ONCE again, republicans have demonstrated they’ve either learned nothing from their 1999 defeat or just have nothing interesting to say.
The idea — explored on these pages yesterday — that a great international sporting event such as the Melbourne Commonwealth Games should be used to push a political agenda does nothing to advance the debate.
And it again shows that the republican movement is obsessed with Kath and Kim-inspired “look at me! look at me!” stunts.
The Commonwealth Games is about bringing people together to play sport — it isn’t about talking politics.
While the republican movement has never been averse to using national days such as Australia Day, the Queen’s Birthday and Wattle Day to talk up their cause, this one goes way beyond.
When I’m watching the opening ceremony the last thing I’ll be talking about is a republic, and I’m willing to bet most Aussies will feel the same.
The republicans have, however, raised some issues that need a response.
Yes, a republic can be part of the Commonwealth.
However, an existing member state that becomes a republic has to notify the secretary-general, who then asks all other member states if they agree to that country remaining in the Commonwealth.
Before the 1999 referendum, the Commonwealth Secretary-General Chief Anyaoku confirmed this was the practice.
South Africans were also told at their 1960 referendum that becoming a republic would not force them to leave the Commonwealth. Oops!
Given the Commonwealth’s rule of unanimity and the difficult relationship we’ve had with some members (such as Malaysia) and the currently suspended Zimbabwe, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to fear our Commonwealth status would be at risk.
The republicans also believe that Australia, Canada and New Zealand retaining their constitutional monarchies looks somewhat odd.
Odd in whose eyes? Our three countries are among the most highly developed, successful and tolerant on the planet, and one of the most important reasons for this is our well-established and well-balanced political systems.
In constitutional monarchies like ours, political power is divided between various people and institutions with ultimate executive authority vested in a non-political figure — the governor-general — whose primary responsibility is to ensure that the Constitution is upheld.
THE monarchy/republic debate is about Australia, the Australian Constitution, the powers of Australian politicians and the Australian Governor-General.
It isn’t about what other people allegedly think of us or whose Constitution is the prettiest.
A nation’s constitution is a framework for the powers of its government, and a constitution built on propaganda and feel-good slogans is dangerous.
While the republicans mentioned some success-story republics, they conveniently failed to mention the experience of other Commonwealth countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, which essentially grafted a minimalist republic on to a monarchical constitution and not long ago suffered a messy power struggle between the prime minister, parliament and president.
And there was no mention of the plight of many African nations who in the past 40 years were in a similar rush to get rid of the Queen for symbolic reasons.
We are already a strong and proud country that stands on its own feet on the world stage.
While the republicans are free to hope that Australians will be able to hold our heads a little higher as an Australian republic in 2010, I can assure them that most Australians already hold their head as high as they can.
While the Australian Republican Movement is meeting in its regular phone box with heads drooped next March, the rest of us will be watching the Commonwealth Games with thoughts of politics far, far away.
BRETT HOGAN is Victorian convenor, Australians for Constitutional Monarchy