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

Peter Costello

Treasurer

11 March 1996 - 3 December 2007

Transcript of 05/11/99

Transcript No. 99/82

TRANSCRIPT OF
The Hon Peter Costello MP
TREASURER

Interview with Philip Clark, 2BL
8.30 am
Friday, 5 November 1999

SUBJECT: Republic

CLARK:

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

TREASURER:

Good morning Philip.

CLARK:

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

TREASURER:

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.

CLARK:

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?

TREASURER:

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.

CLARK:

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?

TREASURER:

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.

CLARK:

Well, Ted Mack amongst others.

TREASURER:

Yes.

CLARK:

And sometimes the logic is indeed hard to follow.

TREASURER:

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.

CLARK:

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

TREASURER:

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

CLARK:

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 . . .

TREASURER:

Oh look, I. . .

CLARK:

. . . I know youre not in favour of the latter, would you like to see the former?

TREASURER:

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.

CLARK:

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?

TREASURER:

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 . . .

CLARK:

Sure.

TREASURER:

Ive got other jobs to do as well.

CLARK:

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

TREASURER:

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.

CLARK:

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

TREASURER:

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 win.

CLARK:

Which leads us back again, I know, to that question. That is, what next? What next, what do . . .

TREASURER:

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 . . .

CLARK:

Accept if for how long though, before you think it would be appropriate to launch another campaign . . .

TREASURER:

Well I . . .

CLARK:

. . . to go back on the agenda?

TREASURER:

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

CLARK:

Decades, like 20 or 30 years?

TREASURER:

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 . . .

CLARK:

I mean, its certainly not going to be raised in Cabinet as a proposition again during the life of this Government is it?

TREASURER:

Well . . .

CLARK:

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

TREASURER:

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 ballot.

CLARK:

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

TREASURER:

Well, its not . . .

CLARK:

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

TREASURER:

. . . not really my campaign . . .

CLARK:

. . . but in the theoretical next time?

TREASURER:

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.

CLARK:

Mr Costello, thank you for your time.

TREASURER:

Mr Peter Costello, who is the Federal Treasurer and a spokesman for the Yes case.