As the 1998 Constitutional Convention drew to a close, it finally dawned on the Australian Republican Movement that ACM had been completely truthful in the unilateral assurances we gave that we would not use our numbers to sabotage the choice by the republicans of their preferred model for the referendum.
They feared we would swing our numbers behind the McGarvie model, which would have changed the result. This would have resulted in the McGarvie model going to the referendum.
Under the Australian Constitution, the people must have the details of what precisely is being proposed. The Founders were well aware of how the blank cheque plebiscite – which is just a question – could be and was regularly misused.
It was suggested in the press that we should vote “tactically” and support McGarvie as the ”least worst” model.
The McGarvie model proposed that The Queen be replaced by a council of retired governors general and chief justices. The Prime Minister would then advise the Council on the appointment and dismissal of the governor–general.
Its supporters believed that such an unwieldy contraption could replace the Crown and command, if not the loyalty and affection of the people, at least their respect.
No constitutional monarchist did.
It was thought by supporters of tactical voting that such a model would command little support among the public and would be easy to defeat in a referendum.
I suspect they were correct in that assumption, which was no doubt the reason why the Australian Republican Movement was so opposed to the model.
…tactical voting discussed…
This issue of “tactical voting” was discussed – but not debated – at a meeting of monarchist delegates chaired by Lloyd Waddy.
It was not debated simply because not one delegate spoke in favour of this tactic. Note that – not one delegate supported this tactic.
I remember in particular one of the South Australian delegates, Father John Fleming, speaking strongly against the proposal. He was supported by another South Australian, Bishop John Hepworth.
They were an impressive sight at the Convention, was the quality of their interventions. The Bishop – later an Archbishop – wore a large pectoral cross which had been presented to him by the Pope. I had thought he was the Anglican Archbishop of Adelaide; it was explained to me that he was the Primate of The Traditional Anglican Communion.
Father Fleming’s argument against supporting the McGarvie model was powerful and in my view, completely persuasive. This was that the monarchist delegates had been elected on the basis that they would not vote for any republican model. The monarchists should not support the McGarvie model merely to eliminate the more popular models, and then campaign against it. That, everyone agreed, would be wrong in principle.
In the meantime, fearing that the monarchists would do what we said they would not, Malcolm Turnbull made amendments to the Keating-Turnbull republican model to answer criticisms made first by ACM and then by Richard McGarvie. These particularly related to the dismissal of the President.
The result of the amendments was that the proposed republic would be the only one in history where it would be easier for the prime minister to sack the president than his cook.
The president would be instantly dismissible without notice, without reason, and without appeal. The president would have been the puppet of the prime minister.
The truly lamentable thing was that people who should have known better went to the referendum supporting it. Some later admitted that this model was highly undesirable. But they were prepared to do anything to have a politicians' republic – even giving up a significant check and balance of the Westminster system against the abuse of power.
At the Convention, the Prime Minister, John Howard, proposed ( Convention Debates,Volume 3, Thursday, 5th of February, at page 329) that the procedure for deciding which model republic should be put to the people involve the delegates in two votes. The first would be:
“‘If Australia were to become a republic, do you favour McGarvie, do you favour a direct election, do you favour two-thirds?’ “
“I think we should vote on those first, and then the victor that comes from that should be pitted against the status quo.”
Father Fleming rose and said (Volume 3, Thursday the 5th of February, at pages 330-31)
“ I appreciate the Prime Minister’s intervention and am broadly in support of it, but there are those of us who have been elected to this Convention who cannot vote for any particular model, and for very good reasons.
However, I for one would find it easier to assist the Convention if a resolution were put to us along the lines that there be a referendum on a particular model. In that case, I am voting for a referendum on a particular model rather than voting for a model..”
Mr Howard immediately signalled his agreement that the monarchists not be involved in the selection of the model, and only whether the model preferred by republicans be put to a referendum.
The monarchists thus refused to support the McGarvie model, much to the very publicly expressed chagrin of republican Professor Craven and the privately expressed views of several others.
But as John Howard said in an interview with me in 2009, ACM had behaved with honour.
This was corroborated by Cardinal Pell at the 1998 Constitutional Convention. Speaking to a motion endorsing the referendum model, His Eminence said:
“Yesterday the monarchists voted with discipline, integrity and honour. Lloyd Waddy was the very model of a modern major general. They did not vote tactically. Their virtue brought its own reward. Republican disarray yesterday was our own doing. The republicans know well that to divide is to rule even when the division is self-inflicted.”
Mr. Tim Fischer, former Deputy Prime Minister and republican, offered similar praise at the Corowa Conference 2001 where again we refrained from voting on the choice of republican models.
Incidentally, Father Fleming interviewed Malcolm Turnbull on his Adelaide radio programme the Sunday following the end of the Convention.
During this, Mr. Turnbull recalled his conversation with Father Fleming at the Convention and the assurance he had given him that the monarchists would not vote tactically.
He agreed that ACM had in fact fully honoured that assurance.