Opposite sides of the fence ... John Howard and Malcolm Turnbull at the Australian Constitutional Convention in 1998. Photo: Andrew Meares
JOHN HOWARD has rejected an insinuation by Malcolm Turnbull that he was among the monarchists who deceived direct-election republicans into thinking they could have another referendum if they voted down the model on offer in 1999.
In a letter to the Herald, the former prime minister says that while he has no desire to revisit the debate of 13 years ago, he made ''no such promise'' and is as opposed now to the concept of a directly elected president as he was in 1999.
Mr Howard checked the transcripts of all his comments during the republic referendum debate before penning his letter.
In a speech in Perth last Wednesday night, Mr Turnbull, the chairman of the Australian Republican Movement leading up to the referendum, repeated his opposition to having a president directly elected by the people.
However, he acknowledged that adopting this model may be the only way to achieve a republic because the movement would be hard to unite otherwise.
''Direct election is no more a silver bullet now than it was in 1999. It is just that it may be the only bullet in the republican arsenal,'' Mr Turnbull said.
He recounted the deceit and trickery of the monarchists who ensured the referendum failed by exploiting the divisions between the direct-election republicans and those supporting the model on offer which, at its core, involved parliamentary appointment.
He recalled ''the monarchists who delightedly, if cynically, exploited the division by promising the direct electionists that if the parliamentary model was defeated at a referendum, they could have another referendum on a direct-election model within a few years''.
''John Howard, I recall, did qualify that by saying the subsequent referendum would not be within 12 months,'' he said. ''Those republicans who voted no, expecting another vote in a few years, this time on their preferred model, should reflect on how comprehensively they were deceived by the trickery of their opponents and their own self-delusions, in equal measure.''
In his letter, Mr Howard clarifies that he at no stage made any promise of another referendum, certainly not one on a directly elected president, which he and many others, including Mr Turnbull, feared would create a mandated rival to the elected government of the day.
''I made no such promise. In fact, I was, and remain, even more strongly opposed to a republic with a directly elected president than I am to one where the president is appointed either by the prime minister or Parliament,'' he says.
Mr Howard and Mr Turnbull fell out after the referendum but they later reconciled and Mr Turnbull served as a minster under Mr Howard.