Malcolm Turnbull can advance only one extremely weak reason to justify the expense, division and enormous cost of both a plebiscite and a referendum to try to impose some politicians’ republic on the nation.
Before the 1999 referendum, republicans were scratching around to try and find some reason to justify the change they wanted – getting rid of the Queen.
Al Grassby blamed the constitutional monarchy for the level of unemployment. Neville Wran said a republic would boost jobs and raise sprits. Others said a republic would improve trade and diplomatic relations with Asia. Believe it or not, a deputy lord mayor of Sydney said it would lead to an increase in immigration. The various celebrity and elite republicans were making fools of themselves in advancing such silly reasons. Nobody believed them and their republican campaign was going nowhere.
Eventually, they hit upon an obscure diplomatic term that most people have never heard of, the head of state. In fact, it was so obscure it didn’t even appear in the then current edition of the Macquarie Dictionary.
They actually claimed that only under a politicians’ republic could we have an Australian as head of state. Speaking with some expertise in international and constitutional law, I concluded that this is just not so. In the Australian context, the term remains purely diplomatic. We don’t find the term in our constitution and is therefore not governed by constitutional law.
And according to customary international law, the position is crystal clear. The Governor-General is our head of state.
Malcolm Turnbull full well knows this. In fact, during the recent election, he was challenged for not turning up when our Vietnam War dead were brought home to Australia. His excuse? “The Australian government, the Australian people, were represented by our head of state … the governor-general,” he said.
The clear unchallengeable fact is under our crowned republic we have an Australian as head of state, Peter Cosgrove. In fact, there is a paper on this in the December issue of the prestigious Australian Law Journal by Sir David Smith, who famously read the proclamation dissolving the Parliament on 11 November 1975 in 1975. The result is that under our crowned republic we have the best of both worlds.
Surely there are more important issues for the Prime Minister than planning a re-run of the failed 1999 referendum, even at the end of the reign. Some of these are constitutional, including the proposal for the constitutional recognition of the indigenous people where there are all sorts of strange proposals, even one for this country to make treaties with itself.
There is also the way the clear terms of the constitution have been ignored in relation to the division of power between Canberra and the States with Canberra cornering 80 per cent of the taxes. Most recently we’ve seen Canberra giving tacit recognition to polygamous marriages although the marriage power in the constitution was obviously intended by the people to be exercised only in relation to monogamous marriages. Then there’s net government debt, which seems to be out of control rocketing towards 20 per cent of GDP, when under Howard we were in surplus.
That reminds me of a recent comment by Andrew Bolt who said that Malcolm Turnbull is the worst Prime Minister since Sir William McMahon. That was terribly unfair. Unfair, that is, to Sir William McMahon. I gave my reasons recently in a piece in the Telegraph.
While Malcolm Turnbull clearly can attend a function given by his ARM into which he has put so much effort and given so much money, why use his position to push the failed politicians’ republic. In doing this he once again compares unfavourably with McMahon.
Sir William would never have wasted time suggesting a constitutional change similar to that proposed in 1999, which would have removed one of the significant checks and balances in the constitution. This was because under Turnbull’s 1999 republic, the president could be removed without reasons, without notice and without any right of appeal. It would have been the only republic in history where it would have been easier for the prime minister to sack the president than his driver.
I raised this when I was at Corowa in 1999 for a debate with Malcolm Turnbull. I argued the no case with the independent republican and one of the nation’s most honest politicians on my side, Ted Mack. I complained to Ted how the official republicans wouldn’t listen when I tried to warn them their model dangerously neutralised the checks against the abuse of power. He replied dryly: ”They know all that. That’s precisely what they want.”
Malcolm Turnbull needs to do what he promised when he knifed Tony Abbott. Deliver a sound economic narrative, and for his bed wetter supporters, good polls.