One of the dangers of making policy so evidently on the run is that the detail comes back to haunt you. Mark Lathams formula for a constitutional campaign and vote each year of his government-if he is elected with the referendum coinciding with the next election is quite foolish and unachievable. The government would be sidetracked by this, leaving little time to govern. No one would have a referendum of this importanceovershadow the issues a government would wish to fight on at an election. Setting the agenda is elusive enough without a government shooting itself in the foot.
Mr Latham obviously thinks a directly elected presidency will emerge the front -runner. Grafting apolitical office above the government, a president with a mandate greater than the other politicians requiresthat the office be different, and have different powers than the Governor-General. This divides the LaborParty probably even more than the Liberal Party. Gareth Evans came to the conclusion that one of the problems is that codifying the reserve powers effectively is an impossible task.
If we did get to a referendum in three years, the proposal would be so flawed it would go down to anignonimous defeat. In the meantime millions and millions of dollars would have been diverted from schools and hospitals. But I do not think we would get to that. The first plebiscite would be so obviously a spin doctor’s trick and so against the spirit of the Constitution it would be a discredited waste of tax payers money. Mr Latham should think again. lf he gets into government his front bench will not allow this timetable. The election likely this year will not be decided on this issue-few Australians give ita moment's thought. They are happy with Australia as it is. They do not want politicians tinkering around with their constitution or their flag. But in making proposals such as this, Mr Latham runs the risk of exposing himself as a candidate not seasoned enough to take on the mantle of prime minister. Incidentally, my recent Hot News, The Australian Head of State, contained a reference to a former Chief Justice who had portrayed Sir David Smith's work on this subject as arrant nonsense. It has been suggested that, in fairness to other former Chief Justices, I should name the one to whom I was referring. It was Sir Anthony Mason, who is, after all, an expert on arrant nonsense: it was he who told an Australian National University Law School seminar that he had discovered a robust constitutional convention hidden in the Australian Constitution – a convention which does not exist, has never existed, and whose existence Sir Anthony had based on so-called precedents that have never occurred. You can read about how Sir Anthony made a very big mistake in being so dismissive of Sir David's carefully honed arguments in the papers by Sir David Smith on the Samuel Grifith site linked to ours, or the new quadrant.org.au site.