PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 11219

Press Conference, Parliament House

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: 09/08/1999

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 11219

Subject(s): Change to wording of referendum question; preamble; One Nation

9 August 1999

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………….

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming. I wanted to inform you that the Government has decided to amend the question to be put in the referendum when it goes before the Parliament tonight to read as follows:

An Act to alter the Constitution to establish the Commonwealth of Australia as a republic with the Queen and Governor-General being replaced by a President appointed by a two-thirds majority of the Members of the Commonwealth Parliament.

Can I say that this change has been unanimously supported in our joint party room and it also received very strong support in the Cabinet. I personally support it very strongly and argued for it. I don’t normally go into that sort of detail but I think given the character of this debate it’s appropriate for me to make that plain. Some of you may have detected that right from the beginning I left open the possibility of some alteration and intellectually there was no reason to change the original question, it was absolutely correct.

But I wanted to put beyond any doubt the fact that the question had not been loaded and that it was fair. I don’t want anybody to say if the referendum is defeated, which I hope it will be, I don’t want anybody to say that it was defeated because of some trickery with the question. There was never any trickery intended and the original question was a faithful, flat statement of what the measure will do. Intellectually if you have a republic by definition you don’t have a sovereign. The two concepts are incompatible and therefore to me it seems repetitious to say you are going to establish a republic and then you are going to remove the Queen because the one follows automatically without any further words. However, the view was put in the Committee report and the view has gained currency around the place that in some way to leave those words out was to load the question. There was never any possibility of the Cabinet supporting a deletion of the reference to the two-thirds appointment because that is absolutely fundamental to the debate.

So that is the question that we will be putting to the Parliament tonight. We will not accept any amendments to it. That was expressly discussed in the Cabinet today. We have made the only amendment we intend to make. Intellectually, as I say, not necessary but in the overall handling of the situation I do not want people to say that the question has been unfairly constructed. In the end I myself doubt that people are going to be greatly influenced by the actual form of the question on the ballot paper. I think that illustrates the fact that there is really nothing else much to talk about on the referendum at the moment other than the form of the question. I think once you get into the debate people will pretty quickly forget the actual form of the question. I can think of some remarkably seductive propositions that have been put up before on ballot papers that have been defeated. Not as a result of people actually literally reacting to what’s been on the ballot paper but rather to the arguments that are put for and against.

So we decided to make that change. It’s a change that the party room is very supportive of. It’s a change that people on different sides of the argument are supportive of. I guess it’s fair to say that some of the republicans would have liked to have gone further and supported the Committee’s recommendation. Others would have preferred to leave it as exactly as it was. You all know my own views on the subject which I don’t conceal. I think this is the fairest and most sensible way of doing it. We can now have a proper debate on the merits of the argument. And we’ll be putting this up tonight in the Parliament but we’ll have the support of the Government.

I should point out a few things relating to the debate. It’s an unusual debate. We are having a free vote on the substantive issue. In other words, members of the Liberal Party and the National Party are free to campaign for or against the referendum proposal. They are not free to vote as they choose in the Parliament on the legislation.

The legislation to establish the referendum is Government policy. It’s Government policy to have the referendum and therefore it’s Government policy to formulate the question and whatever the question is is a Government question and Government members are expected to support the question in accordance with the normal practice.

The other observation I would make is that because of the requirements of the referendum legislation there has to be managed dissent on the Government side in the Parliament so that people can write the no case. So you will see some members of the Government voting against the rest of the Government in the Parliament tonight so they can actually then write the case. Because unless you have people, according to the current law, unless you have people actually voting against something you can’t have an officially circulated ‘no’ case. And we wouldn’t want that to happen would we? So we think it’s…we are going to manage that dissent and you’ll see one or two people crossing the floor. But don’t be alarmed, there’ll be no outbreaks of Bolshevism or no anarchy in the Coalition on these things just managed dissent.

JOURNALIST:

Are you crossing the floor?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. I will support the measure. But one or two of my colleagues whose names are probably known to you might be found amongst those who cross the floor. That’s being worked out at the moment. There’s quite a few people who want to cross the floor.

JOURNALIST:

If there was a free vote amongst the Coalition on the actual legislation do you think there would be many on your side who would cross the floor?

PRIME MINISTER:

On the legislation?

JOURNALIST:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, there’s a lot of my colleagues don’t want a referendum.

JOURNALIST:

What about on the wording of the question?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, actually I don’t. I think people think this is pretty sensible. Look, a lot of people who share my view on the thing are quite happy to have it this way. They think it’s just a reasonable compromise…I mean, we do not want people running around saying after the referendum, you know, it was…Howard rigged the question. I mean, I don’t want people saying that because I am not trying to rig the question. I want to see the referendum defeated but we have all got to, sort of, live with the aftermath until the thing has been given a fair go. And I have kept my word at every stage. I said I’d have a referendum…have a convention and I said I’d have the referendum and I am doing all of that and at the same time I have not disguised in any way my own view. I can’t play it any more openly than that. If I’d have taken a purely intellectual position I’d have not budged. But you can’t just take a purely intellectual position on this, you have to manage an issue and that’s what I have tried to do.

JOURNALIST:

PRIME MINISTER:

…..don’t relate to this Michelle which are of no great consequence…..

JOURNALIST:

Is there any other fine-tuning of the legislation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes there may be. Daryl said there were. I haven’t looked at it I’ve got to tell you. I’ve just been focusing on this.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, this reference to two-thirds majority of Parliamentarians….

PRIME MINISTER:

Members of the Commonwealth Parliament yes.

JOURNALIST:

You said this was fundamental to the issue. Now the overwhelming finding of that bipartisan committee was that it was actually just one of seven procedural issues, the last one being this one.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that’s not the view of the Government.

JOURNALIST:

So you reject the committee’s … ?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah we do on that score, yes, completely. We think it is incomprehensible for somebody to argue, given the character of the debate and everything, that this is not fundamental to it. We think in fact to omit reference to a Parliamentary appointment is really not….there is a far greater, let me put it this way, there is a far greater argument to favour the inclusion of reference to the method of appointment than there is to include reference specifically to the Queen and the Governor General, far greater argument. So I find, with great respect to the members of it, I find the reasoning of the committee on that unacceptable and as did the Cabinet.

JOURNALIST:

Does this define the choice between a two-thirds appointed President and an elected President in the question?

PRIME MINISTER:

Does it what?

JOURNALIST:

Does it define….

PRIME MINISTER:

No no. Dennis this describes what the Act will do if it’s carried. I mean the purpose of the question is to describe in short succinct form what the effect of the Act will be if it’s carried. Now in its original form it did that and intellectually it would have been quite defensible of the Government to have said we’re not going to change it. Now by adding the words Queen and Governor-General being replaced by the President, you are not distorting the question. I think you are being repetitious and unnecessarily so but you are not distorting it. In my view, given the character of the debate, to leave out the reference to appointment by Parliament, when you all know that part of the debate is whether it should be a parliamentary or a popular appointment is I think to be deceptive, and that’s why we’re not prepared to [inaudible].

JOURNALIST:

That in keeping with what you said on Australia Day last year…

PRIME MINISTER:

What’s that?

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] the question should be one which allows to differentiate between making a clear choice on the republic….

PRIME MINISTER:

Well did I say that on Australia Day last year?

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well how perspicacious of me. I don’t remember, I don’t remember saying that. But look, everybody knows…just chat for a minute about who sort of, you know, got what in mind. There are in my view, there are essentially three groups of people in the community. There are those who want a republic with a Parliamentary process for appointing the President. There are those who want a republic but favour a directly elected President. And there are those who support the present system. Now I belong to the third category. I understand that if somebody wants a directly elected President, why they would vote ‘no’ to this proposition because I don’t believe that if the referendum question gets up, the one that’s going to be proposed, I don’t believe if it gets up the Australian people are likely going to change to a directly elected presidency in the future. If this referendum question gets up I don’t think you’ll have another vote on the Head of State issue for thirty or forty years. I just can’t see another vote. I think that is just nonsense for people to say – oh look, we’ll have another referendum to go from a Parliamentary system to a directly elected Presidency. I mean that misunderstands the history of referenda in this country. So I can understand the logic, even though I personally am strongly opposed to an elected Presidency. And I’ve never disguised that fact and I repeat it here today – I’m very strongly opposed to an elected Presidency. I think it would produce an unstable system and I don’t support it. But I can as a matter of intellectual honesty accept that if somebody wants a directly elected Presidency why they would want to defeat this referendum in the hope that they would come again. I understand that.

JOURNALIST:

Do you agree with Mr Reith’s claim last week that if this model does get up that there is no way that the public will have any say in the choice of President?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think inevitably there’s greater public participation in the choice of a Presidency if you have a directly elected one. I don’t think there will be a lot of public participation. But Michael, I don’t have to defend this proposition.

JOURNALIST:

But as Prime Minister will you take note of that part of the process that allows public nomination?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I will be bound as Prime Minister if this becomes the law after the 1st of January 2001, I will follow the law. I will obey the law like I always do. But in the end….I mean, let’s face it, the nature of the selection process is something of a façade. In the end the choice will be made by the Prime Minister of the day. I mean he will….he or she will find somebody who is acceptable to the Leader of the Opposition and I’ll bet that person gets nominated. I mean, forgive me, but I don’t think anybody should imagine that this proposition is an exercise in participatory democracy for choosing the President. I mean you either have a President who does not have a popular mandate, which is really the equivalent of the current Governor-General, or you have an elected Presidency which sets up a rival power centre to that of the Prime Minister and I think that is a bad road to embark on and I’ve always been opposed to that. And of course I don’t see any need for change in the present system because I can’t believe the system that is being proposed is going to make it any more stable. And the other point to make is that, I think this idea that in some way the model being proposed allows for a lot of public participation. I mean there’s the appearance of public consultation but in reality there won’t be. I mean in reality whoever the government of the day might think fit will some how or other be one of those who’s nominated.

JOURNALIST:

You said last night that there was more power to hire and fire the Head of State if this question gets up and…?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think in reality you would have slightly more, yes. I mean there….look it is because….

JOURNALIST:

How?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well because under the present system there is one constraint. I mean the Queen is bound to act on the advice of the Prime Minister. But there is the very fact that you have got to go through that process acts as a further brake and is not seen entirely as a formality. You would…I mean, I haven’t contemplated it. I can’t imagine that I would ever be in the situation of contemplating it. But nonetheless…I’m trying to put myself in the shoes of a Prime Minister under a republican system of government. I think there is somewhat more. But look, I don’t want to exaggerate it George. Look the problem with these debates is that a lot can be exaggerated and I mean, I support the present system - not out of any deep royalist sentiments - but rather because as a conservative on these issues I just adopt the Burkeian conservative view that when you’ve got an institution that works I think impeccably, and hasn’t hindered our prosperities or our growth or our sense of self respect, or our identifiable national personality, I don’t see any particular reason to change it and that’s why I’m going to vote ‘no’ and encourage people when they ask me, but perhaps on one or two other occasions as well when they don’t ask me, to do likewise.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, you said yesterday that it wasn’t a defective question…

PRIME MINISTER:

No that’s right. I acknowledge that.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] qualify intellectually, I’m just wondering what’s changed. Was it….

PRIME MINISTER:

When I also said yesterday that I’d have a look at it.

JOURNALIST:

Was it the weight of some of your Ministers’ pleadings?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I think you….no, definitely not.

JOURNALIST:

Was it raised by Ministers…

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh look, we had a discussion in Cabinet.

JOURNALIST:

Was it raised by Ministers to drop the two-thirds majority, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh I don’t want to go into that. I think we can say that we had a wide ranging discussion. But I think, can I say in relation to the remarks I made over the weekend, I also said, I always left myself an out, I said we’d have a look at it. But intellectually there’s no reason to change it.

JOURNALIST:

What’s the future of the preamble?

PRIME MINISTER:

We’re still in discussion, part heard.

JOURNALIST:

Who’s ‘we’?

PRIME MINISTER:

We and the Democrats.

JOURNALIST:

Will you show a similar willingness to compromise on the wording of your preamble to get something up to the people?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh Michael, I’m always prepared to agree to sensible flexibility consistent with high principles.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, is the appointment of the President distracting from the real issue of should Australia become a republic? The question’s been changed to include the two-thirds majority….

PRIME MINISTER:

The question has not been changed to allow the two-thirds majority. That was there originally. I know your newspaper wanted it excised but I read the editorial carefully and on this occasion I have declined to take its advice. I mean, I do listen to it.

JOURNALIST:

I’ll report that back.

PRIME MINISTER:

No you should respectfully I hope.

JOURNALIST:

The question though, we have spent a lot of time with you talking about the appointment of a president when the real referendum question, is it not, that Australia become a republic. Are we being distracted on the question including the republican camps over the appointment of the president?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I am not the bloke to ask that question to. I mean, really don’t ask me that, go and ask Malcolm Turnbull or somebody who supports this.

JOURNALIST:

They think we are being distracted by this, they think the question should just be: should Australia….

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, they want a question that will, in their view, maximise the vote for their side. That’s what they want. Let’s not beat about the bush. They want a question that will maximise the ‘yes’ vote. If I had wanted a question that would completely maximise the no vote I might have said, you know, you might have argued that you want a Bill for an Act to alter the Constitution to have somebody who can be dismissed at the will of the Prime Minister. I mean, everybody can sort of argue a particular side of it. I think…I mean nobody can argue that the question we came up with originally wasn’t intellectually honest. It was, it was truthful. Because we are…I mean, the status quo is that this country is a constitutional monarchy where the Queen is the formal head of State and the Governor-General is the effective head of State. I mean, that is the current position. Nobody can argue that as a matter of law and as a matter of practice. That is the truth, and a question that said that we should become a republic with a President chosen by the Parliament would obviously be intellectually correct. But this question is…there is nothing dishonest about this question. I think it’s unnecessarily repetitious but I am prepared to accept something that is unnecessarily repetitious to forestall any allegation that I am trying to word the question to achieve a particular result.

JOURNALIST:

Have you analysed this morning’s poll that showed such a wide disparity between the Committee’s question and the draft question?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, well I have read it. I haven’t…I mean, I read the story, your story. I don’t know that I have analysed it. I haven’t, sort of, sought any further information. I don’t think those polls are…I mean, they give you a bit of a clue but I mean, there is obviously on first blush all the polls throw up strong support for a directly elected presidency. But that isn’t the question. I mean, this is the question. I mean, you can’t have that as a question because the Constitutional Convention rejected that and I believe that if that were a question that if you continue to have a debate then I think moods would change. But anyway that’s not an issue because that’s not the proposition.

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 the…I think the Committee’s proposals suggested the word replaced by an Australian president…

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 …Australian, 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 "strongly" though you didn’t say "unanimously" to the Cabinet.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, what’s the timeframe on the preamble? Does the legislation have to go…

PRIME MINISTER:

This week I understand. Quite soon.

JOURNALIST:

Tomorrow…

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 blokey…

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 views….

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 Costello…

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]…

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 outcome….

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 are…I 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 trivialising…

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 am…I 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 a…I 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 it…I 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 occasions…

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I have never…look, 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 to…I 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 to…I 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 place…

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 the…I 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 that…I 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, something….

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 otherwise…Could that principle be extended to this case, that somehow an industry wide levy to cover….

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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