This month marks the second anniversary of the 2020 Summit.
I was reminded of this by a piece by Andrew Bolt in News Limited newspapers on 7 April, 2010, who wrote:
“ It was two years ago that these 1000 – glorying at being hailed as our finest minds – gathered in Canberra to show just what fools they really were…. This rigged assembly produced precisely the group think you’d expect. … Of the 100 asked to discuss a republic, only one was a monarchist.”
…the Summit gerrymander…
I suspect that the sole monarchist, Senator George Brandis was invited because they thought he was not a monarchist. This was as we said at the time, a gerrymander of which Robert Mugabe would be envious.
Remember that in the actual vote in 1999, the one vote that counted, 55% of Australians registered their preference for the existing Federal Commonwealth under the Crown. And this was against a campaign supported by great wealth, two thirds of the politicians and almost all of the mainstream media.
Andrew Bolt makes the important point that the heads of almost every big media organisation were also invited and some actually accepted. As we suggested at the time, and Andrew Bolt says, these were the very people who should have kept their distance.
On 22 April 2009 , we commented on the government’s response to the Summit proposal for some sort of politicians’ republic (“ Govt Summit response: republic comatose – little hope held for recovery,” 22 April 2009.) This was that the government had decided not to proceed with the republican proposal which was the central decision of the 2020 Summit.
We asked whether this signalled an end to the millions and millions of dollars which have been poured into this folly over the last two decades.
So, we asked, what then was the point of rigging the attendance at the Summit to produce a 98% majority (Sir William Deane abstained) and a plenary standing ovation in favour of a republic? The government was no doubt embarrassed that Summit was so mismanaged the leading republican Professor Robert Manne said it had descended into a Mad Hatters Tea Party.
…changing the record…
The key resolution was based on a basic misunderstanding of the constitutional system which a constitutional law student would have easily identified . (Vestigial constitutional ties with the UK – which Australian politicians had long insisted on keeping – were finally ended, and then only with The Queen’s assistance, in 1986.)
The resolutions actually passed were:
“Stage1. Introduce an Australian republic, via a two-stage process, with Stage 1 ending ties with the UK while retaining the Governor-General’s titles and powers for five years. Stage 2: Identifying new models after extensive and broad consultation.”When the Summit bosses realised their error, this was changed surreptitiously on the site to something the delegates did not adopt:
“Stage 1. That a plebiscite be held on the principle that Australia become a republic and sever ties with the Crown. Stage 2. This is to be followed by a referendum on the model of a republic after broad and extensive consultation. Be celebrating the fifth anniversary of the republic by 2020”
It is worth remembering what happened with the 2020 Summit when we try to predict the way in which the government will run any future vote on the constitution.
Can we assume it will be fair to supporters of the existing constitutional arrangements? On past experience, the answer is sadly obvious.