Professor John Warhurst, who teaches political science at the Australian National University, has a regular opinion column in The Canberra Times which he has just used -and not for the first time- to launch an attack on the Governor-General which has well and truly backfired.
Until this year, he was chairman of the ARM, which Mr. David Marr, formerly of the ABC TV Media Watch programme and now a leading opinion writer on The Sydney Morning Herald, describes as “near comatose”
By attacking the Governor-General, he only demonstrated that he is apparently unaware of some of the sillier claims made by republicans over the years and even now.
In his piece on 17 February 2006, Professor Warhurst wrote :
“The intervention in the republic debate by the Governor-General in his recent interview with The Canberra Times (January 28), reminded me just how many bogus arguments are floating around.
“Usually they come from those who write letters to the editor, but sometimes they afflict people who should know better, like Michael Jeffrey.
“ According to Major-General Jeffrey, "so many people don’t know how the current system works and they think that just by cutting ties with the monarchy that we will go into a land of milk and honey, but that is not necessarily the case".
“This is an unrecognisable parody of the republican case. I know of no republican who has ever said such a thing. It is disappointing that Jeffrey’s mind-set should lead him to make such a patronising comment, even while he claims to be even-handed.”
Feeling this comment should not go unanswered, I sent this letter to The Canberra Times:
“Professor Warhurst (Opinion 17/2) accuses the Governor-General of intervening in the republican debate. It was hardly an intervention – he was just speaking commonsense.
All he said was that some people think that “just by cutting ties with the monarchy that we will go into a land of milk and honey, but that is not necessarily the case".
Professor Warhurst complains that this is “an unrecognisable parody of the republican case. I know of no republican who has ever said such a thing.”
It is surprising that the former leader of the republican movement, the ARM, does not know that his side has for years been putting arguments which so defy common sense that they can only attract ridicule.
Most recently, the Victorian Convener of ARM asserted on ABC radio that a republic would make Australia independent! Presumably, neither Canada, which refrained from joining us, the USA and the UK in Iraq, nor New Zealand, which has very different foreign and defence policies from Australia, are also not independent, a proposition which is palpably untrue.
During the referendum campaign, Sir David Smith assembled a litany of similarly improbable arguments advanced by some very notable republicans. (There is a summary in The Cane Toad Republic, 1999, Wakefield Press, pages 25-28, under the heading: “ The republic will stop the brain drain, arthritis etc”)
Among the claims made was that a republic will reduce unemployment, improve artists’ freedom of expression, improve exports, help us to gain international recognition of our technology, make us more acceptable to Asia, boost jobs and invigorate Australia’s spirits.
And then, just before the referendum, the Vice Chancellor of Melbourne University, Professor Gilbert, warned that a No vote would make us a laughing stock in Asia.
Rather then these “milk and honey” arguments, why don’t the republicans just tell us precisely what they want?
So not only do republicans make ridiculous "milk and honey arguments" about the consequences of our embracing some unknown republican model, their former chairman is in blissful and total ignorance of these.
As the Channel 7 "Sunrise" presenter David Koch recently told a leading republican when she was promoting the failed "Mate for Head of State " campaign, the Australian people are not stupid.