Interview with Philip Clark, 2BL: Republic

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November 11, 1999

Interview with Philip Clark, 2BL: Republic

Transcript No. 99/82

The Hon Peter Costello MP

Interview with Philip

Clark, 2BL
8.30 am
Friday, 5 November 1999

SUBJECT: Republic


Federal Treasurer, Mr Peter Costello. Mr Costello good morning.


Good morning Philip.


The final day. The polls dont look good for the Yes case do



No, they show that, well if people voted according to the polls

they show the Referendum would be defeated. And I think that will

be a missed opportunity, actually. I think on Sunday, people in

Australia will still feel Republican, but will be a Monarchy. And

this is the point Ive been making throughout the debate here.

I think in our hearts and in our heads we feel Republican and our

Constitution makes us a Monarchy. And I think the two are gnawing

at each other. I think the Constitution is gnawing at the way we

think about ourselves, and I think that we can fix that if we change

the Constitution, and if we dont we wont fix it.


Yeah, its an interesting observation. I think, I think probably

an accurate one too isnt it, if you believe also the trend of

polls, we are in favour of being a Republic, those who actually

want to retain the Queen as a positive agenda item seem to be in

the minority in this country. The question is what sort of a Republic

do we have? And thats where the campaign seems to have gone off

the rails as far as the Yes case goes doesnt it?


Well, Im not really sure that you can interpret it that way by

the way. Ive also said throughout this campaign that a No vote

is going to lead to a huge argument as to what it actually means.

For the Australians for Constitutional Monarchy will say that what

that means is that Australia wants to be a Constitutional Monarchy,

radical Republicans will say no no no no, what that means is that

Australia needs radical change, and youll have two opposite conflicting

views. And I dont think it will resolve this matter either way.

I think probably those, most of those that vote No are voting

No on the basis that well, you know, maybe it is a problem but

it isnt a problem worth fixing, or its not broken so dont fix

it. I think the biggest part of the No case myself, is really

constitutional inertia. Im not surprised by that because most

constitutional Referenda in Australia fail, and the reason is that

people in Australia are constitutionally conservative, they dont

like changing their Constitution, they rarely do, and you know

this is the old sort of No position. But I dont think you could

say by any means at all that a No vote was a mandate for radical

change on Saturday. The one thing we know is this, that if No

succeeds on Saturday well be a Constitutional Monarchy. This idea

that somehow voting No means Yes, No means Yes, that the

best way to get a Republic is to vote against a Republic, really

I think has been a confusing line but a false one all the way through

this debate.


For Republicans such as yourself, where do we go from here after

Saturday, assuming that the proposition is defeated. Where do you

go from here? How can you regroup and what question do you put

to the Australian people next?


Well, I think the Prime Minister made the correct point this morning.

We have to accept the result and the result will be that Australia

will continue as a Constitutional Monarchy. This idea incidentally

that somehow if a No vote gets up were on the eve of some Republic,

I think it is quite wrong. If people want a Republic then the chance

to do it is to vote Yes on Saturday, and if people dont want

it, the chance to do it is to vote No. And I for one am not going

to go into the entrails of all this and try and make out that No

somehow meant Yes. I know there are people putting that out at

the moment.


Well, Ted Mack amongst others.




And sometimes the logic is indeed hard to follow.


Extraordinary proposition. Ive never seen this argued in any other

Constitutional Referenda during the history of Australia, nobody

to my knowledge has ever said you should vote No when you really

mean Yes. And the proof is in the pudding. These questions rarely

come again, and when they do come again, I dont think they are

ever voted Yes a second time. I dont think theres been one

Constitutional question voted down the first time and brought back

and succeeded a second time. If there has it might have been one,

but I dont think there are any. And.


What would you like to see happen next? I mean, as a Republican

what would you like to see?


Well, Id like to see the proposal endorsed on Saturday. Thats

what Id like to see.


No, thats a given, I know. But assuming its not, I mean as a

Republican what would you like to see happen after that? There

are those who say, well look, the only way from here is to either

have a) a plebiscite or b) work up a directly elected model . .



Oh look, I. . .


. . . I know youre not in favour of the latter, would you like

to see the former?


Well, let me say of the latter. Youll get much greater arguments

once you start trying to work that up. There is no agreement whatsoever

amongst the direct election proponents as to what it means. For

some, it means an American-style President. For others it means

some other kind of style President. And if you think that theres

been a negative opportunity in the detail of this model, just wait

till you see that one. In fact Id predict now that the people

you now see in that one camp wouldnt be able to agree amongst

themselves. I actually see this model as an opportunity to deal

with what is a problem. And I think our arrangements for a Head

of State is a problem. And to do it by continuing the current Parliamentary

system, the Westminster System, which I dont believe is a problem.

Im actually in the camp which says, it is broke. I think it is

broke. Whats broken is that we now have a Head of State, the Queen,

whose job it is to represent the country and perform on the big

ceremonial occasions and yet we dont have confidence that this

properly represents our country. And the proof of that is the Olympics

in Sydney. I dont think there are many that argue, the Queen is

the proper person to represent Australia at the opening of the

Olympic Games. Now that tells you that our Head of State arrangement

is broken and thats what I say needs fixing. We didnt always

feel this way.

In 1956 when Melbourne had the Olympics, as it turned out the Queen

couldnt open them, and Prince Philip did. And in 1956 we saw ourselves

as monarchists and our country as a monarchy and our identity was

wrapped up with that. And I think the one thing thats happened

throughout the course of this debate is that that strand of public

opinion has been lost. We dont think of ourselves as a monarchy

anymore. And weve even got to the stage, as youve seen, where

monarchists effectively are arguing the monarchy out of existence

but still saying, we should preserve it in the Constitution. Well

my argument is, the Constitution should reflect now the way in

which we see ourselves. The problem of the Head of State arrangement

should be fixed. That is broken. It can be fixed with a minor change

that preserves what isnt broken, namely the secure political arrangements.


A caller this morning on the programme said, can you ask Peter

Costello why he went missing early in the campaign and if hed

been out there arguing more vociferously for this earlier on, maybe

there wouldve been a more persuasive voice in the debate, thats

yours, and maybe that might have made a greater difference? Do

you accept that?


Well, you know, Ive been in this debate now for months. And I

started writing on this months ago. But I think the truth of the

matter is, that until the Parliament rose and until we got within,

really, the last two weeks people werent focussing on it. And

I think probably theyre now focussing on what Ive been saying.

But Ive actually been on this for months now. And I first took

my position publicly on this issue at the Constitutional Convention

two years ago. So, there we go. Weve been at it ever since. And

I can assure you its really taken a lot of time. I mean, I havent

neglected other big issues like tax changes and business tax changes

. . .




Ive got other jobs to do as well.


Whats going to be the mood of the Cabinet meeting on Monday?


I think therell be, I think all sides will have to accept a result.

If its a Yes vote, the Prime Minister has made entirely clear

that hell accept that and I think life will go on pretty much

as normal. In fact I think life will go on more normally with a

Yes vote then it will go on with a No vote. If its a No

vote, well, I think therell be a lot of questioning in the Australian

community and abroad as to what it all means. Youre going to have

two schools who are immediately going to jump up and claim victory

that No either meant no change or No meant radical change.


Exactly. No can mean a number of things on Saturday.


Well this doctrine, you know, the new doctrine thats been put

around that a No means Yes. And so the No/Yes school are going

to be out there on Sunday claiming great triumph. And the No/No

school are going to be out there claiming great triumph if they



Which leads us back again, I know, to that question. That is, what

next? What next, what do . . .


Oh look, you asked me whats got to happen. I think the first thing

thats got to happen is weve got to accept the result. The result

is this, the immediate result is this . . .


Accept if for how long though, before you think it would be appropriate

to launch another campaign . . .


Well I . . .


. . . to go back on the agenda?


I dont think youd get another question on this for decades if

at all.


Decades, like 20 or 30 years?


Well look, the last referendum we had in this country was in 1988

for a mini, sort of, Bill of Rights in the Constitution. It lost.

Nobody would think of bringing that back. That was 11 years ago.

Eleven years before that was the other one we had in 1977, Malcolm

Fraser, some of those got through. The ones that were defeated,

dont come back. So, if you have a referendum every 11 years or

so and if youre saying well, not only are we going to have another

one, were going to have another one on the same issue, I would

think decades if at all. So . . .


I mean, its certainly not going to be raised in Cabinet as a proposition

again during the life of this Government is it?


Well . . .


I mean, would you raise it, would you raise it?


Youve got to accept the result. This idea that if you ask every

Australian to go down to a ballot box for a cost of $100 million

or so, and if they vote No say, well that didnt actually mean

No, wed better have another vote, is really denying the result.

No means no and youve got to accept that result just as a Yes

means yes. Now if Yes gets up on Saturday, Id be mightily disappointed

if someone said, well, that didnt really mean yes, lets have another

ballot and lets see if we can get the Constitutional Monarchy

back up. And I imagine if youre a Constitutional Monarchist and

No gets up on Saturday, youd be mightily upset if somebody said,

well, that didnt actually mean no, wed better have another one

because this can only result one way. Youve got to accept the



Just finally, looking back over the campaign, would you do it differently

next time?


Well, its not . . .


I mean, in a, no but in a . . .


. . . not really my campaign . . .


. . . but in the theoretical next time?


Well, let me just say, its not been my campaign. I didnt start

this campaign. I am supporting the Yes case and I havent been

directing this campaign. So, its not been up to me to do the strategic

campaigning or the funds or dispense the money or the advertising

or anything else. But if youre asking me personally, would I support

a Yes case again? Yes, of course I would, because I think Australia

feels Republican in its heart and in its head. And I think its

Constitution is starting to gnaw and running out of believability.

And what really worries me about this is that if the Head of State

arrangements run out of believability then the doubts about the

Constitution will start to spread. And I think youre starting

to see that already. People now saying, oh, its not just a Head

of State that needs fixing it might be the Parliament, it might

be the Cabinet, it might be the electoral system, it might be the

Constitutional powers.

And I think, you know, if you are a real conservative, you are

better to modernise your institutions and preserve the best rather

than to cling on to what has gone, with the risk that it will undermine

what can continue strongly into the future. And thats where I

think many conservative thinkers are going wrong on this ballot.

And they ought to be thinking to themselves very carefully about

whether theyre not causing much larger problems in order to try

and save something which, in my view, has now gone.


Mr Costello, thank you for your time.


Mr Peter Costello, who is the Federal Treasurer and a spokesman

for the Yes case.