You don’t need a crystal ball to tell you that the next costly national distraction after the gay marriage circus will be our old friend the Republic. It’s the pseudo-issue unimaginative politicians reach for when they want to kid themselves that they are statesmen shaping the destinies of a nation.
Now that our charismatic federal opposition leader has promised (threatened) a re-run of the republic referendum as soon as he’s elected – a prospect as certain as tomorrow’s sunrise unless the Liberals dump the serial opinion-poll-losing millstone posing as their leader – a new anti-monarchist campaign is gearing up, as republican zealots, thwarted in 1999, plan another attempt to fix something that isn’t broken.
The star part will be played as ever by E.G. Whitlam, or his spectre this time. To the ageing relics for whom bliss it was to be alive at the dawn of his government, Whitlam remains forever a martyr, victim of a coup d’état; and to none more so than to his biographer Professor Jenny Hocking, who looks just the sort of old leftist biddy you’d expect to be still in shock at the iniquity of her hero’s sacking. This, she contends, was plotted with the connivance of the monarchy. Her ‘explosive’ (Fairfax’s word) evidence of royal interference in Australian politics appears in a new edition of her book The Dismissal Dossier, which, says Fairfax, ‘contains the revelation of the meeting pointing to Britain’s involvement’ in Whitlam’s removal.
Jenny was twenty-one when the Great Man was sent packing, but for her and the Whitlam groupies of her generation time has not dimmed the legend of the visionary who led the nation out of the stuffy conformity of the post-Menzies years into the sunlit uplands of secularisation, easy divorce, multiculturalism and squandering of public money on arts mediocrities. Whitlam inculcated in his followers an infantile scorn of our British heritage. ‘Maintain your rage,’ his foghorn voice enjoined them as he was bundled out of office. Jenny’s rage has been loyally maintained to the point of suing the National Archives of Australia to release the so-called ‘palace letters’, embargoed until 2027, so that ‘just what the Palace knew’ of Governor-General Sir John Kerr’s intentions ‘in the lead-up to the dismissal’ will be finally ‘revealed’. The letters, the ABC quoted her as saying, are of ‘huge importance to the Australian people.’ Oh please. More than forty years later the Australian people still give a damn about Whitlam? Anyway, the Australian people delivered their verdict on him when a month after his graceless departure they gave Malcolm Fraser’s Coalition a landslide. As soon as they could have their say, they endorsed Kerr’s decision.
Why can’t the keepers of the Whitlam flame accept that as democracy in action? They can’t, just as the Left won’t accept Brexit or Donald Trump, because for them it’s not democracy unless it coincides with what they want.
Jenny believes ‘the Queen knew what might happen to the government well before it happened.’ You don’t say. The Queen actually knew something about what was going on in a country of which she is Head of State? She knew in advance that ‘her’ arrogant and feckless prime minister’s efforts to get hold of dodgy Arab money to shore up his tottering regime might lead to trouble? She could have read that in the paper. She wouldn’t have needed a surreptitious tip-off from her representative.
Unlike the Queen, says Jenny, Whitlam was ‘caught completely off-guard by the actions of November 11, 1975.’ That would be right. He was probably too busy pompously correcting journalists’ grammar at press conferences, one of his regular pastimes.
You can see where all this is going. Jenny’s lawsuit and the implication that ‘the palace’ is hiding something are intended to disprove the official narrative that the monarch was not involved in sacking Whitlam. If she was, republicans will argue, then we’re still ruled from Britain and the only way to declare our independence is to ditch the monarchy and become a republic, which, with convenient timing, we’ll be able to do (at vast expense) in Mr Shorten’s referendum.
You could write the republican campaign script blindfold. All the vituperation against supporters of traditional marriage will be recycled against supporters of the constitutional status quo. Gay spite will be replaced by xenophobic hysteria masquerading as patriotism (a bit of a problem here for lefties, for whom patriotism is the vice of Brexiteers and Trump-voters, but they’ll weasel their way around it as they do with all the other contradictions of leftist dogma such as feminism’s acceptance of Muslim attitudes to women or Green ‘sustainability’-evangelists running their air conditioning at full blast).
With a few principled exceptions, politicians at all three levels of our over-governed existence will make sure their republican sentiments are lit up in neon, if they think the monarchists will lose – those same politicians who elbow each other aside to be presented during royal visits, and will again next time Wills and Kate happen along. As for the Queen, republicans will try to use her advanced age to their advantage: a strategy of postponing any change while the Queen is alive could help win over some traditionally-minded voters.
A tidal wave of propaganda will sweep across the nation, with footballers and self-promoting ‘celebrities’ in TV commercials (‘It’s your republic. Make it happen.’). Alan Joyce (the Irish have never liked Britain and the monarchy) will turn gay-partisan Qantas into republic-touting Qantas. The ABC will pull out all the stops to portray non-republicans as antediluvian reactionaries and republicans as cool and chic, ignoring indications that the young are more monarchist than their elders. General David Morrison, Magda Szubanski and Stan Grant will all be suggested as future presidents. Perhaps Max Gillies, comedian emeritus to the elderly Left, will be dusted off to give his celebrated impersonation of Sir John Kerr. Watch out too for endless re-runs of that Remembrance Day scene on the Canberra steps and ‘Well may we say God save the Queen because nothing will save the Governor-General.’ It didn’t either. He had to go and live abroad to escape the anger of Whitlamite mobs. Now that’s leftist democracy in action. Would Kerr have had to leave the country if he’d dismissed Malcolm Fraser?
A republic is not a simple Left versus Right issue but all Australian leftists want one. That, and the insights the Whitlam saga gives us into leftist respect for real democracy, are worth remembering when you cast a referendum vote.
Subscribe to The Spectator Australia today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Subscribe – Try a month free