldn't support.

JOURNALIST:

What does the term 'deep kinship with their lands' mean to you, Mr Howard?

PRIME MINISTER:

It means that land owned by Aborigines has a special significance both in an historical and other ways to the indigenous people. It's a word that they felt or those with whom I've spoken felt was an appropriate way of expressing it. It doesn't carry any particular connations of ownership.. It speaks of their lands, not of the land, therefore, it is by definition something that relates to land that is owned by indigenous people. And they have always, in their culture, had a special affinity, kinship, relationship with their land and we've sought to recognise that. And I think it would have been, in the end, ungenerous of us not to have recognised that in this document.

JOURNALIST:

How heavily did the contributions of the hundreds of people who wrote to you on the preamble weigh on your mind in the rewriting of the preamble?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, I had the sense that people wanted a preamble. They wanted us to try and reach an agreement, to work hard on it. And I guess the volume of expressions of opinion encouraged me to keep trying. It would have been very easy to have abandoned the quest and a lot of people wanted that to happen, including people who have vigorous views on both sides of the republican debate. I was urged by republicans to drop the preamble through fear that having a preamble question would make it harder to get a 'yes' vote. I was also urged by anti-republicans to drop the preamble through fear that having a preamble question would make it harder to get a 'no' vote. So, I was encouraged by that pressure to continue.

JOURNALIST:

Was there any discussion in these discussions on the preamble of the referendum question at the same time?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, only in a very glancing way in which Senator Lees reported to me what the Democrats were going to do. Correction û she did say to me, would you agree to the short title that they want and I said no, and she said, I thought you would say that. And I said, well, we're not willing to change the words we've agreed upon and you will go ahead and do what you wish to do. And she said that they would do that and they have done that. And I'll just wait and see what happens. But our position is that we will now introduce preamble legislation. There will be a declaratory clause inserted in the Constitution saying that these words cannot be used in any way in interpreting the Constitution or interpreting any law of the Commonwealth. That will actually go into the Constitution if the preamble is carried. We' ll put that up and we'll just see what happens. But we're not going to alter our words on the question. I won't try and pre-empt what Parliament will do but our position is, we're for this, the Democrats are for this, we' re not for changing our position in relation to the referendum question and if Parliament wraps it up and approves the whole thing we'll have two questions on the 6th of November. And I'll be voting no to one of them and yes to the other.

JOURNALIST:

I was just going to ask you how you were going to vote but you've told us.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think I'll be voting for this.

JOURNALIST:

Can you take us through a bit of the process of the redrafting, for example, obviously mateship and Aboriginal reference were a matter of discussion with the Democrats but was it substantially rewritten by you before that phase after consideringà?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, yes, and there was some rewriting after the û you know what happens with these things, Michael, you lose track of the exact sequence. But I decided to make a real effort last week to see if we could get agreement with the Democrats and I'm very pleased that it has been reached. I didn't like giving up 'mateship' but as I said earlier, if at the end of the day I' d have said, well I'll scrap the whole thing, scupper the whole thing, lose the great contribution that this will make to the reconciliation process simply because I couldn't get every word I wanted, would have been very mean-minded and wrong and I wasn't willing to do that.

JOURNALIST:

The reference to servicemen û where did that come from?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we decided last night, we in the Government decided last night to put that in, and we think it's very proper and very desirable and the Democrats supported it. I would be astonished if anybody would object to it.

JOURNALIST:

Was there a suggestion that that be included from elsewhere?

PRIME MINISTER:

It came from within the highest levels of the Government.

JOURNALIST:

What do you mean 'we' decided Mr Howard?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I mean the Cabinet.

JOURNALIST:

The Cabinet met on this last night

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the Cabinet is the day-to-day expression of the Government.

JOURNALIST:

And the Cabinet met on this last night?

PRIME MINISTER:

The Cabinet met on this last night, yes.

JOURNALIST:

Andà

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, it's gone through due process, Michelle, I can assure you.

JOURNALIST:

Did you put to Cabinet that reference to servicemen orà

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, Michelle, I am not going to go into that. I mean, all I can say is that Cabinet supported it very strongly. I am not going to say who initiated it. I have seen some odd comments about the Cabinet today anyway.

JOURNALIST:

In this latest process, Prime Minister, this literary process, did you contact Les Murray again toà

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no. I amàno. This is not, this particular draft is not, sort of, directly from Murray, no. I haven't spoken to Les for some couple of months, no.

JOURNALIST:

Did you speak to other indigenous people other than Senator Ridgeway?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. Oh, I did have a discussion with Pat Dodson in Western Australia a couple of weeks ago but we didn't talk about the detail of this. I don't even know whether the preamble came up in that conversation but certainly we didn't discuss the form of it, no.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think this advances the cause of reconciliation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I do. I do think the fact that we are proposing to the Australian people a preamble for our Constitution which will come into effect if the people support whether or not the country becomes a republic which includes an appropriate, generous and very positive reference to Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. It does advance the reconciliation process. It is a valuable symbol. It is a recognition of their particular place in our society and a generous reference. So I think it will help the reconciliation process.

JOURNALIST:

Did Senator Ridgeway discuss with you his wish for a parliamentary apology to the Aboriginal people?

PRIME MINISTER:

We talked about a whole range of indigenous issues but we were able to, sort of, talk about them in separate compartments.

JOURNALIST:

You said originally that you wanted a form of words that would sing to the Australian people. Do you think this sings?

PRIME MINISTER:

Sings?

JOURNALIST:

As a piece of poetry?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we'll wait and see. I mean, look, you know what these things are like that everybody has their own version of what sings. And in the end because in our system of Government no one person can have uninterrupted authorship and therefore total control over the poetry of what comes out. You are inevitably going to have compromises. If we didn't have the political process and you just called in the nominal laureate and said: write something. Well, you'd get a different outcome than if you go through this sort of process. I mean, this is a political process and we have to do the best we can. I think these words are succinct. I think they are appropriate. I think they are easily understood. They bring together a number of concepts and notions with which people can readily identify and they are, more importantly, they are acceptable to a majority of the people who have to decide whether they can be put as a preamble. Now, I mean, we all have our sort ofàI mean, if I thought I could hand down a preamble without having to get it approved by anybody else before it goes to referendum, everybody would do it a little differently. I am sure Mr Beazley would do it differently. I am sure Senator Lees would do it differently. But the process doesn't work like that and I have to achieve what I can and I am very pleased with what's been achieved.

JOURNALIST:

Can you clarify, Mr Howard, whether this is a free vote on your side of politics after it gets through Parliament?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. The Government will be advocating a yes vote.

JOURNALIST:

So you would expect all your people out?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh look, we are not going to, sort of, drum people out and hang them and shoot them if they run dead.

JOURNALIST:

But you don't considerà.

PRIME MINISTER:

àbut I wouldn't expect any Ministers, for example, to be taking any opposite points of view or I wouldn't expect there to be, sort of, any direct and indirect election preamble-ists if that's what you are getting at.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, do you think that this preamble will help you to get out and sell the reconciliation process better than has been so far?

PRIME MINISTER:

This will help the reconciliation process. I wouldn't try and categorise it as helping me to sell it or whatever. It will contribute to a more positive atmosphere, a more positive ambience, a more positive feeling in the community that reconciliation û and that means different things to different people û is achievable. And it is the first time we have actually been able to agree and have within our grasp the inclusion of some positive, generous words. And I think that is a huge advancement and that's why I worked very hard to get it and that's why I was willing to give up a word that I love very dearly.

JOURNALIST:

Do you envisage an official no case being run?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't know. I suppose it depends on what happens in the Parliament. There won't be any managed dissent on our side but, I mean, I don't know. This had very strong support in our party room but I don't control everybody in the Senate.

JOURNALIST:

How prominently and strongly will you campaign for the preamble?

PRIME MINISTER:

Paul, I haven't really given a lot of thought to that. I'll be campaigning appropriately for it. I haven't really given any thought to the intensity of it but I will be certainly advocating that there is a yes vote for the preamble. Just how extensive my campaign will beàI don't regard the 6th of November as being in the character of an election campaign. In fact, if you want a good result on the 6th of November whatever your view is after a good debate I don't think it should be turned into an election campaign. I think it is an error for either of the political parties to turn it into an election campaign. All that will do is, sort of, polarise the community along party political lines.

JOURNALIST:

What about advertising and public fundingà

PRIME MINISTER:

I haven't made any decision on that Michelle and we'll have to think about that.

JOURNALIST:

One of the criticisms of the original draft was that it was very much John Howard's documentà

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

JOURNALIST:

One of the criticisms of the first document is that it was a John Howard document. Is it fair to describe this as a broader documentà

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I, I mean, the premise of that question is, how shall I put it, less gracious but I'll overlook that. Look, it's a different document. I have to thank a number of other people for giving some help to this but this is a different bit of Howard in this. Let's put it that way.

JOURNALIST:

Is it your, sort of, nationalistic vision as opposedàbecause you are, sort of, for the no case on the republic? Is it your answerà

PRIME MINISTER:

You say this is my substitute vision thing. Is that what you are trying to say? No. I genuinely believe it would be a terrific thing if at the Centenary of Federation we could agree on a preamble whether we are republicans or not which expresses some of the basic verities of Australian life and particularly includes an appropriate reference to Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. Now, I know some people find that hard to accept and believe because of the stereotyped view they have of me and of the Government. But they are wrong. I believe that it has been an important exercise. I didn't likely agree to surrender the word 'mateship' but that really did become the final stumbling block to get any agreement. And I wasn't prepared to allow that to stand in the way because it would have been a failure on my part and a failure on the Government's part to grasp an opportunity to have a preamble that so generously and appropriately referred to indigenous people.

JOURNALIST:

Will this help heal the rift with the Aboriginal leadership û like Gatjil Djekurra?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't know Aban, I don't know. There are some Aboriginal leaders who just find it impossible to deal with a Coalition Government because they operated for years on an assumption that the only government you'd have to deal with on indigenous affairs is a Labor government. Others take a more mature broader view, and we're happy to talk to any of the indigenous leadership. We're going to agree with them on some things and disagree on others. We have to keep trying and we have to keep making progress, and we have made progress on this occasion, real progress. And I only hope the Labor Party has the maturity, the strength, the commitment to the common Australian cause to get behind this preamble. I'll be very disappointed indeed for the sake of Australian unity if Mr Beazley does not support this. I don't know what he's going to do but I'll be very disappointed if he doesn't.

JOURNALIST:

On another subjectà.

PRIME MINISTER:

Another subject?

JOURNALIST:

Can you guarantee there'll be no losers out of the Ralph tax reform process?

PRIME MINISTER:

I never guarantee that in these things there'll be no losers. But I can assure you that good and true hard-working entrepreneurial men and women from all parts of the nation will welcome the decision.

JOURNALIST:

When will we see the decision?

PRIME MINISTER:

When?

JOURNALIST:

When. When will weà?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, I don't know. We're working on it. It's very big, it's very complicated, it's very important and we're working on it. One last question then I'm going in. I don't know about you but it's getting a bit nippy. O' Leary says that's a good discipline on us all.

JOURNALIST:

Is the 30% corporate tax rate going to be certainly a governmentà.

PRIME MINISTER:

The which?

JOURNALIST:

A 30% corporate tax rate?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look, nothing has been decided. I saw a number of headlines this morning that were interesting but nothing's been decided. I've got an open mind. I want to make big reforms. We haven't made any final decisions.. It 's a very good document. It's very extensive and I'm wading my way through it. Thanks a lot.

[ends]


© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
World Headlines

 

Preliminary Results: MH17 Investigation Report

The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) is convinced of having obtained irrefutable evidence to establish that on 17 July 2014, flight MH-17 was shot down by a BUK missile from the 9M38-series. According to the JIT there is also evidence identifying the launch location that involves an agricultural field near Pervomaiskyi which, at the time, was controlled by pro-Russian fighters. More>>

ALSO:

At The UN: Paris Climate Agreement Moves Closer To Entry Into Force

The Paris Agreement on climate change moved closer toward entering into force in 2016 as 31 more countries joined the agreement today at a special event hosted by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. More>>

ALSO:

ALSO:

Gordon Campbell: On The End Game In Spain (And Other World News)

The coverage of international news seems almost entirely dependent on a random selection of whatever some overseas news agency happens to be carrying overnight... Here are a few interesting international stories that have largely flown beneath the radar this past week. More>>

Amnesty/Human Rights Watch: Appalling Abuse, Neglect Of Refugees On Nauru

Refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru, most of whom have been held there for three years, routinely face neglect by health workers and other service providers who have been hired by the Australian government, as well as frequent unpunished assaults by local Nauruans. More>>

ALSO:

Other Australian Detention

Gordon Campbell: On The Censorship Havoc In South Africa’s State Broadcaster

Demands have included an order to staff that there should be no further negative news about the country’s President Jacob Zuma, and SABC camera operators responsible for choosing camera angles that have allegedly made the President ‘look shorter’ were to be retrained... More>>

ALSO:

Gordon Campbell: On A Bad Week For Malcolm Turnbull, And The Queen

Malcolm Turnbull’s immediate goal – mere survival – is still within his grasp... In every other respect though, this election has been a total disaster for the Liberals. More>>

ALSO:

Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
 
 
Australia
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news