You will have seen the excellent report from Diana Melleuish and Stephen Copeman on this site about the conference on Eureka. But the claims being made about Eureka, and the suggestion its anniversary supplant Australia and Anzac Day call for a reponse. If we actually look at recorded history, we find that many of the claims about Euerka just cannot be sustained.
So I sent the following to The Age on 3 December, 2004 in response to their editorial that day:
Eureka may have been , as you say , a "tilt at imperial government ." But it is not true to say that, as a result," Parliament happened", as the Premier puts it.
The process towards self government was already well under way with the British legislation of 1850, the Australian Constitutions Act. In 1853, the colonists were informed that London had decided to grant the colonies responsible self government. That, of course,was well before Eureka.
New South Wales passed her constitution in 1853, Victoria in early 1854, both still before Eureka. Meanwhile the Governor of South Australia disallowed their first constitution because of protests that it was not democratic enough!
Imperial approval of the Victorian and New South Wales constitutions was delayed because of the Crimean War,and debate about the details, and not the principle of parliamentary self government . The constitutions were signed by Queen Victoria in 1855- Eureka had nothing to do with that.
South Australia’s, the most democatic in the world, actually gave universal male suffrage-Eureka again had nothing to do with that. Eureka probably did influence the Victorian legislation to follow South Australia and introduce the secret ballot and widen the suffrage.
The British had nothing to do with that-these were decisions made in Victoria by Victorians. As were the decisions to pass legislation restricting Chinese immigration and aboriginal rights, both of whom were better off before self government.
So much for Eureka being the birthplace of multiculturalism! We have much to be proud of in our history. We are not perfect, but ours has been one of the most successful experiments in democracy and tolerance. The history of our nation has no need to be embellished by myth.
In the meantime, news has come to us of a conspiracy! A secret group of politicians and media people has been meeting in Parliament to plot the end of the Crown and turn the country into a republic. No, I am not talking about the Australian Senate Committee Report (This was, you will recall, furtively tabled in the Senate on the last day of the sittings. They called it The Road to A Republic, meaning they want change but haven’t the foggiest idea what they want.)
No, this secret group is not Australian – it is Swedish (http://pub.tv2.no/dyn-nettavisen/prinntversion/article.jsp?id=301352).
Reflecting the same old arguments, they say the Swedish monarchy goes against human rights. The group consists of, you guessed it , politicians and people in the media, including one from a leading Swedish newspaper, Aftonbladet.
Predictably again, the Swedish Republican Association, which claims a membership of only 3000, is to get several celebrities to front the campaign! As the ARM did in1999! In the meantime, the Palace in Stockholm does not seem to be disturbed.
According to polling, only 16% of Swedes want to see a republic. But only 35% of politicians want to keep the king on the throne. In fact, the usual suspects seem to be at it everywhere. After reports in Norway, and a few years ago in the Netherlands and now in Sweden, we now have an inquiry in New Zealand, which many see as a distraction from some of the other issues concerning the nation.
The NZ Prime Minister started it by announcing a constitutional inquiry on 13 November, 2004. Although she did not use the word republic, she did say:
"With the best will in the world, its hard to see how our current arrangements reflect the reality of a proud independent 21st century New Zealand."
Republicans were excited, consulting our own ARM, presumably not because of their track record! In the meantime, polling suggests support for a republic in NZ is very low- around 36%. Remember that is in reponse to a questionwithout any details and before a debate.
No doubt the usual suspects will try to raise that. Two former Governors–General, both titled, Dame Cath Tizzard and Sir Paul Reeves, have come out in support. He, an Anglican bishop, says that although his knighthood had become part of him since it was conferred in 1984, he would renounce it if this were required to become a citizen of a republic. Of course both he and Dame Cath could do that now if they feel so strongly about a republic!
An otherwise balanced piece in the New Zealand Herald on 18 November 2004 contained one error which we thought should be corrected. This was that the 1999 Australian referendum had been narrowly defeated. Narrowly defeated? It was a landslide. And if the media had not campaigned unashamedly for the ARM not only in the opinion columns and current affairs programmes but in the news itself, if we had had a level playing field, the result could well have been worse for the republicans.
So we sent this letter to the Herald:
Your correspondent(Ms J Rowan, 18/11) writes that the Australian republican referendum was narrowly defeated. The Constitution requires both a national majority and a majority in four states, and that details of the proposed change be seen before and not after the vote. The republican model was the one preferred by the establishment republicans – they drafted every detail of it. The ALP, most politicians of both sides and most of the mainline media were in favour. The republicans had wealth and a cast of celebrities behind them. The No case had 55,000 supporters campaigning across the country to keep our Constitution and our Flag. The referendum was defeated nationally, the No vote being 55%.
The geographical concentration of the Yes vote into the trendy inner city electorates can be seen by the fact that 72% of electorates said No, rising to 96% in the Queensland and Western Australia. This was not a narrow victory – it was a landslide. Australia’s republicans know another referendum would be defeated. That is why they propose a convoluted and very expensive series of plebiscites in an attempt to lock the people into their plans.
Until next time,