Richard J. Wood
Queensland Campaign Director (No Republic)
Transcript of an interview with Richard J. Wood aired 7 February 1999, on Radio 4QS/4QW
Presenter: (Stuart Robertson) There was a letter to the Editor in the Sydney Morning Herald on Friday that said simply “every day Monarchists die, and Republicans are born”. It's a fairly compelling argument, Richard Wood, there will be a republic -- it's just a question of what form, isn't it?
Richard Wood: Look, there will be evolution. There's no doubt about that but my argument, Stuart, is that our existing Constitution has evolved and can continue to evolve. My argument is that becoming a republic, certainly the kind of republic that Mr Keating and Mr Turnbull have in mind, is just a dangerous leap into the Constitutional dark, and the fact that so many Republicans say “not this kind of republic”, I think just confirms my point.
Presenter: What do you want specifically though because at the Constitutional Convention you seemed to shift ground from being an out-and-out supporter of the Monarchy?
Wood: Well, I am a supporter of the existing Constitutional system including the Crown. It has given us nearly two hundred years of stable government and it can continue to give us stable government. Certainly, I'm in favour of evolution and that's why I suggested then that we should recognise in law the Governor-General as our Head of State because that's the way it really is now and that would completely defuse all this nonsensical argument about having some Pommie Queen lording it over us.
Presenter: But she is a Pommie Queen.
Wood: Well, but the fact is she is, by our Constitution, Queen of Australia, but under our Constitution, all her powers are exercised by the Australian Governor-General. Now you try to replace that system with any form of Presidency, and you're going to inject politics into the top job, you're going to turn someone who is more like a judge than a politician into someone who is more like a party politician than a statesman, and I think that would be a great pity, but again, if we're going to make this change, we've got to get it right and plainly the model that came out of the Convention is not right, as so many Republicans keep telling us.
Presenter: Well, regardless of that, there will be a referendum question put. I mean, the Prime Minister's guaranteed that. Now Gatjil Djerrkurra who is the Head of ATSIC, the Aboriginal organisation, yesterday called for that referendum question to be accompanied by a change to the Preamble in the Constitution recognising Aboriginal prior ownership. What do you think of that idea?
Wood: Well, I'm proposing that there be two separate questions. One question on becoming a republic; and another question on the acknowledgement of Aboriginal prior ownership, and frankly, we can say “yes” to one, and “no” to the other because this republic issue, Stuart, regardless of the outcome, is going to badly divide our country and that's no way to go into a new millennium, it's no way to celebrate one hundred years of nationhood. So, I'm saying let's put a separate and entirely separate question on the ballot paper, a question that has the prospect of bringing us all together, and which addresses the real symbolic deficit in our national life, which is the whole question of the recognition of Aboriginal Australians.
Presenter: What would you want that Preamble to say? Would you want it to recognise prior ownership, dispossession of the land, suffering?
Wood: Well, I think that's an issue that we need to look carefully at but there are undeniable facts about our country which ought to be acknowledged -- the fact of Aboriginal prior ownership and occupation, the fact of their continuing place as the first Australians. We really need to welcome Aboriginals into the extended family of the Australian nation, and this, much more than becoming a republic, is the unfinished task of Australian nationhood and this is what I think we really should be focussing on in November. By all means, let's have the argument about a republic, but frankly, that argument is not going to be resolved by the referendum. Let's resolve a more important issue before we go into our second century as a nation.
Presenter: But Malcolm Turnbull, who is Head of the Australian Republican movement, warns that if you put that change to the Preamble it will just spark a vicious race debate.
Wood: Well, I don't believe that's true at all, and I don't think Malcolm believes that's true, and I think Malcolm is just having a little bit of a dummy spit. I think Malcolm's problem sometimes is that if he doesn't own it, he doesn't like it, and he doesn't own this debate over reconciliation -- that's the problem. But we are capable of doing two things simultaneously; we are capable of looking at two separate questions at the same time. We did it in 1967 where we overwhelmingly embraced counting Aboriginals as part of the Australian population, and at the same time fairly strongly rejected breaking the nexus between the House and the Senate. So we've done it before -- we can do it again. I think to acknowledge Aboriginals as the first Australians in our Constitution would be a marvellous way to begin our second century. This is the big unfinished business, and let's finish it.
Presenter: Let me put this to you, that referendums have rarely been won in Australia, the more complicated they are the more likely they are to be lost. Aren't you just proposing this so that the republic question goes down?
Wood: Well, obviously I would like the republic question to go down, but I would like us to have something to celebrate the day after the referendum, something that all of us can celebrate, regardless of whether we're black or white; regardless of whether we're Republican or anti-Republican, and if we can come out of this referendum with a ringing endorsement of Aboriginals as the first Australians, if we can come out of this referendum having, I guess, healed that serious wound in our nation, well, we'll be much better off as a country.
Presenter: Are you disappointed to see senior Minister, Peter Reith, come out in favour of a directly elected President?
Wood: Well, no I'm not. Peter, as you know, has always been interested in democratisation of the Constitution. That's why he's been a long-time backer for instance of citizen initiated referenda and I read Peter's position as being that if we are going to become a republic, let's make sure it's a proper Republic and as far as I'm concerned Peter's opposing the Turnbull/Keating model and that's a pretty good position to be in.
Presenter: Richard Wood, thank you.
Wood: Thanks, Stuart.