There are moves within government circles to proceed with an early plebiscite on whether Australia should become some sort of undefined politicians' republic. There are three possibilities – before, at the same time as, and after the next election. The urbane silk Mark Dreyfus, ironically a Queen’s Counsel, is one calling for an early plebiscite.
Elected in 2007 as federal MP for the Victorian seat of Isaacs, named after our first Australian born Governor-General Chairman, the QC is chairman of the House of Representatives legal and constitutional affairs committee.
According to Michell Grattan in The Age, 2 January, 2009, “Labor pushes Rudd for early vote on republic,” Mr Dreyfus said he hoped Mr Rudd would announce that a plebiscite would be held soon.
It should be held before the next election, not with it, he said – there was no reason not to have the plebiscite this term.
“The process needs to get under way. There's every reason to get on with it," he insisted.
That is probably a sensible conclusion from the point of view of campaign tactics, unless of course the government is so unpopular then it needs a distraction. On present indications that seems unlikely, but who can tell?
If the plebiscite is held before the election, Mr. Rudd will be accused of misleading the electorate in the last election campaign.
Mr Dreyfus is, incidentally, the chairman of the key national policy committee overseeing the development of the platform for July's ALP national conference.
Notwithstanding his surprising lack of a ministry, he is clearly a significant influence in the Party, although the House Committee he chairs is not as significant as a similar one would be in the US. But his proposals in a major report in the nineties on branch stacking received the approval with minor changes from the powerful Victorian Branch of the ALP.
Ms Grattan reported that Duncan Kerr, a parliamentary secretary, told her it was important for the republic issue to remain alive in the minds of the Australian community.
Preliminary work needed to be done to try to achieve bipartisanship, particularly in times of economic uncertainty. He told her a move to a republic was inevitable, but the timing of a plebiscite depended on the success of the educative process.
We may well ask, what educative process? Surely there is more than enough republican propaganda being pushed? The Minister for Home Affairs, Bob Debus, who said at the infamous 2020 summit that there should be a republic by 2010, now conceded this was impossible .
He told Ms. Grattan "would not be unhappy" if there were a plebiscite with the 2010 election.
The Caucus chairman and passionate republican Daryl Melham warned that “nothing should be done until after the next election because people need to focus on the issue for it to have any chance of success. If Labor wins the next elections the dynamics would favour Labor on this issue".
Ms Grattan refers to an opinion poll undertaken by the ALP, the subject of selective leak recently. The heading on our column of 30 December 2008 sums up the persuasive value of the leaked poll: “A nice try, but it won't work. Support for a politicians' republic is still collapsing.”
ACM has campaigned constantly against the holding of a plebiscite as an act of gross constitutional impropriety. This point was made in The Cane Toad Republic in 1999.
In the federal elections in 2001, 2004 and 2007, we distributed pamphlets warning about this. In 2004 we put extra efforts in to Queensland. In 2008, a broad united front about plebiscites was agreed among constitutional monarchists.
Information about has already been published on the ACM site, and in a special fourteen page report in the last issue of The Australian Constitutional Defender.
More information will be published in the next issue of The Defender which, because of the holiday closure by our printers should be out in about two weeks.
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