No doubt feeling that he should not explain how his much heralded surplus disappeared when nobody was looking a mere five days before Christmas, the Treasurer Wayne Swan has shifted his gaze to getting rid of the Australian Crown , an institution to which he has solemnly sworn or affirmed his allegiance on at least seven times.
In a badly timed opinion piece in the leading republican newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald (25/1), he has revealed that his attention – or more likely that of someone on his large personal staff – had been drawn to the test cricket series between Australia and the United Kingdom 80 years ago, known as Bodyline.
The series has led him to his considered opinion that Australia should have a national “conversation” on becoming a politicians’ republic.
But on the very day his opinion was published Spectator Australia included an edited version of Professor James Curran’s 2012 National Republican Lecture where he said such pommy bashing as relying on Bodyline had to go if republicanism is to have any hope of success.
He cites Kim Beazley and Noel Pearson agreeing on this.
In any event, I would have thought that if the Treasurer were contemplating the Constitution, he might have considered how governance could be improved.
For example, he might have considered how governments could be made more accountable to the people, how duplication between Federal and State governments could be avoided or how massive waste in government could be ended.
When asked about the Treasurer’s piece on Sky TV News I said that the raising of the issue now is likely to be a distraction, and possibly a wedge to divide the Liberal Party. As readers will recall, vast numbers of Liberal politicians jumped on the republican bandwagon when warned to do so by Paul Keating – unlike the party rank and file who remain solidly monarchist, as indeed a substantial number of Labor supporters are.
The Leader of the Opposition, and former Executive Director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, Tony Abbott, did not rise to the bait.
But shadow Minister Malcolm Turnbull, former chairman of the Australian Republican movement, said it is "always a good time" to talk about Australia becoming a republic.
Then he criticised Mr Swan's contribution to the debate.
"The one thing that is not a good argument – certainly not an effective argument – for being a republic is to turn it into a Pom-bashing, anti-British, anti-English, let along anti-Royal family type of argument," Mr Turnbull told ABC radio.
"It has to be a thoroughly pro-Australian argument.
"It's about saying: we rejoice in and revel in and love this country so much, and respect and love our fellow countrymen and women so much, that only one of them is good enough to be our head of state."
Was he referring to the Governor-General? He, or she, is not chosen on this basis, surely.
…Sorry Mr. Swan – Labor’s heroes were all monarchists…
Mr Swan lavishly praises the two Labor wartime prime ministers, John Curtin and Ben Chifley. But as I told Sky News, he failed to mention the fact that both of them were very strong constitutional monarchists and had in fact twice recommended to the King that a member of the royal family be appointed as Governor-General.
Using a sporting controversy as the reason for a change to the Constitution is ridiculous, but this repeats a pattern in the 90’s when, as Sir David Smith says in his authoritative book,( Head of State , 2005,page 189), republicans invented “weird and wonderful reasons” for wanting to remove the Crown from the Constitution.
As I mentioned to Sky News, Mr Swan would be well aware of the fact that support for a politicians’republic had fallen over the years to 33% which indicates that in a popular vote, the No vote would be even bigger than 1999.
I reminded him that all politicians know this and this was why Dr Bob Brown never insisted that Ms Gillard include a republic in the program of the government which was formed in 2010 . I said that viewers would recall that he persuaded her to abandon her promise concerning the introduction of a carbon dioxide tax and could easily have insisted on the inclusion of a politician' republic in the program.
In any event, if the nation’s declining band of republicans is involved in a national search for an Australian identity, they should be strongly encouraged.