[The following appeared on On Line Opinion, Australia's journal of social and political debate on 22 May, 2008]
…well done: first a gerrymander, then the records are changed…
Now we have another reason for the choice of the 2020 Summit theme, Mao Tse-tung’s "Let a hundred flowers bloom …”
First there was the 98:1 vote for some undefined republic: the result of ensuring that no one who was prominent in the 1999 “No” case was chosen as a delegate.
This contrasted with a Morgan Poll which showed support for a republic with an elected president had fallen to a 15-year low of 45 per cent and among the 14-17 years old, 23 per cent. The overall result was not much different to the last Newspoll, which is usually on an undefined, vague republic.
But the latest news from the Summit is that the preliminary report has been changed in a way almost worthy of Minitrue, Big Brother’s Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984.
The principal task of Minitrue was to change the records, including the newspapers, so that the authorities were never embarrassed.
The report originally said: “Stage 1: Ending ties with the UK while retaining the Governor-General’s titles and powers for five years. Stage 2: Identifying new models after extensive and broad consultation.” This opened the Summit to ridicule because all ties with the UK were terminated years ago.
The ridicule proved to be justified. But instead of reconvening the governance panel to pass new recommendations, the report was surreptitiously changed. Instead of calling for the ending of ties with the UK the report now contains something entirely different. There is nothing about ending ties with the UK, or retaining the Governor-General’s titles and powers for five years. Instead there is now a call for a plebiscite – hardly something new.
No one noticed the switch, which was probably the intention.
In his Sun Herald column on May 11, Peter FitzSimons (in “Confusion reigns supreme”) even attacked me for daring to criticise what the nomenklatura had removed out of embarrassment.
… plebiscite irresponsible…
The republicans have been calling for a plebiscite ever since they lost the 1999 referendum. They want it for two reasons: first, the republicans don’t know or won’t say what they want and second, they think they would lose another referendum.
It is difficult to think of a more irresponsible proposal than this call for a plebiscite to try to ensure a subsequent referendum will skate through. This plebiscite would ask the people to give a vote of no confidence in one of the world’s most successful constitutional systems – without the people being told what the proponents are planning to put in its place.
…ending ties with the UK..
To return to the original recommendation about ending ties, the problem was that the Summiteers were not talking about ending cricket ties, but constitutional and legal ties. If there were such ties, it would have meant we are not really independent. But we have long been independent. While Lionel Murphy thought independence came in 1901, most experts opt for some time between 1926 and 1942.
The Balfour Declaration of 1926 recognised the independence of all the Dominions, so I am inclined to the view that we were independent by 1926. In any event, the Australian Crown has long been a separate entity from the British or Canadian, New Zealand and other Crowns.
As a consequence the High Court in 1999 disqualified a One Nation senator, Heather Hill, because she owed allegiance to a foreign power and its sovereign, the Queen of the United Kingdom.
With independence, there was one anomaly. Until 1986, state governments – of all parties – so distrusted Canberra they left it to an increasingly reluctant British government to advise the Queen in state affairs. This meant that while the Australian Crown operated at the federal level, the British Crown still functioned in the states.
In any event it is beyond doubt that today we no longer have even any lingering constitutional or legal links with the UK. All we, Canada, Britain, NZ and other realms, have is a “personal union” in which the one sovereign wears several crowns.
For the benefit of Peter FitzSimons, who warns of provoking a “tedious lecture “ from me, (Sun Herald May 11, 2008) a personal union does not require any supporting constitutional or legal links between the countries concerned. Apart from Commonwealth Realms, the best known example in our history involved the UK with Hanover from 1714 to 1837.
So why did the summiteers decide on “(e)nding ties with the UK while retaining the Governor-General’s titles and powers for five years”?
Just before the Summit, former government minister and now priest Fr. Michael Tate had called for a “minimalist referendum that need not be concerned with methods of appointment; (Ms) Bryce would simply wake up the next morning as our autonomous head of state”.
This was pure fantasy. Without machinery for appointment or removal of the vice regal officers in place our governments would soon grind to a halt.
In comparison the Reverend Professor’s Easter call for the PM to hand over recommending the appointment of a G-G to the speaker and senate president seems only moderately bizarre.
However it came about, the preliminary report exposed the Summit to justified ridicule. A vague unconvincing and secretive explanation has appeared on the Summit site. But it raises more questions than it answers.
It says amendments were made on April 30 “more consistent with … Power Point Slides presented in the final session …” It claims the decision to do this was made “immediately after the Summit”. So why did it take ten days to change the record?
The preliminary report was only changed when it was realised the original decisions opened the Summit to justified ridicule. On whose authority we do not know. The decisions bear no resemblance whatsoever with what was released on April 20, 2008.
This demonstrates information and media manipulation par excellence, worthy indeed of 1984.
Hardly an auspicious beginning for fundamental constitutional change.