The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
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Peter Costello

Treasurer

11 March 1996 - 3 December 2007

Transcript of 05/08/99

Transcript No. 99/57

TRANSCRIPT

of

THE HON PETER COSTELLO MP

Treasurer

Interview with Howard Sattler, 6PR

Thursday, 5 August 1999

12.05 pm

 

SUBJECT: Republic

JOURNALIST:

I wonder if Peter Costello, who is at least a man who’s declared himself for the Republic, the Federal Treasurer, who will be like everybody else casting a conscience vote on it. Will you help me Peter? (Replay of earlier interview with Bruce Ruxton)

TREASURER:

I think you needed a bit of friction there Howard. Oh dear.

JOURNALIST:

This thing is really hotting up now.

TREASURER:

Well, Bruce is just being Bruce at his colourful best. I was at the Constitutional Convention with Bruce, and we all got a few speeches like that. But, we can look through all of those sorts of comments and study the issues, I think they’re a little less inflammatory than you just heard.

JOURNALIST:

Well what do you think about the fact that he is now, and the RSL, are saying, that they’re going to get as many of their members as possible because they’ve got a mandate to campaign against the ‘No’ vote, to campaign for the ‘No’ vote.

TREASURER:

Well, my view is any person’s got the right to campaign for ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, whether it be the RSL or anybody else. But, the view I take though is, that I just look over the course of my lifetime, I have seen a great deal of change and the ties that were so strong when Australia was formed have lessened one by one. And during the course of my lifetime I’ve seen the National Anthem change, I’ve seen the appeals to the Privy Council be abolished, and I’ve seen a growing independence, I think, in Australia in relation to its Constitutional arrangements. And I have no doubt that as the next century unfolds Australia will have its own Head of State. And I think it’s much better to sit down and to do it in a reasoned and calm and logical way, rather than try and polarise the debate and probably throw out what is good with it, about our system, namely a Parliamentary system . . .

JOURNALIST:

Absolutely.

TREASURER:

. . . by holding on to what will be a symbol which will pass in any event.

JOURNALIST:

That’s right. Now why do you think the Monarchists are hanging on to that?

TREASURER:

Well, I think there’s a lot of people that say, well, what’s wrong with Australia? The argument is, if it ain’t broke don’t try and fix it. That’s one argument. And I can understand that argument, that’s a fair argument. But, I would say, what’s wrong is that the symbolism of Monarchy is wrong for the 21st Century. Monarchy is about tradition and inheritance, whereas we are a democratic society . . .

JOURNALIST:

It’s about being born to rule.

TREASURER:

Yeah, and we like to appoint people on the basis of ability. And I think that the Head of State appointed on the basis of ability is a much better symbol for Australia. The second argument which really kills me is the radical Republican argument, that says we’re such radical Republicans that we’re going to vote to keep the Monarchy. Now this is the argument that’s now being put around, so if people . . .

JOURNALIST:

Is Peter Reith monitoring this conversation?

TREASURER:

Well, there are some people that are saying, vote ‘No’ and keep the Monarch and other people say, well if you vote ‘No’ you’ll get a radical Republic. Now they can’t both be right Howard.

JOURNALIST:

No.

TREASURER:

And I think they are both trying to use each other. I think the Monarchists are quite prepared to use the radical Republicans and the radical Republicans are quite prepared to use a Monarch. If they succeed in getting a ‘No’ vote, what will the outcome be? Will we have a Monarchy or a radical Republic, because we can’t have both.

JOURNALIST:

I’ve just spoken to a man who is going to vote ‘No’, Tim Fischer, a former Cabinet colleague of yours. And I said, if we have a direct election, if this thing doesn’t get up and a direct election is sort of in a way win the day, if we had a direct election would we get a politician? He conceded we would because it would be the major political groups that would put up the candidates.

TREASURER:

Well, of course you would get a politician. What’s more, I think by definition, what is a politician by the way? A politician is somebody who runs for and wins an election. I mean, by definition somebody who ran for and won an election would be a politician. I’d go a step further though and I would say this, that if people are running for the office of President in a national election, they would have to have policies. You would have to have policies. How would you actually go in and cast a ballot except with policies. And so candidates will line up and I don’t think you can stop them, and they would have policies: elect me President to do the following. And we would, I think, after electing them, you would want to have some mechanism for holding them to their policies. And you would also, of course, have to have some mechanism, I would imagine, for impeachment. Now, this is all very well to run around and say, oh well, we’ll have such a system. But people haven’t given that a lot of thought. They haven’t put any detail on that proposal. It is a different form of Government to the one that we currently have. The one that we currently have is a Parliamentary system and the proposal which is coming up preserves the Parliamentary system and renews the symbolism and I’m comfortable with both . . .

JOURNALIST:

And the President wouldn’t have any more power than the Governor General then?

TREASURER:

Well, it’s modelled on the Governor General. In fact, at one stage, the idea I put up, you could even call the Australian Head of State, Governor General. That didn’t win the day and people said, oh no, you should call them President. But the idea is that we preserve all of the conventions and the relationship with the Parliament, we preserve the Parliament. So, you can have the Parliamentary system, which I think by and large is the best system in the world whilst renewing the symbolism of your Head of State. And I’m comfortable, as I said, with both of those points.

JOURNALIST:

So you think we should amend the question and you think that the Queen should be mentioned there. The Prime Minister disagrees. What’s going to happen?

TREASURER:

Well, a committee was set up to have a look at the question and we haven’t got its report yet, but reading from the press, confidentially in the press, it appears to have come to a view on a different question . . .

JOURNALIST:

Well, what’s the point of having a committee if you don’t accept their recommendations?

TREASURER:

Well, I think you’ve got to look at it. And I said yesterday, you’ve got to look at it, you ask it to come up with these questions, to come up with the questions, I’m pretty comfortable with that, but we’ll have a look at it. We’ll take a view, I imagine, after we’ve considered it.

JOURNALIST:

Are you disturbed that the spoilers will win the day on this? That even though people, sort of , probably would be in favour of a Republic that it could be lost because of people like your colleague, Peter Reith, is trying to spoil the whole thing.

TREASURER:

You know what disturbs me about this. And suppose the ‘No’ vote gets up and the RSL will say, and Bruce and people like that will say, well there you go, that was a vote of confidence in the Monarchy. And the radical Republicans will say, oh no, that wasn’t a vote of confidence in the Monarchy, that was a vote of confidence for radical change in Australia. And you’ll have an Australia which is split between two poles, both claiming victory, and shaping up for another much more divisive debate.

JOURNALIST:

And when might we ever get a vote again if we miss this time?

TREASURER:

Well, you know, some people say, oh well, you defeat this one, we’ll get you another one. Now, Monarchists, of course, would say, defeat this, it ends it for all time. You want another referendum, if it were to happen, some Government would have to be elected on a platform to produce another. They would have to enact a model. You’ve got to enact it through the House of Representatives, through the Senate it is a very complicated thing. You’ve got to call another referendum. In that other referendum you could have people again saying, oh well look, you know, I might be in favour of the idea but I’m against the detail of this particular one. I don’t think there’s any . . . referenda aren’t that common. Let’s put it this way. When was the last referendum in Australia before this one?

JOURNALIST:

You tell me.

TREASURER:

Oh well, I think, it was in 1988.

JOURNALIST:

Yeah. They don’t come . . .

TREASURER:

So they come along about every decade or so. But they don’t come along every decade or so on the same question. There haven’t been that many referenda on the same question and there haven’t been that many referenda that get defeated and then get put up and get accepted. So, I think it’s, you know, you’re going into it with a lot of faith to say, all I’ve got to do is put this one down and I can get another one up. Well, you know, there are a lot of ifs and wannabe’s. And from my own point of view, by the way, I mean, how long do we want to go on with these referenda? I think there are better things to do. I think we’re having a choice. I think those that want a Constitutional change have the opportunity to vote for it. And if Constitutional change is defeated, well as far as most people will be concerned they probably don’t want to keep revisiting the question.

JOURNALIST:

Anyway, you and I agree, let’s do it now.

TREASURER:

Oh well, it’s good to be in agreement with you for once. What about Friday night, are we in agreement on that?

JOURNALIST:

You mean the Eagles versus Essendon? You’ll be wanting to wave your coat with Sheeds, won’t you.

TREASURER:

Oh, I’ll be waving the coat if it’s a good night.

JOURNALIST:

I’m a bit more interested in Saturday night, Dockers versus Carlton. Wish us luck.

TREASURER:

I think Dockers might get up on that one.

JOURNALIST:

Well we probably will. Thanks for your time and thanks for being so candid.

TREASURER:

Good on you Howard.

JOURNALIST:

Peter Costello, Federal Treasurer. He’ll be the leader one day of his side of politics.