RN Drive with Patricia Karvelas

Subject/s: The Republic, Liberal infighting











Subject/s: The Republic, Liberal infighting

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney General, welcome to the program.

MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks very much for having me Patricia.

KARVELAS: So, almost two years ago Bill Shorten called for an Australian Republic within a decade but since then there hasn’t been much momentum for change. Are you sticking by that timetable?

DREYFUS: You bet. It is long-standing Labor party policy that Australia should be a Republic, it was a massive disappointment to me, to many many other Australians what happened in 1999 and of course we want to keep working towards a Republic. The disappointment is that Malcolm Turnbull - disappointing as he is on this as with many other issues - he is not now doing anything about bringing about an Australian Republic.

KARVELAS: In 2015, the ALP national conference adopted a three-step procedure to get to a Republic, a constitutional convention followed by a plebiscite to decide on a model and then a referendum to change the Constitution. The PM also supports a plebiscite followed by a referendum, is there enough common ground between the major parties to forge a bipartisan position?

DREYFUS: Well you’d hope so. Just remember that Malcolm Turnbull is the man that said that John Howard “broke the nation’s heart” in 1999 but we have seen precious little of that Republican spirit from Malcolm Turnbull since he became Prime Minister in September 2015. I am remaining hopeful that he can return to this subject.

KARVELAS: OK but it seems that you keep mentioning that he’s a disappointment, if you are working towards bipartisanship on this, is politicising it constantly helpful?  

DREYFUS: No I am going to keep saying I’m disappointed in Malcolm Turnbull because I want him to work on this issue - I want him to work on the issues that Australians thought he believed in. This is one, if you identify any issue with Malcolm Turnbull it would be this one Patricia because he had a leading role in the Republic campaign. I’m hoping he is able to raise with Queen Elizabeth when he meets with her how she might assist in the transition of Australia to a Republic. But I’ve got no real hope that he’s going to do it. So, yes we are ready to cooperate, yes we are ready to work bipartisanly on this but it has to come first from the current Prime Minister.

KARVELAS: Could you be going about it the wrong way round by asking about the model before the threshold question? Aren’t you excluding all those Australians who prefer the existing constitutional arrangements?

DREYFUS: What happened with the last Republic referendum was that, because of a lack of clarity about what the model to replace the current constitutional arrangement is to be, was not agreed. We ended up with division in the yes camp so that even though a substantial majority of Australians then and a substantial majority of Australians now would want Australia to become a Republic, unless we’ve got some clarity on what’s to replace it we will end up in the same shocking position we ended up in in 1999. That’s why, talking about the model and trying to reach some agreement about a model first is the right way to go.

KARVELAS: The sticking point at that failed 1999 referendum was that model - whether a president should be popularly elected or appointed by Parliament. Recently we’ve seen a real upsurge in populist sentiment here and obviously overseas, does that complicate the push for an Australian Head of State chosen by the people?

DREYFUS: I don’t think so and for what it’s worth I’ll put it on the record that I am a direct electionist. I wasn’t always, I’ve been convinced by the very very high level of support for the idea that Australians are quite capable of electing a ceremonial head of state and I’ll be putting my weight behind that model if and when we get to it but we need to have a bit of impetus from the Prime Minister to put this back on the agenda - and I think that Bill Shorten’s objective of 2025 is looking more realistic than what I’d hoped in 1999, which was 2020.

KARVELAS: We often hear it said that there won’t be any substantial support for an Australian Republic until the Queen is no longer on the throne but should the timing of Australia going its own way really be dependent on who is in charge of the royal family?

DREYFUS: Absolutely not and indeed I’d flip that over and say that Queen Elizabeth has presided graciously over the transition of very many countries from a monarchical system to a Republic. She has presided over countries even leaving the Commonwealth. She has done it always with the grace that we’ve been accustomed to from her and I think it is something that could be very well entrusted to her if Australia gets to agreeing among ourselves that we should be a Republic. It’s sort of the point isn’t it that if we are wanting to end a hereditary monarchy as providing a head of state for Australia, why should we let the reign of a particular monarch determine when we as an independent nation decide to do this.

KARVELAS: If you are just tuning in, Mark Dreyfus is my guest and he is the Shadow Attorney-General and the number if you want to text in is 0418 226 576. The most recent polling on the Republic is running at about 53 percent. Referendums as we know are very hard to pass - a majority of voters in a majority of states. How much support does there need to be before a ‘yes’ vote would have any hope of passing because that’s pretty line ball - 53 percent. 

DREYFUS:  I think what we are clear on is that constitutional referendums - changes to the constitution - don’t work in Australia unless there is bipartisan support for them. It’s now been so long since we’ve had a successful referendum, 1977 in fact, that we’ve really got to write a new script as to how to get back into the habit of thinking our constitution can be changed. The framers of the constitution put a mechanism in there, a referendum mechanism in section 128, we’ve fallen out of the habit of using it but the one thing that’s pretty clear even though it is a long time back since we had a successful referendum is that you’ll need at least the support of the main parties to go forward.

KARVELAS: Just on another issue - the Liberal Party, Bill Shorten says it’s in the middle of an identity crisis. But you would have heard Eric Abetz, he is playing down any divisions over the words ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’. He says that it is basically an overreaction by the media. He has read the full speech by Malcom Turnbull in London and there is no evidence that what’s being reported is what he says. Hasn’t Bill Shorten overcooked his criticism?

DREYFUS: Not at all. Nobody asked the Prime Minister of Australia to go to London and give a speech in London about the identity of his party or to try and invoke the spirit of Bob Menzies. If anything it was a poke at his right wing opponents here in Australia.

KARVELAS: But they haven’t been poked.

DREYFUS: Well the one you were just talking to desperately does not want there to be division in the Liberal Party and it’s a bit late for that. There has been immense division, extraordinary acrimony over the last several months now in the Liberal Party and we had from no less a figure than Jeff Kennett this morning on the ABC, saying what a terrible mistake it had been for Turnbull to go to London and give this speech. This is the Liberal Party fighting amongst itself about the identity of the party and I think that most Australians would wish that they would just shut up and get on with the business of government. We don’t want to hear about the glories of the Menzies era, we want to hear about the future, now in 2017, and what this government is doing about wages and what this government is doing about jobs and electricity prices and issues that actually matter to Australians.

KARVELAS: Well according to Eric Abetz he identified the same issues that you just listed, you said that they are issues of mainstream Australians as well.

DREYFUS: So how come they are not talking about them Patricia, but instead are endlessly sniping at each other talking about themselves? And we’ve got the Prime Minister who should be, you’d think, talking about international issues when he is in London or even talking about issues that are directly of concern to not only the world but Australians, like climate change, and instead he’s talking about Bob Menzies and why they are named Liberals. This is not the Menzies era, this is 2017. Australia is not the Australia it was in 1965 when Menzies was last Prime Minister and I reckon Australians want to hear about real issues and not this identity crisis in the Liberal Party. 

KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us Mark Dreyfus.

DREYFUS: Thanks very much Patricia.