November 21

Federation-another view

Further to our columns on the future of the Federation in the light of the recent decision of the High Court, a reader, Dr Gavin Robinson takes a different view. We are sure readers will be interested in his argument:



“I take everything you say on board. But I can’t help reflecting that, as in so many things, we follow in the footsteps of the United States. They effectively passed this milestone in 1860, and as in the case of their federation itself in 1776, much more dramatically so. In 1776 each considered itself a real state in the original meaning of this word, and they “united” for the purpose of gaining independence from Britain, an objective which indeed united them.



But in 1860 they were sharply divided and only the most devastating war the US has ever fought resolved that issue. Yet the Civil War, layered as it was into the slavery issue and the states’ rights issue, demonstrated an uppermost layer which, upon the winning of the war by the north, became supreme in fashioning the attitude of all its citizens, including those from the south who did not, perhaps surprisingly, harbour their resentments in the hope that circumstances would one day favour a renewal of the war, but albeit grudgingly accepted the verdict and thereafter, as southerner Shelby Foote observed (in the well-known television series on that war produced by Ric Burn) truly came to consider themselves as citizens of the United States, and no longer these United States, as he assures us their country was formerly known as.






That mental step, it is not unreasonable to presume, was a prerequisite to the more outward-looking stance toward the rest of the world, which came to fruition in the following century –  perhaps the agony of the Civil War was a necessary travail for them toward a natural ending in the circumstances of their accumulating enormous wealth and power, namely assumption of the mantle of world leadership, which they first exercised at their point that of entry into World War I, and have accepted with greater or lesser degree of enthusiasm at different times ever since.





I have always been a believer in the thesis that our “lucky country” status is a sobriquet that is not appropriate in either the ironic way that Donald Horne first intended it to be taken, nor in the far-too-literal way that many have since misunderstood him, but rather a recognition of our escape from the full rigours of independent existence that has been happily bestowed upon us by virtue of preceding American travails in their two formative wars (as well as their protection of us alongside Britain in World War II against Japan – but in this respect, in the US case, more for geopolitical reasons, and I include it only for completeness – and to make the point we should be grateful to God indeed for having been so genuinely lucky, and in multiple respects).





Thus Horne actually of course had a solid basis for what he said, even if he may have thought it all too obvious to spell out and seemed to prefer to lambast the Australian public for their “philistinism” instead.





So I regretfully have to assert that while what you say about our founding fathers wishing to preserve states rights is of course absolutely correct, there are, unfortunately, times when the law must be got around, and in this case it is because in my opinion, and especially after Gallipolli, we came to feel Australian, in a way we did not at the time of the Constitutional referendum twenty years before. Menzies ably did get around original intentions in the Engineers case, but I believe he believed in what he did, and that he did so because national opinion had changed as a result of the war, and his own views were in consonance with the views of most Australians at that time (not something that in any way, shape or form could be said about our pathetic out-of-touch republican movement today).






In coming to this conclusion I also have to say I have been much influenced by Margaret Kelly’s excellently argued piece in the latest Weekend Australian.






With regard to asking for another constitutional convention to debate the subject, there is in addition an overriding tactical reason why it may be strongly inadvisable to proceed down that path – I believe republicans will seize on the suggestion but immediately pervert its intention in order to reopen the republic debate. They will trumpet “that the ACM itself suggests another constitutional convention is now appropriate”. This would truly hold great dangers.





Yours sincerely,






Gavin Robinson”





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