When an exasperated Andrew Bolt said that Malcolm Turnbull was the worst Liberal prime minister since Sir William McMahon, the Daily Telegraph published my piece arguing that Bolt had been very unfair. That is, unfair to McMahon.
Politicians are experts, but hardly ever in governing. These days their expertise is too often in plotting, backstabbing, lying and advancing their self-interest.
Occasionally a leader emerges who reminds them they are elected public servants. Such leaders come to power honourably, never plotting from within the cabinet against their leader.
They often wait for the call, as did both George Washington and Winston Churchill. Or they only throw their hat in the ring when they realise that no other contender will return the party to the right path, as Abbott did.
The advent of Turnbull’s memoirs recalls the truth that a leader who obtains power by betrayal is already a failure and will deliver failed policies, notwithstanding the swooning of the commentariat.
Just think of the continuing billions extracted from the defence budget to save Pyne’s seat, of precious water handed over to foreign speculators, the continuing sell-out to the Beijing communists (Huawei excepted), those white elephants: Snowy 2.0, Badgery’s Creek and the NBN, catastrophic decline in education, abandoned GST reform and above all, twice guaranteeing his downfall by trying to impose ALP policy based on the global warming myth.
His ‘progressive’ beliefs, curious for a Catholic convert, are fashionably elitist. The one which launched his political career, fake republicanism, pushed in alliance with Paul Keating, failed to deliver the safe Labor seat he so longed for.
A real republican in our Anglo-American tradition, guided by Locke and Montesquieu, would plan to improve the constitution of our crowned republic to make politicians truly accountable and to restore the federal compact in accordance with the original and present intention of the people.
His ‘republicanism’ was born during the Bicentennial when he decided we lacked an Australian as head of state, a diplomatic term so obscure it wasn’t even in the current Macquarie Dictionary. Yet when he was criticised in the 2016 election for not being present for the return of the remains of Australians killed on foreign battlefields, he had no hesitation in arguing that there was no need for him to be there as the head of state, the Governor-General, was present. Yet in his memoirs he has the gall to return to the claim that we must be a republic so that we can have an Australian as head of state.
Under Nick Minchin’s equitable formula to reflect exactly how people voted in the Convention election, the official Vote No Committee consisted of eight ACM and two Real Republicans, the splendid Ted Mack and Clem Jones, all opposed to Turnbull’s politicians’ republic.
I came to know Turnbull during that long campaign reported in his memoirs by drawing from his previously published referendum diary, Fighting For the Republic, or as one wag renamed it, Whingeing for the Republic.
A computer check reports that I am mentioned 42 times in the diary, the highest mention for any opponent other than John Howard at 43. Turnbull dismisses me as the ‘most exaggerated of the monarchist scaremongers’, but worries that my arguments, put ‘in measured tones’, are having effect.
Notoriously not a great campaigner, Australia must thank providence that he was the leader – else we could be stuck with his appalling politicians’ republic.
This remains the only republican model in recorded history where a prime minister can more easily dismiss the president than his cook.
The president would forever be cowed and intimidated by knowing that he could be dismissed without notice, without reasons and without any right of appeal.
I was to debate Turnbull on several occasions. One memorable one was in the courthouse where the crucial 1893 Corowa federation conference had been held.
This adopted the Corowa Plan which assured that, through the direct involvement of the people, Federation was achieved in only four years, less time than it took to lay the new tram track down George Street in Sydney’s CBD.
The debate was arranged by the Australian who flew Yes case speakers Turnbull and Paul Kelly together with myself and Ted Mack for the No case down to Corowa in a small aircraft. The debate, chaired by Tim Fischer, was attended by an audience most of whom Turnbull dismisses as looking like ‘paid-up ACM members’.
A highlight was a tiny Irish Fenian who constantly interjected during Turnbull’s address. There was some justice in this as the only foreign intervention in the campaign was by Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams. Our suggestion that after the IRA’s assassination of young Australians in Holland, the ARM should distance themselves from Adams was ignored.
During an interval, I told Ted Mack of the difficulty I was having in explaining to the ARM that the ease with which the president could be dismissed was a serious flaw. He replied: ‘Don’t waste your time. That’s exactly what they want.’
Another highlight of the campaign was when Kerry Jones, David Elliott and I went to Parliament House to present our proposal to have the crucial referendum question include an indication as to how the president could be dismissed.
As we came in, we ran into a worried Turnbull leaving and being pursued by journalists.
Displaying extraordinary arrogance and gall, he had proposed two words be removed from the question, ‘president’ and, believe it or not, ‘republic’.
Even the republican media ridiculed him, so much so, he eventually withdrew his proposal. The mainly republican parliamentary committee rejected our proposal to draw people’s attention to the increased power being vested in the prime minister, something unknown in the Westminster system.
Turnbull had everything going for him – money, politicians and the media.
Fortunately, rank-and-file Australians were not taken in and his republic was rejected in a landslide result which included every state.
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