No Republic: It’s Time To Dump Turnbull As Prime Minister

IN 15 torrid months, Malcolm Turnbull has squandered stellar polling numbers, wasted six months on incoherent “tax debates,” let senior conservatives twist in the wind and almost lost an election. Enough is enough: incapable of governing, Turnbull has turned to the issue that cost him his leadership in 2009 — carbon pricing — and his repugnant signature policy, a republic. The Liberal Party must cut its losses, and cast this abysmal leader adrift.

In making Malcolm Bligh Turnbull leader of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister on 14 September last year, in a daylight ambush against a sitting but deeply unpopular incumbent, even Turnbull’s most ardent acolytes must have known — in their heart of hearts — that there was a reasonable prospect their man would have to be replaced, and sooner rather than later.

With Turnbull now publicly contemplating timeframes to revive his repugnant signature policy — a republic in Australia — that time has arrived.

This column, whilst hospitably disposed toward Turnbull on a purely personal level, has been flatly and resolutely opposed to his return as Liberal Party leader ever since his eviction from the post in December 2009 and, if brutally candid, was never in favour of his ascension to the position in the first place.

We said as much back in February last year, when former PM Tony Abbott was about to survive the “leadership challenge by an empty chair,” and were unequivocal about the fact that Malcolm Turnbull was no solution as Prime Minister.

It is a matter of record that reluctantly, and with deep regret, this column withdrew support for Abbott over his obstinate refusal to jettison his divisive, counter-productive Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, some months afterwards, and it is a matter of history that his refusal to do so was ultimately responsible — in part, at least — for triggering the second, successful move on his position.

But at no time did we regard Turnbull, in any way, as a suitable replacement — anything but — and in fact, many of the risks this column warned were implicit in a Turnbull Prime Ministership have materialised to almost deadly effect.

The flood of new support Turnbull was supposed to bring to the Liberals never arrived; be it for the basic strategic mistake of failing to go to an immediate election, or the disinclination for lefties who genuinely like Turnbull to actually vote for him, the landslide victory many of his adherents believed Turnbull would deliver remains a fantasy.

What did arrive in its stead was a return of the flawed judgement and political tin ear that fatally tarnished his initial stint as leader; from botched reshuffles to the kind of elitist posturing (green tea and craft beer, anyone?) that is such a turn-off to the vast majority of voters outside the chardonnay-swilling latte belts of inner-city urban areas, it became readily apparent that Turnbull hadn’t learned much in six years away from the Liberal leadership.

The failure to call an election for December 2015 is, with the benefit of hindsight, (although we said so at the time) the pivot point for the Turnbull government’s fortunes; facing the charlatan Bill Shorten, whose leadership was to all appearances fatally damaged by the Heydon Royal Commission — and who was set to be dumped by his colleagues if he didn’t take the face-saving path of resignation — Turnbull was spooked out of a December election following the AFP raid on the home of key lieutenant Mal Brough: the episode let Shorten off the hook, and allowed the ALP to take heart.

And as sure as night followed day, the Liberal Party’s “march toward a return to opposition,” which we also warned of last February, duly recommenced.

The wild, bold, hysterical lashing out (typified by “Utegate” during Turnbull’s first stint as leader) was replaced with a form of stupefied inertia and the utter aversion to any kind of risk at all, as Turnbull wasted the first half of this year on an excruciating “reform debate” over tax that was neither a debate, nor led to any meaningful advocacy of genuine reform.

During that process, Turnbull hung his Treasurer (and putative future leadership prospect) Scott Morrison out to dry, with Morrison’s long-term political future perhaps terminally compromised by his association with various half-baked tax proposals that were floated, allowed to be savaged by Labor, and hastily withdrawn; this was not conducive to the exercise of political authority, nor a posture of political strength in difficult parliamentary conditions, and it weakened the government significantly.

The reforms made to Senate electoral process, whilst admittedly an incremental improvement, were piddling, and extracted at great cost to the government in terms of what little goodwill it enjoyed from the Senate crossbench: that most (but not all) of the antagonised crossbenchers were re-elected constitutes an ongoing potential source of trouble.

But the campaign ahead of elections on 2 July was turgid, ineffectual, and a downright fiasco; it enabled the resuscitated Shorten to run rings around the Coalition. Had Shorten not overreached in the final ten days with his brazen “Mediscare” lies, it is likely Labor would have won.

As it stands, victory by a single seat is hardly a triumph of which Turnbull, nor the government generally, can be proud: reduced to three seats and a third of a percentage point more than Abbott achieved in 2010, it is difficult to argue the Coalition retains any kind of clear mandate at all.

There have been botched reshuffles and ministerial scandals — the latter largely the consequence of the former — as Turnbull’s defective judgement and wide vindictive streak toward conservative Liberals has seen the government pay the price for the wrong people being elevated (or retained) on the frontbench; even now, there are political liabilities (George Brandis, take a bow) who continue to enjoy ministerial office purely on account of their fidelity to Turnbull when their political performance dictates otherwise.

And the faulty apparatus Turnbull inherited from Abbott — the inability to sell a message to the public, the ineptitude of Coalition “strategists” and “tacticians,” the inability to fatally wound the imbecilic and unelectable Shorten, even after the union Royal Commission — continues even now to misfire unretarded, with the government incapable of turning even a victory (like getting its union accountability legislation through Parliament) into any kind of momentum-builder with the general public.

But it is the traditional Turnbull agenda — gay marriage, carbon taxes (of whatever variety), and a republic — that is the most insidious aspect of his unsuitability to be Prime Minister, and this agenda has, since the narrow escape on 2 July, now fully filtered back onto the Liberal Party playlist: and this agenda will cost the party dearly unless fundamental and drastic change is now taken.

Gay marriage has been allowed to become a political football in Australia for far too long; as regular readers know, the liberal in me says gay people should do as they like (provided, like the rest of us, it doesn’t hurt anyone else) whilst the conservative in me resists on the basis marriage is at its genesis a religious institution that has never incorporated same-sex unions.

Even so, the only way to resolve such a fraught issue would appear to be to allow the public to decide; I actually think the French have the right idea on this, whereby all couples get the same legal union, and then those who choose to solemnise the act can do so in a religious or civil ceremony. The churches shouldn’t be forced to marry gay couples if they don’t want to. But this whole issue has been squibbed, with the task of getting a plebiscite through the Senate beyond the capability the Turnbull junta. Should same-sex marriage be legalised in a vote of Parliament on Turnbull’s watch, it is likely to inflict enormous damage upon the Liberal Party politically as the direct consequence of a fundamental breach of faith with its core support base.

A couple of weeks ago — like a kid in a lolly shop, unable to contain himself — Turnbull sent another future conservative leadership prospect, Josh Frydenberg, out to fly the kite of “a different kind of carbon pricing” in the form of an “emissions intensity scheme;” at a time when electricity bills continue to rise, and Victorians face average further increases of $100 per household next year thanks to the closure of the Hazelwood power station, this was obsession and lunacy masquerading as “vision.”

When the inevitable public backlash hit social and mainstream media channels like a tidal wave, Turnbull left Frydenberg to twist and dangle in the wind: just like he did to Morrison earlier in the year.

But desperate for an agenda, desperate to respond to naysayers and the critics, desperate to find favour from someone, somewhere — desperate, in fact, to be seen to be doing anything at all — Turnbull unwisely chose to use an address last night to the 25th anniversary function of the Australian Republican Movement to dust off the rancid old cheese of “a vision” for an Australia with an “Australian Head of State.”

Readers can access indicative coverage of this odious call to arms from today’s press here and here.

Never mind this change was roundly defeated at a referendum 16 years ago; never mind reputable public opinion polling shows support for retaining the monarchy surging, particularly among younger voters; and never mind the fact that there is no substance whatsoever behind the blather and hot air about Australia “growing up” and “taking its place in the world:” nobody suggests New Zealand or Canada are somehow immature forelock tuggers — and neither is Australia.

And of course, never mind the fact that the billions of dollars it would cost to turn Australia into a republic would achieve precisely nothing of any economic, political or social value; it wouldn’t fix problems with Aborigines, the immigrant community, the poor, small businesses being priced out of their markets by rising costs, or the woeful state of the federal budget, which continues to haemorrhage almost a billion dollars per week.

No, in the world of Turnbull, this mad, bad, lefty trifecta — gay marriage, carbon taxes, and a republic — is something he was and is determined to pursue at any cost: even, in the case of a republic, at the risk of destroying the stability of the entire system of government Australia enjoys under its present constitutional arrangements.

No republican has ever provided a persuasive argument about how life would be better for ordinary, hard-working Australians were the Crown to be dispensed with; no republican has ever offered a convincing reason why fixing the real (and growing) socio-economic problems facing this country should be brushed aside to enable the expenditure of billions of dollars chasing a stupid Nirvana that doesn’t even exist.

Australian Head of State? Look no further than the current Governor-General, or to most of the past ten of his predecessors: this entire nonsense is built on a false premise.

But be all of that as it may, this column made it very clear a year ago that it would take a “wait and see” approach to Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister — as much from loyalty to the Liberal Party as from any genuine desire to see him succeed — and even as it quickly became apparent Turnbull simply wasn’t up to the job (as long suspected), we were gracious enough to describe that approach as more “wait” than “see.”

Well, I think we have seen enough.

If Malcolm Turnbull contests another election as Liberal Party leader, the Coalition will be slaughtered; it isn’t enough to rely on the abhorrent nature of the opposition “leader” to get the government across the line again, and after more than a year in the role it is clear Turnbull peaked in his first few weeks in office. In any case, it seems unlikely he can skewer Shorten from this point if he hasn’t already managed to do so.

The transaction costs of any mid-term leadership change must be weighed against the realistic scope for such a change to provide the opportunity for political improvement; in this sense, I believe it is absolutely pointless for the Liberal Party to continue with Malcolm Turnbull unless it is resigned to a lengthy stint in opposition.

I am mindful, of course, that many of the problems that were meant to be solved by the last Liberal leadership change — strategy, tactics, mass communication, policy rigour — remain unresolved, and any further change now simply must be accompanied by a wholesale overhaul of the Liberal back of house once and for all.

But the Turnbull agenda — fuelled by the Turnbull style, which in turn is code for simply alienating conservative voters who constitute the great silent majority in Australia — is a guaranteed recipe for defeat: those voters who want it will vote for Labor and the Greens, and so will a great many usual Coalition voters (even if through preferences) in disgust unless the Liberal Party reconnects with its base.

The Turnbull experiment has been a failure, and its continuance will condemn the government to the electoral doom that seems its likely fate in about 18 months’ time.

Whilst offering no opinion at this time as to whom the replacement should be, it is time for Liberal MPs to act: and to rid the party of the scourge of a Turnbull leadership that has plagued it, in actual form or in the shape of a stalking horse, for almost a decade longer than it should have been permitted to.

 

No Thanks: States’ Republic Call An Empty Populist Charade

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.

First, depending on preference, readers may access mainstream media coverage from either the Murdoch or Fairfax stables.

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.

 

Gay Rights, Republic: Pull Your Head In, Governor-General

IN A FLAGRANT abuse of office, Quentin Bryce has made an inappropriate, tacky public foray into politics, using a lecture series convened by the ABC to advocate gay marriage and a republic. The Governor-General has shown cavalier disrespect for the sovereign, and compromised her position.

It is an utter disgrace that a serving Governor-General should opt to intervene in issues that have nothing whatsoever to do with her role, let alone divisive matters that politicise what is and should always be a strictly impartial role at the apex of Australian governance.

Yet for someone who was a social activist as a prominent Labor figure prior to assuming vice-regal office it comes as no surprise, not that that excuses or justifies her actions.

Quentin Bryce has used the last in a series of lectures orchestrated by the ABC to outline “her vision” for a country “where people are free to love and marry whom they choose and where…(a) young girl or boy may even grow up to be our nation’s first Head of State.”

To be clear, my remarks today have nothing to do with my positions on the issues the Governor-General has raised, although readers will know that I am opposed to both and have outlined my reasons in this column several times in the past.

Very simply, Quentin Bryce has politicised what is an apolitical post, and for that she deserves contempt.

Providing vice-regal imprimatur to contentious social issues probably sounds like a brilliant idea to a socialist, but that’s the point: it’s the one office in Australia that “has no opinion.”

The views of Quentin Bryce on these matters is irrelevant, although the reaction from predictable quarters is an object demonstration of the irresponsibility of airing them.

Communist Party Greens leader Christine Milne was quick out of the blocks, taking to Twitter to express her congratulations “for strong advocacy of marriage equality, a republic and an ethic of care. Real leadership.”

The former Labor Premier of Western Australia, Geoff Gallop — now chairman of the Australian Republican Movement — used the speech as his cue to declare that it was time to revisit the issue of “an Australian head of state.”

But Liberal MP Kelly O’Dwyer — also a republican — was, properly, more circumspect, declaring “It’s highly unusual for a currently serving Governor-General to advocate for a republic.”

Quite.

It is not indelicate to point out that since her appointment as Governor of Queensland in 2003 and subsequently as Governor-General in 2008, Bryce has been content to pocket millions of taxpayer-funded salary dollars as the representative of the Crown.

It is entirely reasonable to therefore hold her to the consequent expectation that she would adhere to the clear convention that her offices should not interfere in political issues.

Past Governors-General have done so; even Labor appointees such as Bill Hayden and William Deane performed their duties admirably and with distinction, although Deane had a mildly controversial reputation at the time for his advocacy on Aboriginal disadvantage.

By contrast, however, Bryce has revealed herself as nothing more than a grub.

As I said at the outset, my remarks have nothing to do with my own stand on the issues Bryce has elected to interfere in, and they don’t.

But the principle of the independence of the Governor-General has been violated in a calculated and deliberate fashion, and for that Bryce should be condemned.

Her comments do not legitimise one side of the debate on such issues o’er the other, nor invalidate the contrary position.

But the reactions from elements campaigning on the same side of those debates shows why the convention of independence exists at all: now, they will parade and trumpet Bryce’s intervention as the provision of official sanction where none should exist — either way.

There is, not to put too fine a point on it, also the issue of disrespect for the monarch who remains — irrespective of the wishes of some to the contrary — Australia’s head of state.

For its part, the institution itself maintained the admirable neutrality that Bryce clearly lacks the self-discipline or principle to display, saying in a statement that “in response to any questions about the future of the Monarchy in Australia, Buckingham Palace has always maintained that this is a matter for the people of Australia.”

Which is how it should be.

In closing — and to address any charge of hypocrisy that readers opposed to my views might level — I should point out that my remarks in no way disrespect the office of the Governor-General.

In my view, its current occupant was an unsuitable appointee who was also an inappropriate selection as Governor of Queensland, and I said so on both occasions at the time (and had this column been in operation in 2003 and/or 2008, I would have published remarks to that effect here then too).

Bryce has shown, by her contempt for conventions of appropriate conduct as the holder of that office, that she is not entitled to any respect: indeed, I look forward to her pending replacement by a more suitable candidate.

It is because of my respect for the office that I make the points I do here, and the sooner Bryce ceases to sully it, the better.

 

New Red Herring As Labor Dredges Up Republic Putsch

“WHEN attempting the impossible, do the unexpected:” sage advice from an old proverb that served Paul Keating well, as he dug the ALP out of a deep electoral hole. But the republican campaign is old news; and as a tactic to win votes, its efficacy ended with Keating’s triumph in 1993.

It seems to be the week for shorter posts at The Red And The Blue this week (or it could just be the after-effects of my piece on the Labor Party leadership the other night).

Either way, I’ve seen a report tonight in Melbourne’s Herald Sun that — in spite of my staunch support for continuation of Australia’s present arrangements as a constitutional monarchy — has elicited more of a groan and a giggle than a wave of anger.

Self-important, pious bubble and Treasurer, Wayne Swan, appears to be leading the charge this time around; the Sun reports he has used a speech to the Labor faithful to put the issue of a republic in Australia back on the political agenda, saying that it is “unfinished business that we must have the courage to complete.”

Swan appears to have then recited a digest of the emotive but constitutionally, legally and operationally meaningless arguments the republican case was built on last time it surfaced — which culminated in a solid vote to retain the status quo at the 1999 referendum.

I include here — for readers who are interested — a link to an article I wrote on the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s ascension to the throne; whilst not a comprehensive rebuttal of the republican case, it nonetheless provides an outline of some of the aspects of its case that I believe pose insuperable barriers to a transition to a republican model, as well as some of the reasons I believe the present system should be retained.

In any case, the merits or otherwise of a republic versus a constitutional monarchy are not the motivation for this particular article — tempting as they may be to debate.

I would simply make the observation that once again, confronted with the prospect of political annihilation — as Keating was in 1992 — the Labor Party is once again attempting to play the ruse card of an Australian republic.

Faced with a situation in which everything except another leadership change has been tried — unsuccessfully — now the ALP brings out the hoary old chestnut that 20 years ago provided adequate distraction for Keating to be viewed as “a visionary.”

Did this issue help Keating win in 1993? Of course it did; prior to him putting a republic on the agenda the year before, only the most diehard of Labor’s voters ever talked about such an idea, let alone anyone in the wider community — and even then, the Labor people who did so were mostly those on the party’s hard Left.

But as I have repeatedly opined and as we have discussed previously, Keating (to give him his due) was a master political craftsman, and a strategic and tactical political colossus; the failings of his government and his own persona eventually brought the Labor edifice crashing down, but at his peak Keating was a political giant.

The likes of Wayne Swan and Julia Gillard — to borrow a phrase from broadcaster Derryn Hinch — are mental midgets by comparison.

Yet there they are; like deer caught in the headlights, or — to mix the metaphors — flying blind on a one-way ticket to nowhere.

Labor is facing oblivion — not merely heavy electoral defeat, but total and absolute slaughter, from which few survivors will stagger clear of the wreck to lick their wounds — and after five years of lies, deception, sleight of hand and ideologically driven sabotage of the silent Australian majority, now it wants to impose a republic on the country in one final, desperate lunge at distracting the people long enough to vote for it.

If I were Wayne Swan, I’d be more concerned with explaining the nasties in the coming federal budget — slashing of the private health rebate, cuts to Family Tax Benefit, and the abolition of tax deductibility for a raft of work-related expenses incurred by the Australian taxpayer — than I would be about something as unnecessary and divisive as a republic.

And I make the point that if Labor is so far gone as to see a need to resort to this particular issue as a last-gasp stunt, its pending ex-MPs would be better served making arrangements for their lives after Parliament than seeking to engage in a “debate” on Australia’s constitutional arrangements.

Keating, for all his nous and superb political skills, could not sell this initiative to the Australian public.

And if Keating couldn’t, then mental midgets of the ilk of Gillard and Swan never will.

Either way — this time — it won’t shift a single vote.

What a sham.

Many Congratulations, Ma’am: God Save The Queen!

Yesterday, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, celebrated 60 years on the throne and her Diamond Jubilee as the constitutional monarch of 16 countries including Australia; her reign has been remarkable, and is second only to Queen Victoria in length.

I would like of course, firstly, to minute my warmest and fondest congratulations to Her Majesty on reaching this milestone; the present Queen is the only monarch I have ever known, being just shy of 40 years of age, and it says much about the constant she has been that even people my parents’ age in their early to mid-60s have little or no memory of her father, King George VI.

As an ardent and lifelong constitutional monarchist I am delighted to be able to see the Queen celebrate this anniversary; common sense dictates that it is unlikely she will be with us long enough to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee in ten years’ time, and so as much as this is a time for festivity and celebration, it is also a time for some reflection. I do wonder in passing if she will live long enough to surpass the reign of Queen Victoria (1837 – 1901) to become the longest-serving monarch  of the realm of all time.

Much has been made — in the United Kingdom, in Australia and elsewhere — of the prospect of one day replacing the present arrangement of a constitutional monarchy with a republic and a President, however so derived. The details vary from place to place but the sentiments are the same; even in Canada, where separatism, not republicanism, is the order of the day in Quebec, and the motivation for those French-Canadians to cut their ties with the hated British and strike out alone in their own, localised version of a Gallic republic.

I believe, and I always have believed, that the best interests of our own country at least lie with the present constitutional arrangements remaining in place, and with Australia eschewing republicanism on an indefinite basis.

Australia, along with New Zealand and Canada, are arguably the most successful of the  former British dominions now thriving as modern, vibrant, successful first-world countries; all are free, fair and tolerant, are democratic and stable, and each boasts its own rigorous identity in the world.

And all retain a system of constitutional monarchy, with the present Queen as Head of State.

Whilst Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, she is also Queen of Canada, Queen of New Zealand, Queen of Australia and so forth in the countries that retain the monarchical system. (Courtesy of one Joh Bjelke-Petersen and his antics in 1973, she is also recognised as “Queen of Queensland,” but that is another matter altogether).

When we look across the puddle to our neighbours in New Zealand, do we accuse those we see of tugging the forelock to Britain? When we consider our friends and allies in the splendid country of Canada, do we regard them as kowtowing to a foreign power? If we look around the world at other nations in the Commonwealth — many of which are of less fortunate circumstance than we in Australia — do we dismiss them as being subservient lickspittle?

Of course we don’t.

Yet this is the vituperative atmospheric of the so-called republican debate that went on in this country during the 1990s; its colourful invective — colourfully prosecuted by Paul Keating — may very well have animated many people, but in the end it was based on a false premise.

As was the entire republican case, based as it was on intellectual untruths, sloppy and misleading legalities, a typical attempt at brainwashing from those to the Left of the political spectrum, and an appeal to the subjective vanities rather than the considered sensibilities of the people republicans sought to coerce away from a constitutional monarchy.

And — shamefully — the republican campaign in Australia only ever organised itself in earnest when the opportunity presented to take advantage of problems within the House of Windsor: prior to 1992, and increasingly since the defeat of the referendum on the subject in 1999, the prevailing mood in Australia has not been typically conducive to serious consideration of abandoning the monarchy.

I remember as a very young boy — perhaps of 6 or 7 — being of the opinion that people called “Sir” had been given something by the Queen because they had done very well and she wanted to reward them; I, too, therefore aspired at that delicate age to what I soon enough learnt was a knighthood.

I remember, too, being mightily pissed off as a 14-year-old with Bob Hawke and his government for rescinding the awarding of knighthoods as part of the so-called reforms enacted in the Australia Act 1986 — and Hawke didn’t just rescind knighthoods for Australians under the British and Commonwealth honours system; he rescinded the provisions in the Order of Australia that allowed the granting of knighthoods under a purely Australian honours system, too.

(The Australia Act 1986 also extinguished the right of Australian citizens to exercise a final legal right of appeal beyond the High Court to the Privy Council: this, too, is something I have always viewed as a legal and moral travesty, but more on that — and the flip side — later).

For so many people, the question of monarchy versus republicanism is one based on affection or otherwise for the House of Windsor and the current monarchy, or on dislike for the British, or on half-baked notions of Australian nationalism behind which there is little or no substance and certainly nothing by way of corroboration except a lot of hot air and noise about an Australian-born Head of State. And about a confused concept of “cutting ties with Britain.”

It isn’t a subject I intend to cover at great length tonight: for one, we’d be here long enough for the Platinum Jubilee to roll around; two, I want to turn my comments back to the Queen; and three, the points I do intend to put on the table here are quite sufficient in terms of backing any republican into a corner with no way out. There are others, but these will do quite nicely for starters.

The first — and most obvious — of these is that we do, very simply, have an Australian Head of State: her name is Quentin Bryce and she is the Governor-General, and vice-regal representative, of Australia.

It seems lost on many that whilst the Queen is indeed the nominal Head of State in Australia, she remains so in a ceremonial capacity only; whilst Sections of the Constitution do certainly confer authority on the Queen to act in certain situations (such as the disallowance of a Bill, which we looked at some months ago in relation to the carbon tax), by convention, the Queen would almost certainly refuse to exercise such authority — even on the advice of her ministers.

If anyone doubts this, they should do some research on the former Governor of Queensland, Sir Colin Hannah — another Bjelke-Petersen stooge — including the circumstances in which she refused Bjelke-Petersen’s request to extend the tenure of Hannah’s commission, and the background and events leading to her refusal to do so.

If you’re a republican, it might be quite illuminating (or disheartening, depending on how one looks at it).

Even the “Labor bastard” who turned on Whitlam — Governor-General Sir John Kerr — did more to legitimise the role of Governor-General as the independent Head of State in Australia (as a link in the chain of a system of constitutional monarchy) than he ever did to legitimise republicanism; his actions set a modern precedent in which the Queen learnt of Kerr’s actions only after his termination of the Whitlam commission took effect, and did not subsequently intervene.

The events of 1975 are often held up by republicans as “evidence” and “conclusive proof” that the monarchy must be abandoned. I’ve never really understood why; no British people, and certainly not the Queen herself, were involved. Kerr’s actions represented a legitimate course within his legal responsibilities; were constitutionally sound and valid; and did exactly as was needed: to break a deadlock between the Houses of Parliament that existed at the time.

The constitution, and the monarchy, were not faulty; and to the extent the constitution may have been perceived as defective, it bears remembering that many Labor heroes at the turn of the century were instrumentally involved in its drafting alongside many conservative figures; if it contained or contains fault, those founding fathers share the responsibility.

The numbers in the Senate had certainly been modified in 1975 — by state Premiers in NSW and in Queensland. Of course, those numbers were used by Malcolm Fraser as he worked to smash the Whitlam government from office. But those actions, also, bear no reflection at all on the monarchy.

If the Labor Party and its acolytes did not like the outcome of 1975 and the Dismissal, that’s another matter altogether. But it is not one of constitutional monarchy.

Perhaps most instructive of all, though, are the lessons that lie in the aftermath of the passage of the Australia Act 1986; cursory they may be, but they offer the greatest pointer of all to the dangers of implementing a republic in this country.

What this Act did — according to its packet directions — was to remove forever the power of the UK Parliament to legislate with effect in Australia; never mind the end of knighthoods, and never mind (for now) about the abolition of access to the Privy Council.

The Australia Act 1986 in short achieved everything the republicans who followed some years later said (and say) they wish to achieve; clearly it is a nonsense to achieve the same thing twice, and so it is necessary to dig a little deeper to see what they really want. It is not necessary to dig very far.

The only real argument remaining open to republicans in any practical sense is the “Australian Head of State” one, with the references to “cutting ties to Britain.”

We’ll come back to ties with Britain later.

As I have already pointed out, we already have an Australian Head of State — the Governor-General — who acts independently of the Queen as a cog in the well-oiled machine that is our system of government within a constitutional monarchy.

Starting with the appointment of Sir Paul Hasluck to the role in the late 1960s by then Prime Minister John Gorton, the Governor-Generalship has been held by an Australian ever since. It is true Malcolm Fraser wanted to appoint Prince Charles to the post in 1982, but for obvious reasons that do not warrant the expenditure of space here, he was very quickly disabused of the idea.

The most obvious symbol of what republicans want — an “Australian President” — may in itself be impossible to realise; as the referendum in 1999 showed, those favouring a directly elected President flatly refused to accommodate those favouring a President chosen by Parliament. So trenchant were the two camps, and so strident their opposition to the other, that this conflict alone is likely irreconcilable.

But even if it were to be resolved, the Australia Act 1986 bequeathed this country a gift on account of its inherent abolition of the right of appeal to the Privy Council.

You see, readers, the highest Court in the land now is the High Court of Australia; and whilst its role is to interpret and adjudicate questions of law, its composition is based solely on the discretion of politicians.

For there to be a vacancy on the High Court, somebody has to die or retire; then, it is a simple question of the government of the day nominating a replacement whose appointment is rubber-stamped by Parliament.

Needless to say, the High Court has — at various times — been levelled with accusations of bias, and usually in favour of whoever has most recently spent an extended period in office at the federal level.

And for those readers who think directly elected judges are a good idea as an alternative, there are certain states in America which do precisely that, and are worldwide advertisements to others not to do anything of the kind.

So what if this system — a “President” elected by Parliament, or directly elected — were to be adopted in place of the Governor-General and a ceremonial monarch?

In short, Australia would be headed by either a political puppet or another politician respectively; the very nature of the role is such that it must be, and be seen to be, apolitical.

True, former politicians have held the post, Hasluck being one, and former ALP leader Bill Hayden another; yet neither discharged their duties in a manner inconsistent with the requirements of the office.

And if you look at the High Court, the record of its rulings and its case history, and analyse these in any detail, then you may be in a position to make a valid call on whether or not you think Australia ought to become a republic.

Because if you don’t like what the High Court has done over the past thirty years, the chances are that you won’t like what becomes of this country if it becomes a republic.

I believe everyone is entitled to their view; I am equally entitled to my opinion — which is the whole point this column exists, and those opinions, if they spark debates as they have done to date, have proven to be of value even to those who may disagree.

I do think republicans are wrong at the most basic and fundamental levels; and for as long as this country’s present arrangements continue, with Parliament operating in a constitutional monarchy, then the better off Australia will be.

This brings me back to the Queen.

This remarkable woman has been a distinguished world leader for decades; modest, dignified, strictly apolitical, she has been a source of advice and counsel for many of her Prime Ministers and other Heads of Government (including Australia), and has been a symbol of stability in a world which has, especially in recent years, changed so very much.

She and her family retain great affection for, and great links to, Australia; indeed, the Queen has visited here many times during her reign; the future King Charles even lived in Australia for a time, attending boarding school near Geelong in the 1960s.

And this in turn brings me to that other sacred pillar of republican faith: the “need” to cut ties with Britain.

Why should we ever do that? Modern Australia and modern Britain are very similar in many respects; we share similar societies based on similar systems and traditions, and those societies share the same similar problems that go with them.

Indeed, Britain and the British people are the most like us of anyone else in the world; we share similar cultures and ways of life; we are among each other’s most important trading partners; we share common interests, opportunities and threats.

I’m very much in favour of building ties and relationships in Asia, and especially in maintaining and expanding those we enjoy with the United States; but not at the cost of the existing ties and friendships we already have, and never at the expense of those we share with the United Kingdom, and the history and tradition that accompany them.

As for the Queen herself, once the pomp and pageantry and celebration of the Jubilee has subsided, this splendid lady with her well-known preference for simplicity will no doubt enjoy some time privately with those around her, and reflect too on all she has seen in 60 years on the throne; from the young princess thrust into the role after the death of her father when the free world was struggling to recover from its war effort, to the better yet more dangerously complicated place that world is today.

My hat is off to you, ma’am, and I salute you: many, many congratulations on the achievement of your Diamond Jubilee, and long may you reign over us for many years to come.

God Save The Queen!

“I Did But See Her Passing By…And Yet I’ll Love Her Till I Die”

So said the Prime Minister of Australia; the official State visit of Her Majesty the Queen, Elizabeth II of Australia, excited patriotic and nationalistic fervour and pride; and the country basked in the glory of the presence of its monarch.

I speak, of course, of Sir Robert Menzies; Prime Minister of Australia, 1939-1941, and 1949-1966.

And I speak of course of Her Majesty’s first visit to Australia in early 1954, nearly 60 years ago.

How have things changed?

It’s an odd issue; the concept of republicanism barely registered on the political spectrum prior to Paul Keating listing it as an agenda item in 1992.

Even following on from the Dismissal in 1975, based on reputable polling in the years afterwards, an overwhelming majority of Australians remained committed to the monarchy as a constitutional institution.

After Keating placed republicanism on the mainstream agenda, public support rocketed; it reached its zenith at the 1999 referendum on the subject, at which roughly 44% of the country supported change, and roughly 56% preferred the status quo.

And support for a switch to a republic has been slipping ever since.

A Morgan poll today shows support for a switch to a republic at 34%, with 54% supportive of the retention of the constitutional monarchy.

I too saw the Queen “passing by;” in 2006, when working in the advertising division at Fairfax, I’d gone for a cigarette outside our building at the corner of La Trobe and Russell Streets, Melbourne…

…and noticing the streets were clear, and seeing a lot of motorcycle Police and then a Police escort, I saw the Queen’s Rolls-Royce come up La Trobe Street.

I was the only person there; so when the Queen waved to me, I waved back.

I did but see her passing by…some 50-ish years after Menzies did.

And I liked what I saw.

I’m a staunch, committed, and died-in-the-wool constitutional monarchist; it might surprise people that someone from fairly pure Scottish stock would think that way, and I will come back to the point.

But the issue has become topical again, with the 85-year-old Queen Elizabeth on her 16th (and probably last) visit to Australia.

I believe in the monarchy through no particular loyalty to the royal family; to me, the question is constitutional, and not a judgement based on whether you like the family involved or not.

I actually do like (some members of) the royal family though; I’ve always especially had a soft spot for Zara Phillips — Princess Anne’s daughter — and I think Charles will make an excellent King, but I digress.

The problem with a switch to a republican system of government in Australia is that it would be — by necessity — very heavily politicised.

The so-called “minimalist” republican model — where someone is chosen and ratified by two-thirds of the combined numbers of both Houses of federal Parliament — is ridiculous, for the following (simplified) reasons:

  • A constitutional crisis will ensue whenever the 66.7% threshold cannot be met (which, politically, will be almost always based on election results over 110 years);
  • Constitutionally, some states in Australia are entitled to remain (and would choose to remain) sovereign with the monarch as their Head of State, irrespective of what transpires nationally; and
  • The “minimalist” republicans see the Head of State as a purely ceremonial figure, ignoring totally the requirement for an arbiter should something similar to 1975 ever occur again.

The case for direct election of a President is even worse — anyone who thinks such an elected office wouldn’t end up being a tug of war between (read: abused by) the Liberal and Labor parties is utterly delusional.

I’ve said it before, and will say again: I wouldn’t want a Liberal Party politician in such an office, and I’m a 20-year member of the Liberal Party. I certainly wouldn’t want someone from the ALP in the role either.

Sorry Malcolm; sorry Paul.

Plenty of people think like this. There’s no resolving this argument.

And for those who (naively) advocate that Australians would be on their best behaviour in any electoral dealings with a republican head of state, I have one word.

BOLLOCKS.

Politics is politics: there is no such thing as an office voted on by lemmings sitting on their hands, hoping against hope that all things good and nice will flow from their decision, and that everyone will simply play nice because the whole exercise is an effort in touchy-feely niceness.

That’s horse shit, people, and it doesn’t matter how any republican wants to interpret it.

By accident of history, we have a system of government that incorporates some hefty checks and balances; some of these derive directly from the Constitution, and some derive from the system of constitutional monarchy we enjoy.

There is an impartial apex at the summit of the structure: the Crown. Whether people like it or not, it can’t be replaced by an elected republican politician without destroying the integrity of the entire system.

I’d like to welcome Her Majesty back to Australia; it is known that the royal family generally harbours deep and genuine affection for this country, and indeed, many of them have spent protracted periods of time here.

I will see Queen Elizabeth II at a function next week, and I am very much looking forward to it.

And on account of my Scottish heritage — the Union (the real Union between England, Scotland and Wales, not some Trade Union consideration) has been better for Scotland than the alternative; separatist moves by the so-called Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, stand to rob that wonderful country of very, very much if they’re ever successful.

It’s a horrible example, but Salmond backed off during the so-called GFC when it became clear that whilst Westminster might be able to rescue Scottish banks that were in trouble, Holyrood couldn’t.

And of course, once the crisis passed, up came Salmond’s rhetoric yet again.

As someone who identifies as much as being Scottish as I do as a third-generation Australian, I have to say that people like Salmond are, in the big scheme of things, a gigantic red herring.

I did but see her passing by…I have done so already, as others have done before me; and metaphorically speaking, I look forward to she, her heirs and successors, doing so again.

No “royal bashing” folks, but the floor is yours — what do you think?

And if you want to argue for a republican system in government I’m happy to hear your views, but anything that boils down to “we need an Australian head of state” is old news.

We already have one: the Governor-General. There’s a separation already between the Crown and the functional head of state.

I’m interested to hear what people think.