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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 10894


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: 13/02/1998

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 10894


Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen. His Grace, the Archbishop of

Melbourne, said that God had had a pretty good Convention. Can I

say that, without in any way wishing to belittle the Almighty's

success, can I say that I think Australia has had an even better

one. I think what this Convention has demonstrated is the truth

of a proposition that I have always held very dear and that is the

things that unite us as Australians are greater than the things

that divide us.

I ask myself what have I learnt out of this last two weeks? I have

learnt something that I wasn't so sure of at the beginning,

and that is that I have no doubt that Australia can conduct a referendum

on this issue with vigour, with passion and with meaning and yet

in a way that doesn't undermine or fracture the essential values

of our society.

I have learnt out of this Convention that this Australian way we

have of doing things is special and is unique. I haven't experienced

anything like this in all the years I have been in public life.

The bringing together of so many people in different ways, with

different backgrounds, with different contributions, with different

views was something that at the beginning one might have thought

was fraught with danger, that anything could have happened, that

anything could have emerged.

In terms of the positions that were taken I suppose at various

stages, that appeared possible. But in a great display of civility

and good humour and with great integrity in many areas, it was possible

for us to really let out what has been a moment in Australia's

history and a moment that I am sure that everybody has treasured.

I have been a Member of this Federal Parliament now since May of

1974 and I have been immensely privileged to come to the highest-elected

position in this country and to be given the greatest honour that

can ever become the lot of any Australian man or woman and that

is to be the Prime Minister of our wonderful country.

I would have thought therefore that the sense of excitement and

exhilaration is something that I had enjoyed it all. But there was

something about this gathering and the look on peoples faces, and

I share Geoffrey Blainey's response to the look on the faces

of those like Malcolm Turnbull and Neville Wran and Janet Holmes

a Court, not people who on this issue I identified with very closely,

but obviously you have an enormous enthusiasm for it and felt a

sense of exhilaration and happiness that what they had worked to

achieve had in fact been achieved.

Could I also pay particular tribute to Lloyd Waddy and to Kerry

Jones as the leaders of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy.

I know the difficulties that they have endured in putting forward

a cause which, for a long time, received very little support or

recognition in commentaries on this issue. I know their lack of

resources. I know what was said and suggested at the beginning about

their propensity to strategically vote. I salute their immense integrity

in the way in which they have handled themselves throughout this

entire debate.

The reason that this has been a success and the reason why it has

captured to a very significant degree the interest and the imagination

of the Australian people, is that despite our differences we all

smell the same Eucalypt, we all know the same dust and we all feel

the same salt in the same ocean. And, of course, those things that

are dear to one side of the argument are equally dear to others.

And what has struck me more than anything else about this whole

Convention and about the whole debate is the integrity of the Australianism

that has been expressed by all of the delegates. And I will go away

from this Convention an even more idealistic Australian, one with

an even greater passion to allow our democracy to flourish. We will

have a vote next year. The Australian people will decide the outcome

of that. And we will all accept the verdict of the Australian people

with grace and goodwill, all of us, whatever the result may be.

Can I say that it was always my fervent wish that this issue could

be resolved in the sense of it not being on the agenda when we celebrated

the Centenary of our Federation. If Australia is to become a republic,

it ought to be become a republic on the 1st of January 2001. If

Australia is not to become a republic at that time, let it be off

the agenda for the celebration of the Centenary of our Federation

so that we can share together the jubilation and the gratitude and

the affection that we feel for what this country has meant to us

over the last 100 years.

That doesn't mean to say that the issue, if it is rejected

next year, will not necessarily return. It is in the nature of a

democracy that is always open to the people. But the celebration

of 100 years of the Australian nation, with all its achievement

and acknowledging all of its blemishes. And can I say on that point,

that one of the things which has enriched this Convention has been

the contribution of the representatives of the first Australians,

the Indigenous people.

And I hope in a small way, to you Lois and Gatjil and Nova, and

to Pat and George and to Neville, I am sorry, and to David, I hope

that is in some way a sign and a signal from all of us that you

do occupy a very special place in our community.

I think we can look forward, with great hope and in a very positive

way, to the conduct of this referendum. This Convention has spoken

very clearly. It will be the intention of my Government, if it is

returned at the next election, to hold the referendum before the

end of 1999. In the meantime, in the nature of things, other issues

will flood back to the stage of public debate and I imagine that

there will be a period in which the debate on this issue might go

slightly on to the backburner, particularly so far as some of the

more active political players are concerned. But that, once again,

is in the hands of the Australian public.

We won't back track on the commitments that we have given

and I have given in the name of my Government. I said before the

last election that we would have a Convention. I promised the Australian

people a vote before the year 2000. I said at the opening of this

Convention that if a clear view emerged about a republican model

the Australian people would have a referendum. I repeat my promise

that that is what will occur. I repeat again that my Government,

the members of the Liberal Party of Australia and therefore in practice,

the members of my Government, will be allowed an open or a free

vote during that election campaign.

I am proud of the fact that my Party, the Liberal Party of Australia,

allowed a conscience vote on this issue. I don't say that to

criticise the other Party, I simply say it as a mark of the maturity

of my Party that we did that. This is an issue that is

a-typical, that is different. It doesn't follow the normal

conventions and cannons of political behaviour and I am very proud

of the Liberal Party being mature enough and strong enough to allow

people an open and free vote on this issue.

I want to say to you, Ian, that you have adorned the proceedings

of this Convention in a way that has won everybody's admiration.

There is nobody and I say nobody - and I am not normally noted for

modesty on these things - in this room, whose parliamentary skills

and whose management skills, in a Chamber such as this, are as consummate

as yours, Ian, and you have demonstrated that.

And to you Barry, you brought with your particular role, as National

President of the Australian Labor Party, but also because of who

you are and the character that you are and what you mean to many

people in Australia, you brought an added quality as Deputy Chairman

of the proceedings. And I also salute, very warmly, the contribution

that you have made.

I would like to thank Nick Minchin, in particular, who has carried

the ministerial burden. Nick has got two specific responsibilities

in my Government, and many others, but the two he has got have been

fairly lively of late. One has been the Constitutional Convention

and the other has been native title and he has worked very hard

and he has been a great source of support and strength to me, in

this. And I would also like to thank on my own personal staff, Catherine

Murphy, who has been of particular help to me and to Nick, and who

has kept me informed.

Can I join in thanking the Secretariat and in particular, Bill

Blick from my Department who has headed up the Secretariat. And

to Lyn Barlin, whose work as Clerk I admired immensely, and I am

delighted that he has been able to help us out.

There is not a lot more I can say. I am really so happy that we've

been able to hold something so different, so special and that we've

come through it better Australians. We are all the happier for the

experience. The memories that I will take away from this include

the lovely Grace sung last night by George and his wife, which was

a beautiful touch and a reminder of the special diversity of our


The immense intelligence and dignity and bearing of the younger

delegates to the Convention with their variety of views. But not

to forget the age cohorts at the other end of the range were also

very well represented and their contribution was considerable and

we are greatly in their debt.

It has been a very special experience. I have loved every minute

of it. I feel privileged to have been the Prime Minister who brought

it about and I think it has brought us all together as Australians,

whatever the outcome referendum may be, in a very, very special

way. Thank you very, very much.


Transcript 10894