As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.
This biblical proverb is, according to Rudyard Kipling, one of the few things certain in life.
It is perhaps understandable that Paul Keating, who retired in 1996 when he reached the grand old age of 52, would have the taxpayer-funded resources and the leisure to push his pet obsession. This is to get rid of the institution for which he has such an irrational hatred, the Crown.
But with energy prices tripling, houses increasingly unaffordable, a constant fear of terrorist outrage and, in Melbourne, of rampaging Sudanese gangs, with educational standards falling dramatically, with prime and even strategic assets falling under the control of a foreign communist government and a large number of pressing problems, why would Malcolm Turnbull waste even one minute on the issue of turning Australia into a politicians’ republic?
And why does he and the Australian Republican Movement persist in the blatant untruth that we cannot have an Australian as Head of State except in his politicians’ republic? When he was criticised for not being present to receive the remains of Vietnam veterans, he said the government and people were represented there by the Head of State, the Governor-General. And just like Keating, Hawke, Rudd and Gillard, he always assures foreign governments the G-G is our Head of State.
So why tell the Australian people the opposite? The whole reason for republican change is based on a blatant untruth.
In his New Year’s Day affirmation of some sort of politicians’ republic, Turnbull revealed his newfound love for plebiscites, especially ones through the post. But, when Tony Abbott first proposed a plebiscite to resolve the same-sex marriage issue, Turnbull was so outraged he phoned Alan Jones to get him to dissuade Abbott from advancing this “captain’s call”. Turnbull has not denied Alan Jones’ recollection of this call.
Far from me to suggest Turnbull warmed to the plebiscite when he realised how useful this can be for the powerful. He should have read my 1999 referendum campaign book, The Cane Toad Republic, where I explain why the French revolutionary terrorists and the two Napoleons revelled in the use of plebiscites.
Now a change to a politicians’ republic would require a referendum. So why does Turnbull first want a plebiscite, with Shorten committed to two? The big difference between a referendum and a plebiscite is this. In a referendum, all the details have to be on the table before the people vote. With a plebiscite, the details are hidden and only revealed after the people vote.
Before the people voted in the same sex postal plebiscite, Turnbull guaranteed that “religious freedom is fundamental and will be protected” in any legislation authorising same-sex marriage.
But after the postal survey plebiscite, when the bill reached the House, the Prime Minister gave little support to amendments guaranteeing religious freedom, even absenting himself from one vote reportedly for a photography session.
The other reason for wanting a plebiscite is that Turnbull and the ARM either don’t know what sort of politicians’ republic they want, or they’re keeping it secret. It’s as if they were marching down the street chanting “We want to a republic… But we haven’t the foggiest idea what sort of republic we want.”
They full well know that support for a politicians’ republic has fallen significantly since 1999, when republicans believed it was inevitable. But in 1999, the “No” case prevailed nationally, in all states and 72 per cent of electorates — by any measure a landslide.
Worse, that decline in support has come with a timebomb for the republicans. This is that the young are now vying with the elderly as the strongest supporters of the constitutional monarchy or crowned republic. This is not because they see the younger royals as just celebrities, they recognise in them a very strong sense of service demonstrated, for example, by Prince Harry’s insistence on going with the Army to Afghanistan and in founding the splendid Invictus Games.
In the meantime. republicans remain especially worried about allowing the people to elect the president. The fundamental problem is that republicans are still trying to achieve the impossible, grafting a politicians’ republic onto what is essentially a constitutional monarchy or crowned republic.
They are afraid to do the obvious, to put up a tried and tested model such as that of the United States. Coming from an English-speaking country with similar laws, it has worked successfully for over two centuries. Perhaps the republicans suspect that Australians don’t really want to change this aspect of their constitution.
In a democracy, the republicans are of course entitled to campaign for what they want. But what a complete waste of time this is for a Prime Minister surrounded by such serious problems but who has allowed the politicians to go off on a two-month summer break when American politicians are lucky to have two weeks.
The point remains. It is difficult to name a serious problem facing this country which, if it were not created by the politicians, has not been made worse by them.
The way the Australian Crown provides leadership beyond politics is certainly not one of these.
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