ACM is delighted to see that so many committed constitutional monarchists to the new Federal Parliament. Our policy was clear – to give all candidates who are committed constitutional monarchists our support, and to make voters aware of the fast track proposal to make Australia a republic. Because Mr Latham had indicated this proposal would be implemented immediately if he won, with the first plebiscite being put to the people in 2005, it would have been far too late to start the campaign after the election. Kerry Jones realized this, and she is a most experienced campaigner.
In the event of a change of government, on which of course ACM took no position, we knew we had to hit the ground running, as they say. Hundreds of thousands of our brochures – estimated to be up to one million- were printed and distributed in key marginal electorates where a constitutional monarchist candidate stood.
Kerry Jones should be congratulated for leading this- her role has already been acknowledged by a number of those candidates.
That tired, irrelevant issue, in which Australians are not at all interested, inappropriately called The Road To A Republic in the Senate Committee Report, was not much discussed by the media in the campaign. ( Incidentally, with the change in the composition of the Senate from 1 July 2005, further such “inquiries” are most unlikely.)
Exceptions were the page and poll in The Age which I had mentioned in an earlier column. There was also the gaffe in a Reuters report where they wrongly described The Queen as the Commander-in Chief, and as Head of State having the power to dismiss Australian governments. I wrote to them asking for a correction.
And believe it or not, the headline of The Times editorial of 11 October 2004 was:
Why? The Times said he should do the unexpected and put Australia on track to become a republic. He needs to be Nixon in China! The issue is hardly burning, The Times admitted, but it is of historic importance.
The Times continued: Australia owes, and will go on owing, a huge debt to Britain for the rule of law, for enduring institutions and for a value system that has been crucial to its success. It is no denial of these traditions for the country, as an act of political maturity, to declare itself both a republic and a faithful member of the Commonwealth. [Shouldn’t we change our language too, Mr. Editor? I notice you say nothing about the Flag.]
If Mr Howard were to take this ambitious step, The Times said, he would be viewed as more than a consummate campaigner with the common touch — he will have redefined what it means to be Australian.
Greg Barns, who was campaign director of the failed 1999 referendum campaign and who succeeded Malcolm Turnbull as ARM leader for a time, wrote in The Independent of 8 October that John Howard was the prime minister who killed off Australia’s chance to become a republic in 1999 by cynically setting up a vote on the issue, then campaigning against it! This is as bizarre an interpretation of what happened in 1999 as Malcolm Turnbull’s lament on 6 November 1999 that if John Howard were to be remembered for anything, it would be as the man who broke the heart of the nation!
The Weekend Australian’s editorial of 9-10 October, 2004 was headed: NOT HAPPY WITH MARK, NOT HAPPY WITH JOHN. The editorial admitted: We too have our gripes with Mr Howard: we exposed the children overboard claims as false, we believe the Coalition must do more for indigenous communities and we support a republic.
More realistic than The Times editorial, Helen O’Neill, in The Independent, observed that Mr Howard’s win means that the question of an Australian republic will remain firmly off the agenda. She said Mr Howard, a staunch monarchist, drew inspiration from Margaret Thatcher, who once advised him never to apologise.
The Crikey.com editorial for the election, I think Crikey’s first formal editorial, called for the return of a Latham government, supported by an internet poll of Crikey readers who favoured this result in the proportion of about 75:25. It demanded a formal apology to the Stolen Generation, the freeing of refugees from detention centres and a renewed push for the republic. All polls, Crikey claimed, suggest Australians still want would also be welcome symbolic gestures of genuine reconciliation by a mature nation truly comfortable with its place in our region and the world.(Unusually for editorials, Crikey told us who actually wrote the editorial. And while we are on the unusual, The Sydney Morning Herald for once declined to give its view! The Australian mischievously asked whether this was because they did not have one, or whether if they chose one party, it would upset their readers, or if they chose the other, it would upset their journalists.)
Let me end with an extract from a review of Frank Welsh’s Great Southern Land in The Guardian of 9 October 2004. Peter Porter said that the fact that Australia is not a republic does not mean that it is at heart monarchical: it is, he says, merely pragmatic.
Republican politicians, of any party, as well as the commentariat, should just try to understand this. They are wasting their time-and our money- trying to force feed the Australian people. If the republican politicians ever try it, the people would ll soon recognize this proposal for a cascading series of plebiscites and referenda for what it is.
It is nothing more than a discreditable and fraudulent plan to obtain a psychological blank cheque for constitutional change. And what could be more pragmatic and Australian than the conclusion that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Until next time,