September 29

From Beijing: Should Australia Become a Republic?

“Should Australia Become a RepublicThis was the subject of the programme “People In the Know”  which was broadcast on 26 August 2010 from Beijing China Radio International.  This may be heard here.

I was asked to argue the case for the retention of our constitutional system.  

The case for an Australian republic was presented by Graham Smith. He is the campaign director of the United Kingdom republican movement, which is closely  associated with the Australian, New Zealand and Canadian republican movements. 

Their combined agenda is to impose some unspecified form of politicians' republic in the sixteen Commonwealth realms; they give no indication of their position in relation to the other monarchies in the Commonwealth.

…UK republican blames everyone and everything …


Mr. Smith, who apparently visited Australia during the 1999 referendum, held out to the  world-wide audience the reasons why the referendum failed.

He listed  several, including the unpopularity of the former strongly republican Prime Minister, Paul Keating. It is doubtful that one voter in a hundred thousand thought of Mr. Keating when he or she voted.  

…blame John Howard….


Another reason for the defeat was that Prime Minister John Howard was opposed. 

But Mr. Howard did not campaign, restricting himself to a statement towards  the end to the effect that he was opposed.

When John Howard allowed the republicans to put their preferred model to the referendum, their praise was unlimited. It was only when their model went down, that they blamed him.

Mr Smith did not mention the more important fact that the mainstream media were almost totally republican, as were two thirds of the politiicians and a vast band of celebrities. The media role probably inflated the republican vote, because the counter arguments were often kept from the people.

…blame the double majority rule…


He also blamed the rules for passing referendums  which require not only a national majority but also winning in a majority of States.   Mr Smith’s comment was totally irrelevant – the republicans lost in every state.

So why tell the audience  how difficult it is to get a double majority? That suggested the referendum failed because of this, which is untrue.

…blame the model…


One of the principal reasons for the failure of the referendum, was the flawed model.  Mr. Smith did not point out that this was the model designed by none other than his ally, the Australian Republican Movement. Moreover it had the overwhelming support of the republican delegates to the 1998 Constitutional Convention.

Nor did he mention that when we listed the flaws, the republicans contemptuously dismissed our concerns.

During the preparation for the referendum, almost everything the republican movement wanted was conceded by the government. The Attorney General, although a Queen’s Counsel, was a very strong supporter. 

…don't mention the republic… 


(continued below)

In fact the only thing not granted was the surprising demand by the republicans that the words “President” and, believe it or not, the word  “republic” be deleted from the question.

You can guess what the focus groups were saying. Even the republican press thought this was over the top.

…blame  the referendum process…

 His other principal concern was that people could only choose between the proposed model and the existing system.

But Mr.Smith, that is how a referendum works in a democracy which has a healthy suspicion of the potential for some politicians to hoodwink the people.

In Australia, the people must see all the details before they vote. Not so with the blank cheque French plebiscite, used by politicians in recent years in the UK.  

If the people say yes, the politicians fill in the details later.

…blame the "direct elect" republicans…  


He made much of republicans opposed to the model who voted No.  This is an exaggerated factor; the number of dedicated “direct elect “ republicans was quite small. 

The republican movement now conflates them  with those who answer the following polling question by specifying direct election, "If Australia were a republic, how do you think the President should be elected?"  

We know how large the dedicated "direct elect" group is likely to be from the voting for  the 1998 Convention. 

The overwhelming majority of elected republican delegates were from the ARM. Their attempts to neutralise the direct elect republicans almost led to a walk out .  This was avoided only by the mediation of Justice LLoyd Waddy, then ACM National Convenor.

Further, as Professor Craven – a leading republican – warns, a referendum the directly elected model would go down to a substantially greater defeat than in 1999. 

In such a referendum, most of the republican politicans, and probably most of the republican jourrnalists would campaign against the model. Several have already said so.  

This would be unlike the 1999 referendum, when about two thirds of the politicans, and almost all of the mainstream media, supported the Yes case.

…other views..

Mr. Smith had other firm views about Australia.

In his considered opinion,  the Governor-General is not a Head of State, the High Court and foreign governments disagree. 

He believes our Governor-General may have a conflict of interest; no Australian constitutional lawyer on the public record agrees. 

He declares Australia is not a crowned republic, a description favoured by prominent former High Court Justice Michael Kirby, former Prime Minister Howard, Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott and the leading lawyer, Justice Ken Handley.


Incidentally, the United Kingdom republican movement prominently publishes a fascinating  list of celebrity supporters on their site.

This splendid tactic was employed by the Australian republican movement in the 1999 referendum. 

It is to be greatly encouraged.

Among the United Kingdom republican celebrities are the Anglo-Australian Queen’s Counsel, Geoffrey Robertson, who campaigned for the republicans in Australia in 1999.   He is in Australia now as part of his major campaign against The Pope.

The aggressive atheist Richard Dawkins is also there. He advised The Pope: "Mr. Ratzinger….go home to your tinpot Mussolini-concocted principality and don't come back."

Featured too is life peer and Privy Councillor, The Lord Hattersley. His Lordship’s republicanism could well have arisen from his being fined in 1996 when his dog, Buster, killed a goose in one of London's Royal Parks.  He has claimed that Buster acted in self defence.


Another noted supporter is an American, Kitty Kelley.  Why is she there?  Perhaps it was  that her book “The Royals” never sold in Britain, probably because it contained sensational assertions she would have been unable to defend in court.

Even the News of the World has failed to publish her assertions.

But let us return to the radio programme.

…the programme…

The programme was hosted by Nigel Ballard in Beijing.  The subject was triggered by Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s comment in the election campaign about a republic.  It can be heard here.

“I'm Nigel Ballard in Beijing, “he began.  “In today's program we'll look at the case for and against Australia becoming a republic.”

“It's not a new idea,” Mr. Ballard said, “and the debate about who should do the job has been going on since the 1850's."

" Perhaps what is more interesting is why in 2010 Australia still chooses to have a constitutional monarchy.”

“So how does the present situation work and how could things change if Australia became a republic?”

“Ni hao, you're listening to People In the Know, bringing you insights into the headline news in China and around the world, online at, and here on China Radio International.



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