Government puts referendum off to the never-never
By Prof David Flint AM
13 January 2024
Most Australians did not want it, but all Australians are condemned to live under what is emerging as the nation’s most incompetent and disastrous government. That crucial measure, per capita GDP – argued here to be close to half of what it should be – is going backward.
So is Australia.
Without adequate defence and with an incoherent and contradictory foreign policy, the government has twice gratuitously snubbed our leading ally.
Imposing a retrograde, pre-Hawke industrial relations regime with an obsessive multi-billion-dollar ideology about climate catastrophism, out-of-control vote-buying immigration, and an anti-dam policy, this government seems determined to damage our economy, our environment, and our precious farming land.
As educational standards continue to fall disastrously below those of comparable countries, the destiny offered by the Albanese government is for Australia to become the Argentina of the South Seas.
After failing spectacularly in the referendum to impose what would have further imperilled the development we desperately need, Mr Albanese’s latest brainwave is not so surprising. It is to have fewer elections.
The commentariat has long swallowed the major parties’ self-serving propaganda that four-year terms will improve the quality of government. Tell that to the states.
You might as well argue that with five-year terms, the British and French must have even better government.
With state upper houses surreptitiously stripped of their power to force an early election, it is clear the last thing the establishment wants is more elections.
The last time federal four-year terms were put to the people only 33 per cent were in favour. Even in the ACT, only 44 per cent voted Yes.
In supporting four-year terms, the commentariat could have at least demanded it be linked to the people being able to recall any government to an early election.
Labour’s other constitutional agenda item remains ‘the’ republic, although the government now finally admits what has been obvious for almost a quarter of a century, a second referendum is doomed. (This is provided, of course, that the No case is as well run as Australians for Constitutional Monarchy (ACM) did it in 1999.)
This republic on the never-never is based, as it always has been, on fake republicanism. This has absolutely nothing to do with republicanism as the Romans understood it or as Montesquieu elaborated it. It is fake because it aims to remove a significant check and balance on politicians, a key safeguard found in our present crowned republic.
The fake republic was put on the agenda by two hyper-ambitious politicians, Paul Keating and Malcolm Turnbull.
Paul Keating had never shown any serious interest in the subject of real republicanism before seizing the prime ministership from Bob Hawke. As the Governor-General and former Labor leader, Bill Hayden, told the Queen, the republic served Keating as a wonderful distraction from his domestic political problems.
Keating was probably almost unable to believe his luck when it became the most powerful wedge ever known into the very heart of the parliamentary Liberal Party.
This followed the commentariat and the Australian Republican Movement (ARM) declaring the republic inevitable. (They had to rescind this later when David McNicoll pointed out the obvious, that if were inevitable, why push it?)
Before McNicoll took the wind out of the Keating-Turnbull sails, a significant number of opportunistic, surprisingly naïve Liberal politicians jumped onto the republican bandwagon. Their disloyalty outraged the base as well as the sensible core of the parliamentary party.
(Peter Costello joined the so-called republicans later, I suspect, more because it offered a useful brand differentiation from John Howard, whose job he craved.)
To dismantle the wedge, then-opposition leader Alexander Downer promised a convention and a referendum, a promise John Howard honoured.
As to the crucial question of the model, the ARM soon showed it had little understanding of republics or history. It did not realise its first referendum model would have introduced a version of the French Fifth Republic into Australia. (The reason the French have a fifth republic is because they decided the first four had failed, as had the three monarchies, two empires, and one fascist regime all, curiously, since 1788.) Until former judge and governor Dick McGarvie agreed, the ARM took no notice of my warning. Instead, its second model, the one ultimately used in the referendum, made the president a puppet of the politicians. This led to the ACM’s ‘killer’ slogan, ‘Vote No to the Politicians’ Republic’.
Despite the opposition of most politicians and close to all of the mainstream media, ACM’s No campaign still prevailed.
When his government came to power, Mr Albanese declared he would not hold a referendum on the republic ‘out of respect for the Queen’. The real reasons were first, as Labor’s Graham Richardson declared years ago, that if it isn’t dead and buried, it’s comatose.
The second reason was a growing realisation that when Australians say No, they mean No. On this as on everything else, Mr Albanese is hardly a winner. He was certainly not a winner with his outdated far-left faction to which he says he will return after he leaves the Lodge.
Now many will say he did at least win the last election. The fact is that he won it with only 33 per cent of the primary vote.
This is because politicians have long imposed on Australia an extraordinarily complicated electoral system where, as Winston Churchill correctly pointed out, elections are determined ‘by the most worthless votes given to the most worthless candidates’. This is a system in which the voters identified by Churchill are effectively given more than one vote. That is how Mr Albanese became prime minister against the wishes of most Australians.
It is surely incongruous that while having one the most authoritarian, most complicated, and slowest to count electoral systems in the free world, Australia’s system is also the one in the OECD most open to electoral fraud.
On reporting on some extraordinary story, radio announcers often begin, ‘Only in America…’. Perhaps they should also say, ‘Only in Australia…’.
Originally printed in the © Spectator. Reprinted by permission.