Senator Statements – Australian Constitution, Wednesday 18 October 2023

Senator BABET (Victoria—United Australia Party Whip) (13:25): Our Prime Minister, Mr Albanese, has
gotten himself into a bit of a hole, hasn’t he, having gambled—that’s what he’s done—most of his political credit on a now completely discredited voice—a constitutional change famously supported by, guess who, Shaquille O’Neal and MC Hammer but subsequently rejected by an overwhelming majority of Australians. He now finds himself wondering what to do next. Well, Prime Minister, can I offer a suggestion. The first rule of holes is that, when you find yourself in a hole, you stop digging, yet I fear that digging himself into an even deeper hole is exactly what the Prime Minister plans to do.

Having inflicted this expensive, divisive and unpopular referendum upon the Australian people, Prime Minister Albanese plans to double down. He plans to go again. This time he might ask Australians to vote on becoming a republic. If the Prime Minister wanted to pursue this course, it would certainly raise the question as to whether he has some sort of self-sabotage issue going on. Referendums are notoriously difficult to win and impossible to win without bipartisan support. The Prime Minister already knew that when he forged ahead without bipartisan support with his recent constitutional adventurism. It beggars belief that he might want to go again and try again.

Not only is there no bipartisan support for a republic; there’s no popular support. Who wants a washed-up politician becoming president? Not me, that’s for sure. Polling published in the Sydney Morning Herald in January showed the support for a republic was at just 39 per cent—rock bottom. If that poll is accurate, Australians are even less inclined to vote for a republic now than they were in the expensive failed referendum of 1999. So why, in Prince Harry’s name and having inflicted one failed national vote on a populace who are far more concerned about power bills than his constitutional fetish, would Prime Minister Albanese potentially force us back to the ballot box again?

Can you imagine having to endure another year of being preached at by everyone from Magda Szubanski to Qantas and the AFL but this time in favour of a republic? No, thank you. Honestly, a Meghan Markle Netflix series would be more appealing—and that says a lot—than another referendum at this point. I think we should remind our Prime Minister that winning a referendum requires a double majority. You require the majority of support from states and voters nationwide. A majority means more than 50 per cent for the Prime Minister. I know, Prime Minister, that your government was elected on a primary vote of just 32.6 per cent, but that vote is not sufficient to amend our nation’s most important document—our Constitution.

I know that the Prime Minister has relocated to the Lodge in Canberra. He’s there full time. It would appear that there is something that happens to a man when he relocates to this place in Canberra. The Canberra bubble is all consuming. What is in the water? I don’t know. The ACT stood alone in support of the Voice and in support of this referendum. They stood alone for one reason: the ACT is just out of touch with reality. That’s pretty clear. Even my home state of Victoria, who previously voted for the Premier, ‘Chairman Andrews’, overwhelmingly rejected the Prime Minister’s proposal. The working class clearly reject constitutional change.

What’s our Prime Minister doing? He’s living in denial. He’s dug himself into a hole, and it would seem to me anyway that he’s intent on digging his political grave. Let’s just watch Treasurer Chalmers and Minister Plibersek fight with each other to hand him that shovel. Recognising that the Prime Minister is likely to ignore my advice and go right ahead and continue digging, can I ask just one small favour, Prime Minister, on behalf of all Australians out there that are sick of all this garbage: if, with all your digging of holes, you and your party manage to find where you buried my $275 power bill saving, I and many other Australians would be very grateful. Thank you, Prime Minister.