November 3

Do not let Rupert Murdoch do to the Constitution what he tried to do to Rugby League

“It is not the House of Windsor which worries Australians. It is the House of Murdoch,” said Sophie Panopoulos, as Sophie Mirabella MP then was.  This was  one of those indelible moments during the 1999 referendum campaign. On a windy rooftop somewhere in Sydney, she was debating a line up of passionate republicans.

(Incidentally, why are republicans routinely called “passionate”?  It reminds me of the time when  Catholics were automatically classified as either “devout” or “lapsed”.)

Others in that debate included the London based expatriate Queen’s Counsel Geoffrey Robertson, one of the many celebrities who had nailed their colours to the republican guillotine.



What made Ms. Mirabella’s remark especially delicious was the embarrassed and silent reaction of the posse of republican journalists present, many of whom were in  the employ of Mr. Murdoch.

 Another moment in the campaign was when I  penned an open letter to Lachlan Murdoch about his call for support for the No case.

Such is their attachment to freedom of speech, the republican movement called for my instant dismissal from a statutory appointment I held.

I must say that Rupert Murdoch is a man of many achievements, including the establishment, and obviously, the continuing support of the national newspaper, The Australian.

Another achievement has been in giving the world, through his media empire,  an unmistakably Australian approach, and an avenue for Australians to be employed across the globe.

This is even if some of his tabloids are quite over the top. In mitigation, Rupert Murdoch  does use his profits to subsidise quality, as Kerry Packer did.

….a Murdoch stooge…

   I was once charged by the journalists’ union with being a Murdoch stooge. This was when I tried to hold the Press Council together after the union walked out because the Council refused to support the establishment of a statutory tribunal.

 This tribunal was proposed to block the Murdoch takeover of the Herald and Weekly Times group. Strangely, the union did not condemn the Hawke government, the opposition, the ACTU, and all state governments and oppositions, not one of whom had opposed the merger. ( See Malice in Media Land, Freedom Publishing, Melbourne 2005 pp. 95-98)

…a 19th century educational system…if only… 

This brings me   to two surprising points that Rupert Murdoch made in his recent first 2008 Boyer Lecture.

One was that we have a nineteenth century educational system.  No we don't. If only our teachers enjoyed the status and respect that they had then.

The problems are the downgrading of the status of teachers, the withdrawal of their authority and  those elements of the syllabus which can be politely described as postmodern.

….but we are already independent……


It was surprising too to hear Rupert Murdoch say “we should be independent.”   No, he was not saying we should be independent from the United States, to whom he now owes his allegiance.

It is elementary, and declared by our High Court, that we are an independent country and that our constitutional system is in no way whatsoever subjected to the merest soupçon of British power.

I am surprised that Rupert Murdoch would imply we are not independent.


…a republic?…

Rupert Murdoch is, unsurprisingly, still in favour of a republic, that is, a politicians’ republic. This is the best of  news for those who wish to stay a constitutional monarchy or crowned republic.

It is even better than when Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser  campaigned for a Yes vote in 1999. That swung countless many undecided voters to a No vote.

This will be the same result of  Mr. Murdoch’s call.

As one one previoulsy undecided person  put it to me, “ If Murdoch is in favour of a republic, then I’m against it.”

 Rupert Murdoch may have forgetten it, but  he has twice blotted his copybook among Australia’s rank and file. This, in their eyes, will seriously devalue  any advice he gives on our constitutional system.

First, he renounced his citizenship.   Many Australians will never forgive him for that. 

The second reason relates to sport.  Australians were once much castigated by the inner city republican elites for their love of sport. Any observer of, say, the French scene, knows Australia was just in advance of most of the world in this regard,

There are many people who have not forgotten the extremely divisive foray by News Limited into Rugby League, the establishment of the rival Super League, and the damage that did to the code and to so many football careers.

There was one street demonstration in Sydney about this which was among our largest non- political demonstrations in the city, almost equalling the one held by ACM  to protest the expulsion by Bob Carr of the governors of New South Wales from Government house.

This anti-Murdoch demonstration was reported briefly, on page umpteen, in the Daily Telegraph.

The memory of this assault on the Rugby League has not been forgotten. There are some Rugby League Clubs into which, even today, Mr. Murdoch would be advised not to enter, even with a phalanx of bodyguards.

So much so, one campaign theme for the next referendum in certain states could be:

 “ Don’t let him do to the Constitution what he tried to do to Rugby League”

…a politicians' republic…


On his call for a politicians’ republic, Rupert Murdoch says:

  “There has been more maturity to this debate over the past couple of years, and there is now no need to rush to the exit.”

We assume he is referring to the surprising immaturity of much of the Australian media during the referendum.

Even the broadsheets – including The Australian- behaved like snake oil merchants rather than great journals of record. (As the American ones are behaving in the 2008 presidential record.)

He says “The moment is not far away when the country will decide its fate. And if I were in a position to vote, it would be for a republic. …But we are no longer a dependency, and we should be independent. “

…what sort of republic?



Mr Murdoch coyly does not tell us what sort of politicians’ republic he wants for Australia.

Does he want one where vast crowds gather to cheer on the completely vacuous words of one or other contenders for the presidency as we are seeing in America in 2007?  

Can anyone imagine Australians coming out like that? 

When our paries used to have genuine public meetings before an election, they were far more robust and genuine than the choreographed B grade shows the Americans have recently put on.

 So does he want a politicians’ republic in which the presidential campaign seems never to end, and costs well over a billion dollars Australian?

Does he want one where the government is blamed for the actions of the other party in creating and maintaining the financial regime which caused the subprime crisis? This just could not happen under our Westminster system.

Does he want one where judges openly display their political loyalties, and seize quite unbridled legislative power?

But whatever model Mr. Murdoch prefers, it is clear that it will not be able to achieve one thing. It could not make Australia, or Canada or New Zealand for that matter, more independent than we already are.

So we at ACM thank Mr. Murdoch for his call, in the certain and happy knowledge that it will make Australians more wary than they already are of any politicians’ republic.



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