“The republican debate, so passionate not so long ago, appears to have evaporated,” laments journalist and journalism teacher Philip Knightley (“Continued ties a cause for shame,” The Sydney Morning Herald of 20-21 January 2007). Instead of accepting the reality of this, he has been looking for some reason –any reason – to change our constitutional system. Going to the bottom of the barrel, he thinks he has found the silver bullet: the British, or at least the English – don’t like Australians which has something to do with the cricket test. “Any Australian who visits London these days – and fewer do – will note a certain disrespectful chill in the air. His authority for this is the notorious the former editor of the Daily Mirror, Piers Morgan. Now Morgan is hardly a reliable authority. According to the BBC of 14 May 2004, Morgan was sacked after the Mirror finally conceded, overruling him, that those notorious photos of British soldiers abusing an Iraqi were, in fact, fakes.
Mr. Knightley may well have been inspired by an earlier ARM Media Release of 18 January 2007 on the same theme of how cricket should make us republican. This is not the first time republicans have weaved this curious link. Former Chief Justice Sir Anthony Mason once revealed to the nation that he became a republican at the age of eight while watching the “bodyline” cricket match against England. As Sir David Smith observes in his magisterial work, “Head of State”, Sir Anthony “waited sixty five years before revealing it, meanwhile accepting two imperial honours…from the monarch between conversion and confession.”
We are informed the ARM Media Release turned up in the Canberra Times on 18 January 2007. But it wasn’t called a Media Release. It was an opinion from the pen of John Warhurst, one-time National chairman of ARM, still professor of political science at the ANU, and a regular contributor to the Canberra Times. We wonder whether the ARM asked the author and the newspaper if they might lift the opinion piece and publish it as theirs. Anyway, this was answered in the Canberra Sunday Times, 21 January 2007 by Graham Cooke who ended with a quote from Professor George Williams about the task of fixing our federal system, and how this requires both popular involvement and strong political leadership. Mr. Cooke then added: “But not, apparently, from the ARM whose latest newsletter shows it has learnt nothing from the 1999 debacle. It still bangs on about British pomp and ceremony, fair goes, mateship, and winning the Ashes – laughably irrelevant to the central question of what kind of government Australia should have to carry it through the 21st century.”
Mr Cook says it all. The ARM is still living in their nineties campaign, still relying on and surprised by the fact that there exist celebrities who are republicans, as if that proved anything or persuaded anyone. (Incidentally, on republican celebrities, did you notice that the TV quiz show compere and head of Channel 9, has just revealed he also has political ambitions? This appeared in a report by Richard Clune and Jonathon Moran in the Sunday Telegraph of 21 January, 2007 under this headline: “Eddie McGuire says he’s not ready to be PM but he’s… drawn to politics.” He said that after his “high-profile role” during the 1998 Constitutional Convention, he was approached by both sides of politics. And this wasn’t just state politics – our Eddie is far too talented for that. The approach, we are relieved to know, was at …" a federal level").
But let us return to Mr. Knightley’s assumption that the British and especially the English don’t like us. Perhaps he was inspired by the ARM Media Release. But had he checked for some hard evidence before he made his claim, he would have found that the opposite seems to be true. According to a poll published in the Sunday Times on 31 December 2006, Australia is the overseas country most admired by the British.
This desperate republican attempt to create hatred between Australians and the British, or more precisely the Engish, is being used in an obviously concerted campaign over the Ashes. Letters and opinion pieces have been demanding that The Queen give imperial awards to the Australian cricket team, as she did to the English team when they won.
On 10 January 2007 The Australian published the following letter from Sir David Smith: “No Taffy Morgan, (Letters, January 6-7) the Queen of Australia will not be rewarding her Australian cricketers with imperial honours. They ceased to be awarded to Australian citizens from 1992, with the agreement of the Prime Minister, all six State Premiers, and all seven Leaders of the Opposition.”
Incidentally, Associate Professor Knightley also repeats Paul Keating’s foolish, insulting and gratuitous attack on Britain: that she abandoned us in the Second World War. As we noted here in this column on 3 April 2006, during Question Time in Parliament on 27 February 1992 , the then Prime Minister, Paul Keating, accused Britain ( one of our closest allies) of abandoning Australia to the Japanese during the Second World War. He said that Britain was the ‘country which decided not to defend the Malayan peninsula, not to worry about Singapore and not to give us our troops back to keep ourselves free from Japanese domination.’
Few historians would agree with Mr. Keating’s interpretation of those events. She did not, and kept on fighting against the Japanese after the fall of Singapore. It does Mr. Knightley little credit to engage in ”Brit bashing” based on myth.
Associate Professor Knightley also has his own explanation for the land slide referendum result. The government “fixed” it.
How? They put up the “ unpopular republican model” to split the republicans. This infantile untruth has to be nailed. The model which went to the referendum was the one the overwhelming majority of republican delegates at the Constitutional Convention designed and chose. It was the one the press, including The Herald, overwhelmingly endorsed.
So I sent this letter to the Herald:
Phillip Knightley is entitled to lament the fact that the republican debate appears to have evaporated (20-21/1). But trying to imagine a cooling in the friendship between us and the British is not the silver bullet to revive it. That the authority for the cooling is Piers Morgan would put anyone on their guard. The Daily Mirror sacked him as editor when he refused to concede that photos of British soldiers abusing Iraqis were fakes.
The fact is that Australia is the overseas country most admired by the British, at least according to a recent Sunday Times poll.
And why does he try to push the myth that the government “fixed” the referendum by “putting up the unpopular republican model” to split the republicans. That was precisely the model the overwhelming majority of republican delegates at the Constitutional Convention designed and chose. It was the one the press, including The Herald, overwhelmingly endorsed.
None of you knew it was so unpopular until after the people voted.
But to conclude, Associate Professor Knightley obviously hasn’t much confidence in the ARM. His reaction to their 19-point plan is telling. This plan involves "…repositioning the movement in relation linkages [sic] with national identity and Australian symbols and themes including those involving increased emotional appeal". His reaction to this was “Oh dear.”
Oh dear indeed. What on earth do the republicans flag changers mean? Have they come out, as they did in the nineties, to admit they also want to change the flag, and heaven knows what else? And pending that, are they saying they will first wrap themselves in it to deceive the Australian people?