THE LATEST IDIOCY masquerading as hand-on-heart nationalism kicks off what might be an interesting week this week, with all state and territory leaders — bar WA’s Colin Barnett — signing a so-called “declaration of desired independence” with the aim to end the link to the monarchy and declare Australia a republic; the move is empty, cynical posturing that is likely to fail, but could do irretrievable damage to this country were it to succeed.
This morning’s article was a toss-up between this issue and the renomination of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott for Liberal Party preselection in his seat of Warringah; we will come back to Abbott (and the repercussions of that) this evening, although I am mindful it may be just about time to see some reputable opinion polling as the silly season draws to a close — and if any of that comes through in the meantime, we may have to juggle.
But the “declaration of desired independence” signed by most state and territory leaders — calling for Australia to abandon its links to the British monarchy and declare itself a republic — is the sort of banal drivel that might be expected from people who literally have better things to do with their time, and I say that in full cognisance of the fact that Liberal Party identities in New South Wales, Tasmania and the Northern Territory are parties to this empty piece of absurd populist posturing.
Having covered off on this in the past it’s hard to know where to begin today, so utterly devoid of credibility is the rehashed, reheated, recycled bullshit being squirted afresh by the Australian Republican Movement; dispassionate consideration of the facts of this matter — made with a brutally realistic judgement of the behaviour of people and politicians, rather than some pie-in-the-sky feelgood claptrap and a national singing of Kum-ba-ya — shows the adoption of republican government in this country to be unattainable at best, and downright dangerous to its stability and security at worst.
And no, it has nothing to do with whether you love or hate (or couldn’t care less) about the Royal Family, although with the high visibility and prominence of a large band of popular younger royals, combined with the instant accessibility of social media, it must terrify the ARM that pro-monarchist sentiment in generations Y and Z is running a country mile ahead of support for a switch to a republic among those younger Australians.
In other words, there’s a degree of “it’s now or never” about this.
Traditionally — starting with Paul Keating in 1992 — the idea of a republic in this country is floated by Labor Party politicians facing extreme electoral difficulties as a diversionary tactic; of course, since Keating put the issue on the agenda almost quarter of a century ago, many Liberal Party figures have leapt onto the bandwagon as well. But even now, whenever there’s an attempt to reheat the souffle, it is almost invariably an ALP personality (or someone aligned with the Left) who kicks it off.
So it appears to be now, with most of those behind the so-called declaration being from or aligned to the ALP; the move has the explicit support of embattled federal Labor “leader” Bill Shorten, and if ever there were a Labor figure in diabolical electoral trouble, it is he.
This latest move seems to be an attempt at implicating Prime Minister (and former ARM head) Malcolm Turnbull in a fresh republican plot. To date — and to his credit — Turnbull has resisted the temptation.
It is difficult to see how the conspirators believe they can succeed; after all, there was a referendum just 15 years ago that was convincingly defeated; it is neither possible nor advisable to keep having referendums (or non-binding plebiscites, as is the case here) with the eventual ambition of smashing opposition by wearing it down into resignation. Yet this seems to be the tactic, despite (as The Age records) opposition to the move now commanding an outright majority in reputable opinion polling.
And there is a deadlock among republicans that I can see no way through: the so-called “direct electionists,” compelled in 2000 to vote on a model that featured a President selected by the Houses of federal Parliament, opposed it as “the politicians’ republic,” whilst the so-called “minimalists” who advocated it (and it seems current ARM chief Peter FitzSimons is one of them) have historically appeared to heed at least one argument of monarchists in that the office of a directly elected President would inevitably become politicised — and for a politician to wield the power the Constitution confers on the Australian head of state would be downright dangerous, and would threaten the political stability (and even the security) of the country.
That point should not be ignored or downplayed, and anyone who fatuously claims “oh, they’d never do (insert undemocratic outrage here)” is kidding themselves.
A directly elected President would be a conflict with, and a rival power centre to, the elected government of the day and to Parliament as an institution: and before anyone starts rattling on about 1975, the reserve powers wielded by an impartial figurehead to resolve a constitutional deadlock between the Senate and the House of Representatives — precisely as the constitutional architects foresaw — would not have been used, say, had the Whitlam government held office under an overtly ALP President.
The consequences of that, at a time the government could not appropriate Supply in the Senate and at a time of national social and economic chaos, would have been disastrous.
But really, this stunt — and that is all the “declaration of desired independence” is — hardly merits the trouble of mounting complicated constitutional arguments to shoot it down.
First, it was signed by eight people — eight — out of a country with 25 million people in it, and elected to represent as they may well be, their views on such a critical issue of national importance are no more valid than the other 24.9 million or so living here.
Secondly, one has to wonder why this is such a pressing issue at a time the country’s expenses are running well beyond its income, and have done now for several years; with half a trillion dollars in Commonwealth debt (a figure that grows dangerously close to $1tn once the gross liabilities of the states are included) and no inclination of the entire political Left to even countenance genuine solutions to restore national finances to a sustainable position, the fact its servants can find the time and energy for this is an indictment on them.
But really, the kind of statements — and blatant intellectual dishonesty — being trotted out over this are almost childish.
Thanks to the Australia Acts passed by the Whitlam and Hawke governments, this country is already fully independent of Britain; the British Parliament no longer wields any power to directly determine in the interests of Australia or its people, save for those who still retain UK citizenship; and whilst nobody in the republican cart cares to acknowledge it, Australia has had an Australian head of state now for 50 years: the Governor-General, an office which has been held by Australian-born appointees continuously since 1989, and of whose past 11 appointments 10 (stretching back to and including Lord Casey in the 1960s) were Australian-born. The exception — Sir Ninian Stephen (1982-89) — was a dual national who came to Australia as a child, and who served in the Australian Army in World War II. Only a pedant would suggest Sir Ninian was “a foreigner.”
Significantly, the monarch is a ceremonial figure only, acting on the advice of his or her ministers — including those in Australia — and has no power to amend or reject legislation in this country; and where the spectre of 1975 is invoked, that particular ghost is easily vanquished by the hard, cold fact that Sir John Kerr acted on his own initiative, but in full accordance with the Constitution, to dismiss the Whitlam government: the Palace, whilst reticent in its support, was only informed after the event.
Still, that precis of facts hasn’t stopped the likes of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews making stupid statements like “it’s time to stand on our own two feet, on paper and in practice,” or Queensland’s Annastacia Palaszczuk claiming — with no sense of irony — that it’s “about time our country (was) led by one of our own,” when in point of fact, it already is.
In my view, the entire thrust of the republican offer is based on the cultural cringe and anti-British bent of the hard Left — not all of its advocates necessarily fit that description, but it’s where it originated — and it’s noteworthy that so many of the most prominent advocates for a republic just happen to be Irish Catholics who, of course, have their reasons for hating England, but such prejudices have no place in this country.
(I could add — tongue-in-cheek — that their own anti-discrimination and racial vilification laws prohibit it, but that would hardly be sporting).
But to whatever or whomever you ascribe responsibility for the republican movement, its only appeal is an emotional one, not one based in facts, logic, or consideration for the consequences.
An Australian Head of State (when we have one now). Being led by one of us (we already are). Time to cut the apron strings (which were cut 30 years ago). Time to stop tugging the forelock (what?). Time to do away with a foreigner as Head of State (in any meaningful sense, there isn’t one).
On and on it goes, mindlessly ignorant of the fact that were the republican “dream” to become reality, this could quickly become a very ordinary place to live.
Anyone who trusts Australian politicians to behave soberly and responsibly when imbued with the absolute mandate of directly elected presidential power has a mental problem. Let me just say to those on the Left, you know the hated Tories you reckon are so incompetent, reactionary, dangerous, etc etc etc? At some point they will win the Presidency and they might just act unilaterally. What will you do — bring the unions out onto the streets to overthrow the government?
Naturally, more conservative voters don’t need to be warned about either the dangers of handing their opponents absolute power or of gifting it to their own. There are checks and balances in the present system that would be forever destroyed by abandoning current arrangements. Once they’re gone, no politician will vote them back into existence. And once the monarchy has been abandoned, it is unlikely we would ever be welcomed back into the fold.
Don’t point to the US as an advertisement for the use of presidential power; that country has more problems than we have here.
As I have opined in the past, none of these so-called republican nationalists are running around the world maligning Canada, or New Zealand, or any of the other countries who retain the Queen as the ceremonial head of a constitutional monarchy as the best form of government.
And as FitzSimons points out, 32 of 54 Commonwealth countries have become republics during the present monarch’s reign. An awful lot of those, which he conveniently fails to mention, are social and economic basket cases. There goes that justification as well.
One idea I have heard — either the codification of the reserve powers in the Constitution or their excision from it at a referendum as part of the transitional arrangements — merely underlines the view that as tear-jerking and heartwarming as some of the republican rhetoric might be, there are some very sinister undertones to the actual intentions behind those barbed words and what they seek to achieve.
And very soon, Australians might just be in line to get a little more bang for their buck, and gain a real advantage from being a Commonwealth country sharing a common monarch; British Prime Minister David Cameron, a Tory, is set to retire within the next couple of years — not wishing to serve either a third term in the post, or all of his present term to enable a successor to become established — and his likely replacement, current London mayor Boris Johnson, is preparing to institute a system of free people movement initially between the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand: the idea is that as Commonwealth countries, citizens of each will be able to live and work without restriction in the participating countries, with the scheme only open to those countries who share the common monarch.
The proposal opens opportunities to Australians of all ages and from all walks of life that they wouldn’t otherwise have (except in New Zealand) as well as building on economic and trade links. Want to live in Canada for five years? Want to live and work in London if you’re over 32? If you don’t have citizenship of those countries, then good luck. And it wouldn’t hurt to see more Canadians and British folk spending time here, either. We don’t know everything — the fact yet another republican debate is starting proves it — and as a country of migrants, we can hardly shun economic immigrants who want to work and contribute, and from whom we might actually learn a trick or two as well.
Refute that, Peter FitzSimons.
I think the arguments in favour of constitutional monarchy and against “feelgood” republicanism are watertight anyway, but should Johnson succeed with his plan (and I’m told the other contenders for the Conservative Party leadership are on board with it too) there’s a very big extra bonus to be had from keeping things just as they are.
So no thanks: to the ARM and its current band of snake oil salesman, tell your story walking. We’re not interested. And frankly, this so-called “declaration of desired independence” isn’t even worth the paper it’s printed on, let alone acknowledging it as anything more than a stunt, a charade, and a pretty empty one at that.