When Virginia Trioli interviewed Paul Keating, the former Prime Minister, for almost 20 minutes on ABC radio 702AM ( Sydney) on 24 May 2007, the media concentrated on Paul Keating’s proposal to move the Federal Parliament House to Sydney. Not only did the passionate republican flag changer want the politicians to abandon the 1 billion edifice in Canberra, but he also wanted to evict the Royal Australian Navy, whose presence he said is “anachronistic”, and to put the Federal Parliament in its place on Garden Island.
Mr. Keating seems not to have read the Constitution, which says that this cannot be done. We should perhaps not be surprised by Mr Keating about this. He once made the bizarre claim that the Constitution had been drafted in the British Foreign Office and imposed by the British on Australia.
So what does the Constitution say about the Capital? It says, in section 125:
”The seat of Government of the Commonwealth shall be determined by the Parliament, and shall be within territory which shall have been granted to or acquired by the Commonwealth, and shall be vested in and belong to the Commonwealth, and shall be in the State of New South Wales, and be distant not less than one hundred miles from Sydney. Such territory shall contain an area of not less than one hundred square miles, and such portion thereof as shall consist of Crown lands shall be granted to the Commonwealth without any payment therefor. The Parliament shall sit at Melbourne until it meet at the seat of Government.”
The question of the location of the new Capital – or rather where it was not to be – was a major consideration in the finalisation of the federal compact. It is curious that the former prime minister would try to revive this well settled issue, presuming of course that he is aware of the debate over the location of the federal capital.
The point is, of course, that there is absolutely no prospect of the people agreeing to a proposal in a referendum that the Capital be moved to Sydney. So it is curious that the media gave such prominence to these meanderings.
The real news about the interview was that Mr. Keating blamed NSW Premier Bob Carr, who “kicked ” the Governor out of Government House”, for his loss in the 1996 Federal election. This came at the head of a list of problems Mr. Keating thought he had in all of the Labor governed States, except Victoria where he improved his vote.
These included Bob Carr’s breaking of a promise on toll roads, the collapse of the South Australian State bank and “WA Inc” (corruption in that State). He also referred to Queensland Premier Wayne Goss’s warning that the electors were waiting with baseball bats to get Paul Keating.
The prominent commentator, PP McGuiness, warned at the time that the eviction would damage the Keating government, and the eviction was reported to have caused considerable concern in the NSW cabinet and in the NSW Parliamentary Party as it had been done without any consultation and was very unpopular across the State.
When Kerry Jones, then Executive Director of ACM, called a protest, it turned out to be one of the largest and most peaceful demonstrations in Sydney at that time. Mr. Keating has no love for our constitutional monarchy, our Constitution or our Flag.
That he believes the eviction of the governor was electoral poison suggests that he understands that the Crown has a special place in the affections of the Australian people, and that creeping republicanism is not popular.
Soon after Bob Carr left office, he admitted that the reason he had evicted the Governor had to do with the reserve powers of the Crown.
There is no transcript of the interview, but a recording is stored on the ABC site.