November 28

A politicians’ republic will not fall into their laps

Frank Devine says Australia will become a republic on the accession of Prince Charles ( “Kinky King Charlie to get our republic across the line,” The Australian 28 November, 2008).  But republicans, unable to agree even on how many plebiscites they want, will never agree on a model.

Mr Devine makes the mistake of thinking the 1999 referendum was about a president to be appointed by the PM. No, it wasn’t.

 It was something polls indicate more palatable than prime ministerial appointment. It was for a president to be elected by a two thirds vote of parliament on the nomination of the prime minister and seconded by the opposition leader (Constitution Alteration (Establishment of Republic) Bill, 1999, clause 60). There was also to be public involvement in the nomination process, albeit purely cosmetic.

Mr.Devine thinks Australians want a republic with an elected president and this would win. Not so. According to the latest polling  (Morgan 7 May 2008), only 45% of Australians support this. The same poll said this would rise to 56% on the accession of Prince Charles. On all referendum precedents, such a vote before an informed debate is doomed to defeat.

How many Australians know, for example, that Prince Charles, at an age when many think of retiring works each year to raise over a quarter of a billion dollars for his many charities?

Asking people how they will vote at some time likely to be years away does not tell us much. Certainly the several functions constitutional monarchists held for the Prince’s 60th birthday indicate warm support for him from all age groups.

Incidentally the same poll contains a veritable time bomb for republicans. Among those 14-17, only 23% support a republic with an elected president, confirming a trend in polling which has long been evident. 


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