June 12

“A Mad Hatter’s Party…Frenzied and Chaotic” : Leading 2020 Summiteer’s Assessment


…the comedy that was the Summit…

The more we learn about the 2020 Summit, the more pathetic an exercise it seems to have been.

We had unfavorably  compared the Summit with the smoothly run 1998 Constitutional Convention in this column,“ Comparing the republican way with the monarchist style,” 2 June 2008

The latest revelations indicate that we were far too kind.

Now if media interest is any guide, the key issue  at the Summit was republicanism.

According to a report by Professor Robert Manne in The Monthly ( May 2008) the Summit process was “frenzied and chaotic.”

He says the key meeting at which the vote on a republic was “chaotic.”

“It was not even clear whether the details of the small groups’ decisions had been accurately recorded.”

The governance panel could not meet the lengthy and mainly political speeches were given at the opening ceremony.

When the governance panel actually met, co-chair  Maxine McKew led the discussion, with speeches by anybody else being  limited to  just three minutes.

These all turned out anyway to be no more than  “ambit claims,” says Professor Manne.

Nothing, he says, had been achieved by lunch. This must have been sumptuous, as it was provided by the Five Star Hyatt Hotel.

We assume that no “dodgy dagwood dog” was served there – after all the meals were  part of the $2.6 million Summit bill ( See this column, “2020 Summit subjected to Senate scrutiny,” 2 June 2008.)

Incidentally, republicans have a distinct preference for the Hyatt. At the 1998 Constitutional Convention the republicans stayed there, while the monarchists stayed at the humble Country Comfort Hotel at Narrabunda.

…meeting descends into chaos…

After lunch, and as with these sort of managerial facilitated activities, the panel of one hundred broke up into groups of 25.

You can just imagine the reams and reams of butchers’ paper consumed.

 The “outcomes” (a favourite word among the nomenklatura) were then  taken back to a full meeting of “the one hundred,” the almost heroic appellation which Professor Manne bestows on this historic assembly.

Co-chaired by Maxine McKew and News Limited chairman John Hartigan, he says “the meeting was chaotic.”

This was, he says modestly,   despite “the experience and the intelligence of those participating.

“It was not even clear whether the details of the small groups’ decisions had been accurately recorded.

“As weariness set in, the hundred was asked whether anyone thought we had uncovered one Big Idea.

“Only one hand went up. That moment was used to characterise the summit on the ABC nightly news.”

This was the moment when Mr Brett Solomon, Executive Director of the advocacy group GetUp! asked if anyone opposed a republic. (Ben Packham and Peter Jean, “Republic talks throne off balance,” Herald Sun, 22 April, 2008.)

Only one person did, Senator George Brandis. When he did, his action was greeted by raucous laughter.

Was it that they thought, with Robert Hughes, that anyone who voted No in 1999 was stupid, that is 55% of Australians?

Or was it because  a constitutional monarchist had got through the filtering process which ensured there would be a  98% vote for some sort of republic?

That process had also ensured that over 10% of Summit delegates, 120, came from GetUp! (Scopical: “GetUp rejects claims of excessive summit presence,” 18 April,2008).

…Mad Hatters’ Tea Party… 

“The hundred”  did not pause then  to say what sort of republic they wanted, but  went off  to a hedonistic night of cocktails and dinner, no doubt also provided by the Hyatt – and paid for by the nation’s working families.

When “the hundred”   met on the Sunday morning Professor Manne found that most of his group’s proposals for making government accountable had “transmogrified overnight into meaningless motherhood statements. Some time was devoted to their resuscitation.”

“The hundred”  then went on to the next predictable stage of this sort of process “Ambitions, Priorities and Top Ideas.”

If the prospect of this exercise did not turn Professor Manne off, he found it “ rather difficult to follow what was happening.”

He was especially peeved that his nominated “Top Idea” was rejected because a minority did not like it.

Obviously the law and practice of meetings had no place here, as they did at the Constitutional Convention.

That of course was run properly – John Howard ensured that when he appointed Ian Sinclair and Barry Jones to chair it.

But as time began to run out at the Summit, “the level of chaos increased.”

“The meeting now more resembled a Mad Hatter’s party than a symposium, “ he writes.

“Often the loudest voices prevailed,” he laments. “Sometimes it was not even clear what the vote was about.”

Then at the very end of the meeting Fairfax and ABC commentator David Marr  intervened “with a dramatic plea that the republic be included.”

“ He was told that the idea was actually at the top of our list, “ Professor Manne writes.

He says there had been a “ near-complete consensus about a two-stage program for the creation of the republic.”

But he says, “ Marr’s confusion was understandable. In our haste, no one could be certain what had been decided. I certainly was not.”

…wording of decision “botched”…

Professor Manne then explains the way the Summit became a national laughing stock on the following Monday.

This was its decision to end ties with the UK. Even the residual ties the states had insisted on keeping went in 1986.

When I read this on the Sunday, I found it hard to believe that this had been adopted  without any of the 98 who approved it noticing, including the co-chairs as well as the expert on republicanism, Professor Glyn Davis, and the Prime Minister himself.

Professor Manne excuses this by saying that the l report was “written at heroic speed” over the Sunday lunch break so  “the wording of our stream’s republic idea, by far the most popular at the summit, was botched.”

The point is that the “botched “decision – the most popular at the Summit, was only noticed when it was criticised the next day in the media.

In reproaching David Marr, Professor Manne says there was a “near-complete consensus about a two-stage program for the creation of the republic.”

It was changed surreptitiously ten days later, and only after the Summit  had become a laughing stock.

Instead of cutting ties, we are to have a plebiscite. This is because the republicans know that they are likley to lose another referendum.

…advice to Professor Manne…

Our advice to Professor Manne is not to go to  similar events in the future.

In fact, instead of making baseless accusations of lying and fraud, as he recently did about constiutional monarchists (see “2020 Summit blunder: governance experts wrong,” 30 March 2008), he could spend the time reading up on the Head of State issue so that, on this, he is better informed.


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