October 28

2007 Henry Parkes Oration: Sir Henry would not have agreed

 

 

Calling for a new wave of radicalism, former West Australian Premier, Geoff Gallop, says “we” need a new movement to establish an Australian republic, “one which demonstrates that reformers once again trust the people by providing for our head of state to be directly elected and with clearly enumerated powers.”   This would not be not just a republic, but  a “pluralist, federal, progressive under popular sovereignty,” one that  “embodies the highest ideals of our liberal and democratic inheritance.”    

Dr Gallop was delivering, of all things , the 2007 Henry Parkes Oration at Tenterfield on 20 October 0, 2007.  Sir Henry Parkes would certainly have rejected such a republic. [An edited version of the Oration may be found in the Higher Education Supplement to The Australian of 24 October, 2007.]

“Henry Parkes's Tenterfield oration was a call to action,” said Dr Gallop, who as a republican was clearly reluctant to remind his audience of Sir Henry ’s knighthood.  He continued:“ In making the case for a national system of government that embodied the principles of freedom he drew heavily on the theories, insights and arguments of the British radical tradition, albeit modified by his experience of hard-edged parliamentary politics.

"This was the tradition of parliamentary and electoral reform, freedom of association and expression, national self-determination and social equality. From within its ranks emerged the case for popular sovereignty, democracy and the republic. ..Many of those responsible for political and social reform in the colonies — and the creation of the Australian nation with its new parliament, government and High Court — may have been self-taught but they were good philosophers who were unafraid to think in terms of first principles and ideals as they confronted the challenge of constitutional design and implementation.

"These radical ideas and ways of thinking helped make the Australian colonies and the new nation from the 1850s to World War I one of the most advanced and envied democracies in the world. The Commonwealth of Australia may not have been a republic and, as we know only too well, it excluded the indigenous population, but the franchise did include women and the federation itself was created through a series of democratic acts. The requirement for a referendum if the Constitution was to be changed preserved this popular element into the future. “ 

The Commonwealth of Australia “may not have been a republic”?   Dr. Gallop surely knows that becoming a republic was not even discussed at the Constitutional Conventions.

A premier of New South Wales at the time, George Dibbs, was thought to be a republican, but when he returned from a visit to England with a knighthood which Queen Victoria  insisted on conferring, any republicanism on his part was soon forgotten. He was unlike the knights who campaigned for a republic in 1999 without renouncing their titles. Sir George was reprimanded for accepting the knighthood in a ballad by the celebrated poet, A. B. "Banjo" Patterson. This was published in the republican newspaper, The Bulletin. [We shall re-publish this separately.] 

Dr. Gallop overlooks the fact that the last republican campaign before federation was one to establish a white republic and was directed against Asian immigration. The leading newspaper in this cause was newspaper just mentioned, The Bulletin,  which within living memory used to proclaim on its masthead, “ Australia for the White Man.”   Once it came to be realised that the new Commonwealth could restrict immigration and go against imperial policy on this, republicanism faded away.  Dr Gallup does not mention that the most “progressive” members of the new parliament were the strongest supporters of the White Australia Policy, and the imperial authorities were the most liberal on racial issues.   

The point is that federation has nothing to do with subsequent moves for constitutional change. Moving to a republic will not be an improvement; rather it may well be the opposite. In the meantime, the Executive Director of ACM, Thomas Flynn sent this letter to The Australian:

 “Sir,  

Geoff Gallop thinks “we need a new movement to establish an Australian republic”  (‘New wave of radicalism’, Wednesday 24th October, p.31). Perhaps he was asleep in 1998 and missed the Constitutional Convention where the vast majority of republican delegates decided on the best model of republic to put before the Australian people.

"Perhaps his slumbers extended to the following year when the Australian people – 72 % of the electorates – voted no to the republican experts. All this despite a considerable media and political campaign in favour of a yes vote. Does anyone seriously think if the referendum had gone the other way we would now be contemplating revisiting the question? So why are the republicans still harping on about it?  

Yours faithfully,etc”  


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