[The following appeared on the ABC News on line on 19 September, 2008, http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/09/19/2368692.htm. Comments are already appearing on the ABC site, and more comments may be posted ]
Rudd republic wedge won't work
By David Flint
The Australian Crown is important not so much for the power it wields, but the power it denies others. (AAP Image, file photo: Dean Lewins)
Since 1993 millions and millions of dollars have been diverted from such matters as pensions, hospitals and schools.
In not one but six major federal government exercises, the taxpayer has funded a search to find a way to remove one of the fundamental pillars of our constitutional system.
In 1901 we formed one of the most successful political unions in history, our constitution, our "indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown". It was unique for the reason it was achieved without the spilling of any blood. It was directly approved by referendum, and became the first dominion to receive the power to amend the Constitution. In 1999, the model the republican movement chose was put to the people. It would have removed the Australian Crown, our oldest legal and constitutional institution.
This model enjoyed the overwhelming support of the media and among sitting politicians. But it was rejected nationally, in all states and 72 per cent of electorates.
This was a more resounding victory than in any election. The republican movement said that, whatever the decision, they would close down after the referendum. But they did not. Instead they have not ceased their demands that the issue be reopened.
Why should the taxpayer fund them to find a new constitution and a new flag?
The Australian Crown is important not so much for the power it wields, but the power it denies others. This is our crowned republic, one which ensures we have Australian as the constitutional heads of state and constitutional heads of the Commonwealth, as the High Court has affirmed. The reasons why debate over the Head of State has been resolved are set out in detail in the July-August issue of Quadrant.
What Australians must find extraordinary is that in demanding the taxpayers massively fund the search for change, Australia's republican movement still refuses point blank to reveal the details of the change it wants. The republican movement fears that a referendum put now would be lost. They are united on only two things.
The first is that our crowned republic should be replaced by a politicians' republic. But they remain irreconcilably divided over the model. The model rejected in 1999 would have been the only republic known in the history of the world where it would have been easier for the prime minister to sack the president than his cook.
The prime minister could have done this without notice, without reason and without any appeal which could have reinstated the president. The other form of republic proposed is one where the president, vice president, governors and lieutenant governors etc. would all be elected.
Do we really need about 15 or so additional taxpayer funded elections, and 15 additional and powerful politicians all with the usual agendas of the politicians? This would be a recipe for instability as the vast powers of the Crown, now exercised only for constitutional reasons, would become the weapons of new power hungry politicians. Grafting a politicians' republic onto our constitution would mean the handing over of more power to the political class.
The point is that the republican movement will not come clean with the Australian people as to what changes they propose both to our constitution and our flag. Instead they agree on a second thing.
This is to have a plebiscite, that is a glorified and very expensive opinion poll, something our founding fathers rejected. They had seen how the blank cheque plebiscite had been misused to put in power or maintain in power authoritarian regimes and dictatorships. Plebiscites are referred to as being a blank cheque because the politicians fill in the details after the vote. (In the Australian referendum, the details are on the table before you vote.)
The sort of plebiscite which is being proposed is likely to cost around $100 million dollars. It will be written by spin doctors. It will be an extraordinary exercise in deceit – the real plans of the republican movement will still be kept secret. But the worse thing is that it will invite a vote of no confidence in one of the world's most successful constitutional systems – without telling the people what will be offered in its place.
If passed it will bring in a period of constitutional instability, in the likelihood that when the details are revealed the peoples are still likely to say no. Polling indicates support for a republic, even the allegedly popular model where the people elect the president is at an all time low and support among the nation's youth has collapsed.
On the election of Malcolm Turnbull as Opposition Leader, the Prime Minister tried to use constitutional change as a wedge to drive through the Liberal Party.
The Prime Minister full well knew that Mr Turnbull has ruled out reopening the issue during the present reign, while there is no republican consensus on a model and while opposition will be minimal. Constitutional change is far too important than to be used in this way.