This was the headline in the Courier Mail on Saturday, 22 January 2005 to a report that the Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie had called for the republic to be put back on the national agenda. He says the issue has been badly handled.
While the republic was originally put on the agenda by Mr. Keating, the campaign in the 1999 referendum was led, for the opposition, by Mr. Beazley, with Mr. Turnbull speaking for the ARM. The result for Mr Beazley was a defeat nationally and in every state, including his home state, Western Australia. In spite of massive political and media support, it was a landslide.
And the bill for this folly from its inception was in the vicinity of $150 million-all diverted from the education, health, transport and other budgets.
Mr. Beazley put the republic back on the national agenda in 2000 when he announced that if elected in 2001, Australians would be voting not once, but three times in a convoluted and expensive process, a cascading series of plebiscites and a federal referendum. We have heard of creeping republicanism, but this is republicanism by exhaustion!
The bill for the republic, at the end of the process, would have climbed to about $360 million! ( This is based on republican testimony in the recent Senate inquiry) Mr. Latham returned to this proposal for the 2004 election, but with the preposterous rider that the three votes be squeezed into the first term of a Latham government, which would have then been in constant campaign mode with little time for anything else.
Although denied by some of its backers, this convoluted process is designed to produce yet another politician, a directly elected president, who will have a mandate larger then the prime minister of the day. Each election would cost around 100 million, including the public funding of the candidates. The meter would never be turned off. Then there would be the necessary changes to uniforms and symbols, including the armed forces. And as The Age says, the Flag would have to change. The republicans would go back to their previous position on that.
Far worse would be the consequences of the flawed model Mr Latham said he preferred. Fortunately, the deleterious consequences for stable government of trying to marry the Westminster system with an elected presidency with considerable powers are so obvious that those leading republicans-Professor Craven and Mr. Turnbull – confidently predict that once Australian voters have the debate the Founders of our nation ensured we must have before we change our Constitution, the proposal will suffer a defeat even greater than the 1999 landslide.
This issue has now been before the people seven times-the referendum, the convention election and the last five federal elections. And the fact that the republic did not emerge as a lead issue in the last two elections indicates the absolute disinterest the people have in fundamental constitutional change.
What the Australian Labor Party can do to persuade the electorate that it is readiy for government is to demonstrate a concern for the issues which are in the minds of the rank and file. Whenever a politician raises the republic, Australians are beginning to conclude that politician is in danger of being out of touch with mainstream Australia.
SUPPORT FOR REPUBLIC FALLS-AUSTRALIA DAY POLL
The attempt by Mr. Beattie to revive the debate was all the more extraordinary given that interest in a republic is everywhere in decline. We have seen this in polling in the states, in particular in Victoria and Western Australia. The latest Newspoll, published in The Australian on Australia Day, 26 January, 2005, is in line with this trend. To the usual very general question which does not specify a model, and does not mention cost, support for a pie- in- the- sky republic has fallen to a 12 year low.
From an all time high in September,1997 of 56 per cent, support is now down to 46 per cent. Once a model is specified , and the details known, this would fall further if there were to be a referendum, certainly more than in the 1999 referendum, where the vote fell to less than 45 per cent, notwith standing overwhelming political and media support for the specific model.
The trend in this poll is consistent with others, particularly in the gender and age break down. Republicanism is strongest among middle aged males and Labor voters. Support is weakest among women, the old, and the young. The poll breaks down support into those strongly in favour,32 per cent, and those partly in favour, 14 per cent. There are two comments worth making on the breakdown. Those who are only partly in favour can easily switch to a No vote in a referendum. And even those strongly in favour are often even more strongly opposed to a specific model.
Voting in a referendum is similar to the two party preferred vote, which results from the distribution of preferences. Instead of recording our preferences as we do in an election, these are determined beforehand.As a result, the present constitution emerged as the clear preference of a significant majority in 1999.
To return to the poll, only 26 per cent of women and 28 per cent of the young are strongly in favour of a republic. This disinterest among the young was already evident in pre referndum polling, and once again demonstrates that some prominent republicans in politics and the media were in error to assume the young are their natural field of support. And in significant blow to republican politicians in the Liberal Party,and the few in the National Party, only 18 per cent of coalition voters strongly support a republic.
The Australian said support had crashed to a five year low, and this is a significant blow to republicans. In response to the Chief Political Reporter of The Australian, Steve Lewis, I said that the decline was not entirely surprising. Referring to the proposal advanced by Mr. Latham before the election for three votes on the republic, I said that the poll demonstrated the fact that the public is not interested in change to our successful constitutional system.
The ARM said that they still think a majority support a republic, and they hope this may be a blip.
THE BRITISH PRESS
The British press has had a field day with their latest royal target, who has not long left school, Prince Harry. This disproportionate attack on the young Prince who has already taken up significant charity work in Britain and in Africa, was not an aberration, as the press has long regarded members of the Royal Family as fair game. The intrusions into their and others private lives, the bias and the publication of untested rumour are systemic. There are of course exceptions, but these seem to be a minority.
The result is that because of this tendency which is exhibited in other areas of reporting, the institution has lost its credibility among its own people. Research undertaken recently by a leading US researcher, The Harris poll, has found that the British press is by far the least trusted among the 25 member countries of the European Union.
Only 20 per cent of the British tend to trust their press, unlike the other large European powers. Sixty one percent of the Spanish tend to trust their press, 60 per cent of the French tend to trust theirs, in Italy and Germany, 44 per cent and across the EU, 47 per cent.
For an institution which demands accountability and high standards from others, this conclusion must be a serious blow to the British press. They know how to correct this. Incidentally, I liked the observations in a letter from Nicole Stephenson in The Sydney Sunday Telegraph, 23 January, 2005. She says the whole idea of a costume party is to wear something you would not usually wear. Whatever you wear does not necessarily reflect your views. She says more attention should be paid to the real problems of the world, such a war and poverty, rather than such trivia.
IRISH REPUBLICAN ARMY
Most visitors to Australia decline to become involved in our internal affairs. Not so the Sinn Fein politician, Gerry Adams, who advised Australians to vote yes in the referendum. Mr Adams has always denied any involvement in the IRA, but his colleague, Mr Martin McGuiness has since admitted his role in the terrorist organization.
Some years ago two young Australians were murdered by the IRA in the Netherlands. They were mistaken for British soldiers. The IRA apologised but would not hand over the murderers. Our then Prime Minister, Mr Hawke contemptuously rejected the apology. A recent story has another Australian connection. This was the robbery of an Australian owned bank in Northern Ireland. The amount taken was enormous. The police concluded it was an IRA activity; so did the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic.
The recent poll in WA, drawn to our attention by a very observant reader, Matthew Blake, and the Herald Sun poll demonstrate that Australians are not interested in republicanism. It is difficult therefore to understand why some politicians keep pushing republicanism. One form is creeping republicanism which indicates the politicians are just not willing to wait until the people agree, but are determined to take action now to remove every sign and symbol indicating our heritage. They have however given up on the flag-for the time being.
It is not as if the politicians are satisfactorily performing their functions for which they were elected- law and order, health, education, electricity, water, etc.,etc. Why do they just not concentrate on their jobs?
We did like this letter in the Melbourne Herald Sun, published on 21 January, 2005, under this title:
Logo Fiddling Instead of Leading
The letter reads:
So the Bracks Government is once more fiddling with our state logo.
In its first term, it removed the Crown and in its second term it wants To change it again, treating our state identity as if it were just a shirt or a pair of pants.
Our symbols are our symbols Mr Bracks, not yours.
The Crown represents our history, our language and our system of government.
Why don’t you just put the Crown back, start looking after the hospitals, schools and police as you were elected to do, and let us all get on with life?
Until next time,