You’d quite rightly be suspicious if someone came knocking on your door every few months asking you to move to another house but could never show you where it was or what it looked like.
‘Just trust me’, he kept on saying.
You politely say no but he keeps coming, then other people turn up asking the same thing year after year and you realise that no matter what you say, they’re going to keep knocking on your door.
This month the guy’s called Bill Shorten and boy, does he have a deal for you!
Yes, Bill has a republic you just can’t pass up, except you have no idea what it looks like, what it’ll do and how it’ll operate.
For a bit of background on this issue and for those readers who may be too young to remember, the issue of whether Australia should become a republic was put to the Australian people on 6 November 1999. Australia wide, 55 per cent of the country said no and 45 per cent of the country said yes. Every state and territory in the country said no with one exception, that being the ACT. The irony of the seat of government being so out of step with the rest of the country was lost on no one. In fact, not only were they totally out of step with public opinion they voted 63 per cent yes compared to 37 per cent no. The entire nationwide voter turnout was 95 per cent of the electorate and more resounding ‘get lost, I’m not moving’ is hard to imagine.
Before the vote, polls showed 51 per cent of the population in favour of a republic, 35 per cent against and the rest uncommitted. These polls were totally wrong unless they were taken in the ACT. The republicans lost in a humiliating landslide.
To date, none of the proponents of moving Australia to a republic have been able to offer anyone a good reason to do so.
All they seem to have is making fun of God Save the Queen, which hasn’t been the Australian national anthem since 1984, and keep mumbling something about an Australian Head of State. None of these are reasons, they are all feelings, or at best opinions.
A brief history of Australia since federation, if written in one sentence would read:
116 years of continual piece, no civil war, peaceful transitions of power, overall continual prosperous development, and Whitlam got sacked.
For those living in the midst of it, whose parents have lived in these conditions of peace and prosperity, it is easy to take it for granted. In the course of world history and with a survey of countries around the world, these conditions are very special and rare.
It is also important to know that these conditions are no accident. Australia is like it is for many historical and cultural reasons but one of the biggest lynchpins is the Australian constitution.
Essentially, it works exceptionally well, is self-correcting and manages to place power exactly where it should be, in the elected parliament. The ceremonial person at the top makes no difference to the day-to-day lives of Australians. The decisions of the prime minister, on the other hand, make all the difference.
I’m not in love with the monarchy and have no bonds of affection with Briton, neither am I opposed to republics. What I do love is perfectly working stability and I am very wary of snake oil salesmen who try to sell me anything on the basis of emotional appeal or cultural condemnation. If someone were a seller of governmental systems to societies, Australia’s would be one of your best selling models.
As the old saying goes, ‘If it’s not broke, don’t fix it’. And this is the fundamental selling point that the republican movement lacks. It has no raison d’être. It has no reason for existing because there is simply no overriding reason for change. There is no revolutionary cause.
If the technical reasons against change weren’t bad enough there is another issue stacked up against them and it is the people trying to sell it.
Hence the title of this article, for all of those who love our stability and know that change for change’s sake is a recipe for disaster, we need Bill Shorten.
As leader of the Labor opposition, he has latched onto this issue in a bid to give him traction with the electorate. For people like him, the republic is one of those issues you can bring out of hibernation when you need it, send it out on an electoral mission and then pack it on ice when you don’t need it anymore. For those true believers out there, this is not the boost you were hoping for; this is a curse you don’t need. Cheering someone you already agree with won’t help your cause, it will just make you feel good and convince no one else.
As soon as Bill’s on the job, it becomes political. The issue becomes a political tool used for political ends and when it’s Bill, political ends means anything that benefits Bill.
Leadership from such a polarising figure is the single biggest selling point for keeping things the way they are. I could not think of a better way to sink your intentions than to place this man as a spokesperson for your mission.
The situation is so out of the stream of consciousness for regular Australians that even the Prime Minister doesn’t support it at the moment. At least the PM has the credibility of being a champion of the movement before he was in politics and he’s not going anywhere near it. The only time anyone offers an opinion on it is when a pollster calls them up asks them a question. Just before the call, they were looking at their childcare bill and working out how to pay for their utilities.
Once the republican movement realises that Bill is killing any possibility they have of broadening their appeal they quietly take him aside and politely ask him to shut up.
As an alternative, they can appoint an arrogant bombastic journalist who treats anyone who disagrees with him with sneering disdain. Oh dear.
Keep mocking your opponents. Keep insulting the public. Calling voters deplorables is such a successful tactic after all.
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