The republican movement understandably keeps quiet about its predecessors. Earlier republican movements in Australia were not very attractive. The first was extremely racist, and the second was subsidized by and under the instructions of the Soviet Union. (See this column on 9 June 2006 )
The Communist Party used the code “People’s Democracy” to indicate the sort of republican model they proposed to impose on the nation. The model was the “People’s Democracies” of Eastern Europe, where, unlike the USSR, the Communist Party, sometimes under a different name, did not always rule alone but in coalition with token allied parties. All were dictatorships, and where a monarchy existed, this was abolished. Now in an essay on indigenous land rights in the April issue of Quadrant, Peter Howson reveals that from 1931, the Party’s policy was to set up one or more “independent Aboriginal states or republics” excised from the Australian nation. We can be certain that their independence would have been formal, and the Aboriginal republic or republics would have been as much under Moscow as the rest of the Peoples’ Republic of Australia was to have been.
This essay reminded me that when I attended the launch earlier this year of a superb collection of BA Santamaria’s letters edited by Patrick Morgan:“ B.A. Santamaria : Your Most Obedient Servant,” I took the opportunity to ask a very close colleague of BA Santamaria about his attitude to republicanism. His answer was that Santamaria was a strong constitutionalist and a firm believer in federalism. Never once did he hear him suggest that the Crown be removed and Australia become a republic. Santamaria died in 1998, and had an extraordinary influence on the political life of the nation. He led the fight against the communist dominance of the union movement, concentrated as it was in Australia’s strategic industries at a time when a world war between the Soviet Union and the West was widely feared and when the communists were expected to form a fifth column. Santamaria wrote on and was interested in all serious political developments, but there seems to be nothing in his prolific correspondence proposing the grafting of a republic onto our constitutional system.
Incidentally, the launch was excellent. The editor, Patrick Morgan told us about the substantial task that he had undertaken. He was followed by Father Edmund Campion, Peter Coleman, and His Eminence Cardinal Pell who all presented different facets of this most interesting and formidable man. A vigorous question time followed, marred only by one questioner who interjected to accuse Cardinal Pell of abandoning the Catholic hierarchy’s traditional links with the Labor Party. It was not the content of his interjection, but the familiarity with which it was made: “But George,…” he began. The Cardinal, completely unruffled, handled the interjection with his usual sangfroid, as befits a Prince of the Church.