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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 22169

Interview with Romilly Weeks ITV, United Kingdom

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 14/03/2006

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 22169

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, you lead a young, dynamic forward looking country, how does a 79-year-old Queen who lives 12,000 miles away fit into that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it is an institution as well as a person. The Queen is very well liked in Australia, people respect her. She has been a very dedicated Constitutional Monarch and she has travelled a long journey with Australia since first coming here in 1954 and I think there is a bit of a sense that she has been part of that evolution and that change. But it is also an institution that works well. I am a conservative on these things; I believe that if you've got a system that works well, there's got to be a powerful reason before you agree to change it.

JOURNALIST:

But Australia has changed a lot in those 50 years. Isn't there a sense that she's connected with Australia's past and not with its future?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well somebody in her position is not somebody who you, sort of, think about everyday in the context of the life of the country, of course not. That doesn't apply to anybody, doesn't matter who they are or what the country is. It is an absurd benchmark in a way, but I see the Constitutional monarchy as being a, through an accident of history really, as having given Australia a remarkably stable way of conducting our affairs. We have a Parliamentary system, decisions are taken by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet and we have a non-political Governor-General who represents the Queen. He is there in a Constitutional and ceremonial role and that all works pretty well.

JOURNALIST:

We spoke to young Australians on the beach on the day that The Queen arrived and none of them knew that The Queen was coming and their attitude was: why should we care, what has she ever done for us?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look all of that is quite understandable and you probably have that attitude in any country. That would be an attitude if Australia were a republic and we had a figurehead president; most people probably wouldn't know his name or her name. So I don't think we should sort of see that as being very significant.

JOURNALIST:

But there is quite a serious problem for the monarchy isn't there that the support base is in the older generation who have closer ties to the UK and that just doesn't hold true with younger people

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I am not going to sort of get into an analysis of the role of the levels of support or opposition to the monarchy. I mean we had a referendum on this a few years ago and we voted to keep it. It is an issue that will always be there and will probably return for further debate in the future. But the point I am making is that as a Constitutional arrangement, it works extremely well.

JOURNALIST:

The majority of Australians think that this country will eventually become a republic, do you?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it is very unlikely that this country will become a republic while the present Queen is on the throne; very unlikely.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think we will see an Australian King?

PRIME MINISTER:

Sorry? We certainly won't be developing an indigenous monarchy, no.

JOURNALIST:

No I mean do you think we will see Prince Charles as King of Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that is a matter for the Australian people and I believe in democracy. If the Australian people want to change the system they will. But if they don't, they won't. The only prediction that I make is that I do not believe that this country will become a republic while The Queen is on the throne. As to whether it might into the future; I am not going to hazard a guess either way.

JOURNALIST:

There is a lot of respect for The Queen for what she represents and for what she's done and for the way that she has conducted herself. Do you think there is that same level of respect for the next generation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, it is a different situation. Attitudes towards the monarchy and institutions generally have changed dramatically during the last 40 or 50 years, which has been a very iconoclastic period in world history. It is not just the British monarchy that has been affected by that, a lot of institutions have and the longer I am in my current position the more wary I am of making hard and fast predictions about these things. Obviously the attitude to the monarchy now is quite different from what it was 50 years ago. That doesn't mean to say that the current Constitutional arrangement in Australia doesn't continue to work but how long it will be supported by the Australian people is a matter for them.

JOURNALIST:

You've been a staunch defender of The Queen, how many of your fellow MP's feel the same way?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it varies. We had a free vote on this issue six years ago inside the Coalition and the majority of my Liberal and National Party colleagues took the view I did, a significant number didn't but that is democracy. The people spoke and they voted to retain the current arrangement, now whether they would do that in the future, I don't know. I am certain of one thing though, that if we were ever to change we must not in my view embrace an elected presidency because that would dramatically alter the system of Government this country has ande fundamentally unsettle the great stability we now have.

JOURNALIST:

Turning to the Commonwealth Games, the fact that this decision not to play God Save the Queen when The Queen arrives at the Commonwealth Games; do you think that's a mistake.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh look, I don't think it is a big issue; it is a technical breach of protocol. The protocol laid down by the former Labor Prime Minister was that God Save the Queen would be played when the Queen was present as well as Advance Australia Fair. Now apparently there is a mixture of Happy Birthday and the last bars of God Save the Queen so that is seen as a compromise. I don't think this should be seen as any kind of insult, I mean nobody is trying to do that. I'm sure the organising committee would be horrified at any suggestion they were. All the proper courtesies are being extended to The Queen while she is in Australia and I don't think there is any shortage of the playing of God Save the Queen during her visit.

JOURNALIST:

As The Queen approaches her 80th Birthday what would you say she has done for Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well she has been a part of an institution which has contributed very significantly to the political stability, the institution has. I think she has been a very proper, very dedicated Constitutional Monarch. Australia's greatness has been achieved by Australians of course; I'd be the first to say that and I'd be the loudest in saying it. But that is not to in anyway diminish the contribution, the dedicated contribution she has made as constitutional monarch.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think Australia still needs to look to the other side of the world for leadership, however nominal.

PRIME MINISTER:

You portray it wrongly, they don't. I mean the leadership of this country is in this country. It always will be; it always has been. Obviously attitudes will change over time but there is still a considerable reservoir of affection towards Great Britain and also towards Ireland because they were the original European well-springs of this country. Our institutions are overwhelmingly and our character is still overwhelmingly influenced by that heritage.

JOURNALIST:

Is there not an Australian that could do the job that The Queen is doing?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you wouldn't have an Australian monarchy, I mean that is a preposterous idea. If you didn't have the monarchy you would have a figurehead President and that person in my view would probably end up being not all that well known. There'd be nothing wrong in that , it is just that people are known because of the decisions they make and the authority they exercise.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think this will be The Queen's last trip to Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

I doubt it very much but I don't know, it is a matter for her. She is always welcome.

JOURNALIST:

And would you be sad if it was?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that would be a matter for her, I mean she is almost 80 and she is remarkably fit. She's got good genes and will live for a very long time. I don't think it will be, but that entirely is a matter for her.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister thank you very much.

[ends]

Transcript 22169