“Professor David Flint, national convener of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, argues that it's the republicans who are raising the "affection" issue as an excuse for falling support among the citizenry,” John Elder writes in a report on the continuing republican debate in The Sunday Age on 29 June, 2008, “Of Queen and country.”
In the interview, I pointed out that the republicans were always looking for some silver bullet to get them over the line, instead of telling us what constitutional changes they were proposing and how this would improve governance.
Not so long ago Prince Charles’ marriage was to turn us into a republic, now it’s the end of the reign. I pointed out that those who speculate about The Queen retiring by abdicating do not understand that she is guided by her promise when she turned 21 that her whole life, whether it be long or short , would be devoted to our service and the service of the great family to which we all belong.
"’The republicans are always clutching at straws,” I said, pointing out the republicans were not hiding behind affection for The Queen in 1999 when they thought they had that republic in the bag.
“This was never raised in 1999, the fact that you couldn't have a republic while the Queen was alive … or unless she abdicated [which she will not].”
“And it's not a serious consideration, the idea that at the end of this reign you could rush ahead with a republic. After a period of mourning, there would be an excitement over [the Coronation and] who would be the new Prince of Wales.’
“Flint says the ACM's arguments have never been emotional ones, and certainly not about who is on the throne,” the report continued.
“Our arguments have essentially been about the constitution, I continued. “ During the 1999 referendum, the republic movement attacked us because we didn't argue for the Queen herself, we argued for the constitution.”
The full report may be read on The Sunday Age site. The following is an extract on the remainder of the interview with me.
…irreconcilable divisions and youth indifference…
“He says the Australian public will be more concerned about instability created by "the powers of the president over the existing constitution".
“Flint also believes the republicans are "irreconcilably" divided over their inability to come up with a workable model. "The conservatives will never agree on a direct-elect model."
Furthermore, he argues that the strongest group of republicans are among the middle-aged, "whereas the younger generations are turning away from the idea … it's more to do with how they feel about the existing constitutional system".
(Chalke argues the reason younger people embrace the current system is more to do with growing up in a post-September 11 environment where traditional symbols such as the flag have gained currency as a form of comfort.)
And while Flint concedes that newspaper polls on the issue tend to have a high percentage of undecided people, "in any event, when it comes to vote, they will vote our way".
After arguing that a proposed plebiscite on the issue would be "irresponsible because it essentially means a vote of no-confidence in the constitution", and conceding that the government might hold a plebiscite if it needed a distraction from more difficult issues, and complaining that no constitutional monarchists were invited to the recent 2020 Summit where the republic was noisily trotted out as something important to set in place one day, Flint finally admitted that, yes, the popularity of the monarch "to an extent" affects public attitudes to the constitutional debate.
"Charles did have a bad press for a few years with [the divorce of] his first wife [Diana,Princess of Wales]. On the other hand, Charles has a number of redeeming features which will make him popular. He was an environmentalist before it was very popular; that will be more recognised. And he does a lot of charity work … he's raised half a billion dollars for various good causes which people aren't aware of. But all of that will come out. If you're going to have a king, he's not a bad bet. He's not ambitious for power, he's not going to oppress anybody; the system works very well."
The Women's Weekly magazine — the closest thing Australia has to a royal journal — agrees with Flint that Charles has been rehabilitated in the public mind. Says deputy editor Jo Wiles, "Of course we'd accept him as king. If the Queen died tomorrow and Charles ascended to the throne … the whole climate has changed.”