Features Australia

Republicans’ cunning stunts

Gimmicks and tricks are far easier than trying to come up with a workable republican model

6 February 2016

9:00 AM

6 February 2016

9:00 AM

Almost every Australia Day now features a media promoted stunt engineered by the republican movement. It’s surprising they never put the same effort into developing just one workable republican model.

One year, Victorian Premier Steve Bracks made a spectacle of himself demanding the Queen ‘give back’ Tom Roberts’ magnificent painting of the opening of the first Federal Parliament by her grandfather, King George V. When it emerged the painting had been hanging in Parliament House, Canberra since 1957 on permanent loan from the Royal Collection, Bracks looked foolish indeed.

Some such stunt now forms part of a pincer operation with the Australian of the Year Award. Unlike knighthoods bestowed for the extraordinary achievements of Australians of the quality of Sir John Monash, Sir Donald Bradman, or Dame Joan Sutherland, the AOY is now awarded to some usually republican candidate proposing a politically correct agenda sure to divide the nation, granting them a national bully pulpit for a whole year of tiresome frothing and ranting.

In designating this year’s AOY as the ideal president, Peter FitzSimons has done Australians a favour. We’re now on notice that the politicians’ republic will unleash a permanent gaggle of politically correct whingers from the president down to the vice president, governors, lieutenant governors and administrators. Their PC rantings will only be the tip of the iceberg as they abandon all of the fundamental constitutional constraints which now apply to vice regal positions.

In the meantime, this years’ republican stunt was the grandiosely named ‘Declaration of Desired Independence’ by most of the premiers and chief ministers. This only served to draw attention to the fact that each of these high taxers is singularly failing to deliver good governance in his or her jurisdiction. Just to take one of many examples, under all of them there has been a dramatic collapse in public confidence in the criminal justice system over which each presides. This show of politicians’ support was unsurprisingly portrayed by the mainstream media as if it were both new and important. It was neither. In the 90s, their predecessors showed themselves to be just as out-of-touch as they are, with the honourable exception of the WA Premier, Richard Court. Plus ça change.

The wording of this Declaration reflects the way in which the republican movement has for years thrashed around to try and enunciate at least one reason for tearing up the constitution and the Australian flag. Of Australia’s mostly unsavoury succession of republican movements – the first was for a racist white republic, the second a bloody Stalinist dictatorship and the latest by Islamic terrorists wanting to impose a republican caliphate – only Mr Turnbull’s and Mr FitzSimon’s justifies the momentous change they propose on an extraordinarily tiny and fragile base. Theirs is a highly questionable interpretation of a diplomatic and not even a constitutional term.

The reason for this is that in the earlier 90s, prominent republicans regularly went into the media to offer some new reason for such a major change. Increasingly incredulous Australians were actually told ‘the’ republic would, for example, improve trade, increase immigration, reduce unemployment, increase venture capital, liberate artists and even invigorate spirits. We could hold our heads high in Asia, with Asians much more willing to trade with us. The republicans were making themselves increasingly ridiculous.

It was then that that they stumbled on what they thought was the elusive silver bullet which would justify removing the Queen and enabling the political class to occupy the space left by the Crown. This was through a diplomatic term so obscure and so specialised that it wasn’t even listed in then edition of the Macquarie Dictionary. That term was ‘head of state’. Being a diplomatic term its use is governed by international law, not constitutional law. And you won’t find it in the constitution. The ARM claims that only in their politicians’ republic can we have an Australian as head of state. Wrong.

The fact is that whenever a Governor-General has gone on a state visit, every Australian government, Labor and Coalition, always expects every foreign government and international organisation to receive him or her as our Australian head of state − as the Rudd government did for Quentin Bryce’s long African tour. On the only recorded occasion when a foreign government indicated it would not receive the G-G as our head of state − Indonesia’s in 1987− Sir Ninian Stephen cancelled the visit on the advice of the Hawke government. (This incident was probably the result of republican mischief by someone in the Australian embassy). The Indonesian government apologised and, in 1995, received Bill Hayden as the Australian head of state.

As in the 90’s, republicans are busy enlisting celebrities and politicians to their cause, anticipating some early victory. They forget that even with their extremely generous funding, the support of almost all of the mainstream media and most politicians, and problems in the Royal Family culminating in the tragic death of Diana, the republicans were defeated overwhelmingly in 1999, and not as Malcolm Turnbull inexplicably claimed in an Australia Day interview ‘narrowly’.

Has he forgotten that he lost every state, 72 per cent of electorates and the support of 58 per cent of those entitled to vote who either didn’t vote, voted No or voted informal? This wasn’t a narrow defeat. It was a landslide.

Turnbull would call a referendum tomorrow if he thought it would succeed. But he knows that support for a vague undefined politicians’ republic has for some years been fluctuating somewhere in the 30+ percentile range. Even that disintegrates the moment a specific model is favoured. As Bob Carr indicates whenever direct presidential election is proposed, he prefers our crowned republic. Then there’s the massive time bomb republicans ignore. Unlike 1999, the young now challenge the elderly as the age group least interested in a politicians’ republic.

Turnbull’s latest silver bullet, putting the issue off to the end of the reign, means this issue is not ‘on the table’. But with the likely worldwide media retrospective then and the fascination with the Coronation, the new Sovereign and the Prince of Wales and his family, Australians are unlikely to demand that the one part of the Constitution which works well and which provides leadership beyond politics be removed and replaced by denizens from the political class.

The reigns of Charles III, William V and George VII are assured.

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