August 27

Fighting for a republic…or fighting among the republicans


The ABC Four Corners programme broadcast on 25 August, 2008 on Malcolm Turnbull, “My Brilliant Career,” demonstrates the irreconcilable divisions between republicans.

The strongest criticisms of Mr Turnbull came from republicans. The ABC knew that constitutional monarchists preferred to debate the model at the 1999 referendum rather than personalise the issue.

So they did not bother to ask monarchists who were not MP's their views.  

Mr. Turnbull was quite scathing about me in several places in his book, “ Fighting for a republic” , reviewed here on 10 August, 2004.  His criticism of Kerry Jones was unfair and unjustified, as was his criticism of the then Prime Minister. On the other hand he was quite complimentary about Lloyd Waddy.

This of course is all water under the bridge. John Howard was right to put it to one side.

But if you did not know better, you would have the impression from Four Corners that the constitutional debate was only between republicans.

…the 1999 republican campaign explained…

Incidentally Greg Barns, in Crikey on 26 August, 2008, has come to the defence of Malcolm Turnbull.

He was ARM campaign director for the referendum, and succeeded Malcolm Turnbull as Chairman.

In response to strong criticism of Malcolm Turnbull from, it must be stressed, republicans, Greg Barns say polling during the campaign carried out for the ARM showed that Malcolm Turnbull was not a negative factor.

ACM did not undertake any polling about the standing of our leaders. I cannot remember it being proposed. I have no doubt we would have thought that a waste of money.

Mr. Barns says the major reasons the ARM “struggled” ( he can’t bring himself to use the word “defeated”) was  threefold: “republicans were split, the One Nation type line of the monarchists, ‘Don’t vote for the politicians’ republic’ worked, and because of Prime Minister John Howard’s relentless campaigning against the idea.”

I would have said the fundamental reason for the vote was the good sense of the Australian people.

Greg Barns says Malcolm Turnbull worked hard, and that is true.  He also suggests Turnbull never showed him any sign of anger or fury.

“When our polling showed us heading south in the final days of the campaign, Turnbull rightly decided that we should switch the advertising strategy from feel good, nationalist sentiment ads, to information style advertisements which would help to combat the lies peddled by the monarchists about what a republic would mean in practical terms for Australia.

"It was a strategy that helped arrest the slide, and our polling showed we lifted our vote in the final week of the campaign.”

Barns concede he had a generous budget, “approaching $5 million and Turnbull contributed the lion’s share of that money. Other high profile republicans either never put their hands in their deep pockets, or bitched and whinged about the campaign and Turnbull’s role in it.”

It sounds as though the ARM supporters were also deeply divided among themselves.

…the workings of the rival 1999 committees compared…..

The ARM was better endowed than ACM. But the two government committees, headed by Malcolm Turnbull and Kerry Jones respectively had equal funding.

In terms of advertising strategy and placements, I think it is reasonable to say  the “Vote No” committee outperformed the “Vote Yes” committee.

On paper the Vote No Committee –seven ACM and three “direct elect” republicans looked the more unstable.

In fact that committee worked together more successfully than the Vote Yes committee who were united on the model.

The same is true of the AEC booklet which went to every household.  In my view – hardly subjective – the Vote No pages were better.


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