Barely had the last flutes of champagne been emptied, the last fireworks burst over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but a republic was back on the agenda.
After reading the New Year papers in his Point Piper bunker, the Dear Respected Leader, fresh from his victories in New England and Bennelong, took on Paul Keating on, yes, the republic. Resurgent. Back on the books. This time, maybe, a plebiscite.
That worked last time, didn’t it? Only cost, what, a couple of hundred million dollars?
And, surely, this time….
Speaking from Bondi, Mr Turnbull said, “If you’re asking me how I would go about it in the issue becoming live again, I think the first thing you would need to do is have an honest, open discussion about how a president would be elected.
“That’s what you need to have. Whether the president would be chosen by parliament, you know, in a bipartisan, two-thirds majority as proposed in 99 or directly elected. That is the rock on which the referendum floundered in 99.
“You’ve got to have that discussion and it may be that a plebiscite, maybe even a postal survey, given the success of the marriage postal survey, could be one way to deal with that.
“But that issue needs to be debated and resolved.”
The subject, once broached, was happily taken up by fervent advocates in the ABC, the ANU, various republican groups and others who have been most recently tired and depressed by news of the Price Harry-Meghan Markle engagement. But… and it’s a big but, (someone close and tactful should tell the Leader) we’re actually sick and tired of being asked to roll up once more to vote on something that may have, for the majority in the community, very little to do with everyday lives. Apart from the cost. How much again did that postal ballot cost?
But there’s a ray of hope – sanity even- in the reviving of republicanism. And it comes from the horse’s – er, the Dear Respected Leader himself.
“Look, this is the bottom line – we gave the republic a great shot in 99,” he said. “There was a referendum. Sadly, we lost. I voted yes, I campaigned for yes. Yes. He did.
And your column writer has – somewhere in some seldom-opened drawer – a rusting badge that said “ Say ‘NO to the politicians’ republic’. And Australians did say ‘No’, envisaging, no doubt, the thought of a President Bob Hawke.
Unlike the Liberals, Labor has the pleasing habit of bestowing high office on those who have served, or who have stepped aside for the good of the Party or those considered noble losers. Bill Hayden, Governor-General. Gough Whitlam, Paris appointment, as Ambassador to UNESCO (we already had an ambassador in Paris, but Gough, it was considered, was deserving of outranking a mere career diplomat.).
And not just high office; life-long employment in the ABC has been accorded to Kerry O’Brien (Hayden’s staffer) and Barrie Cassidy (Hawke’s PR man). And you didn’t even have to be a Labor staffer to share in the bounty.
Grants tumbled into the capacious lap of departed screenwriter and Labor hagiographer Bob Ellis (read his ‘Goodbye Jerusalem’ if you can get hold of a copy, most were pulped after Ellis lost the defamation case brought by Peter Costello and Tony Abbott). It certainly paid off to lend your support to ‘Arts for Labor’ or anything associated with the republic.
So sanity – economic common sense, pragmatism, what you will – may put paid to the idea of yet another postal vote. Even the Dear Respected Leader seems to acknowledge that, as he told the media, there was “no point pretending there is an appetite for change when there isn’t one at the moment”.
Too right. If it ain’t broke… Even Dear Respected Leaders understand that.
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