September 10

Is Malcolm Turnbull about to leave politics and push republicanism?

Slammed in the media for behaving like a "spoilt child", has Malcolm Turnbull decided – once again – to leave politics? If so, constitutional monarchists will ask will he do what he did in 2009?

Having lost the Liberal leadership then, he indicated then to a surprised nation his wish to bring republicanism out of the deep, deep slumber into which it had fallen.

He did this with a conversion as startling as that of the French protestant King Henri IV in 1593, whose explanation was that “Paris is well worth the mass”. 


The prize of turning Australia into a republic was, in Malcolm Turnbull’s estimation in 2009 , worth the risk of the institution he had so long denounced, the directly elected presidency.

And if that weren’t enough, he soon followed this with yet another surprise – he would not be re-contesting his seat of Wentworth.

But he soon changed his mind and then went quiet on republicanism. Instead he would bide his time to regain the Liberal leadership.

Malcolm Turnbull is a man who must have a mission, a mission which demands that he -and no one else – be captain.

….is Malcolm Turnbull about to campaign for a republic again?

This month, in a well publicised speech in Perth, Mr. Turnbulll  has revived the republican theme, even down to a reluctant endorsement again of the directly elected presidency.

And if this is because he has again decided to leave politics, his decision will be reinforced by Tony Abbott’s indication that should the Coalition win the election, he will have to be content with being low down the pecking order, lodged in the mere communications portfolio.

So if Mr. Turnbull leaves politics, he may do what he did when he announced this in 2009. He may decide to return to the republican campaign. He was a formidable and very well endowed opponent. What militates against his reveviving the campaign is that he must realise that the situation is far less favourable for republicanism than in the nineties. And this culminated in the no case winning a alandslide victory. 

…a little spoilt child… 

Mr. Turnbull will not be pleased with the media reaction to his speech. Where once they were head over heels in support for his republican push, they have moved on. That the onetime voice of republicanism, The Australian, devoted an editorial to slamming him for treating the people as dunces was bad enough.

But then Ray Hadley gave some withering advice over the airwaves. Once dismissed by lesser lights in the “serious” media, the 2GB and Macquarie network talkback host is a most significant influence in conservative Australia. 

He likened Malcolm Turnbull to “ a little spoilt child who 13 years ago took his bat and hasn't quite got over it”.

His advice delivered in the down to earth language of a former taxi driver and presently rugby league commentator was blunt:  “Do us a favour, grow up.  And get over it.  As the kids would say, swallow some cement and toughen up, mate.”

Readers may savour what hundreds of thousands of listeners across eastern Australia heard by clicking here.



…cloak of infallibitlty…


The media took little interest in one curious aspect of the speech. This was Mr. Turnbull’s declaration on the vexed issue of climate change, an issue on which ACM has of course no position. What was surprising and what has application to other questions in which he is interested – such as our constitution – is that Mr. Turnbull was not at all fazed in assuming the cloak of infallibility on a question on which scientists are divided.

While “politicians and shock jocks, scientists and coal barons…can argue for as long as they like”, Mr. Turnbull declared that it was now an “inescapable fact” that greenhouse gases have caused the earth to warm.

It remains to be seen whether the nation – and indeed the world – will be relieved that the former leader of the Australian Republican Movement, speaking ex cathedra, and indeed, ad urbe et orbe, has handed down his ruling on this scientific question.

…we didn’t win, but we didn’t lose…

Not only did Mr. Turnbull offer his ruling that “the“ science was settled to a degree which echoed and must have delighted Minister Penny Wong, he presented a history of the 1999 republican referendum which will astound those actually involved.

To those who naively thought that the defeat of the well funded and celebrity supported republican movement had constituted a landslide, Mr. Turnbull assured them that the result was “close”.

That the No vote prevailed nationally by over a million votes, and moreover that it prevailed in every state and in 72% of electorates does not in Mr. Turnbull’s opinion militate against it being “close”.

We wonder whether Mr. Turnbull’s assessment that this was a “close” result will become as celebrated as Billy Snedden’s comment after the 1974 election, “We didn't win, but we didn't lose"

…no such promise…

Mr. Turnbull blames the defeat on monarchists “who delightedly, if cynically, exploited” republican divisions “ by promising the direct electionists that if the parliamentary model was defeated at a referendum they could have another referendum on a direct election model within a few years.”

No such promise was ever given.

Indeed, apart from one detailed statement, Prime Minister Howard, the only person who could give such a promise, maintained a low profile and made no such promise. Another referendum was and is always possible, but there was never any such guarantee.

Indeed, it was obvious then that no such guarantee could have been made with any credibility given that most republican politicians were strongly opposed to it.

The suggestion of such a promise is an unjustified rewriting of history.

Since the referendum, two republican prime ministers have held office. In the negotiations to form the 2010 government, the ultra-republican Greens Party Bob Brown could have had anything he wanted about a republic.

This could have been a plebiscite or even a referendum. A Prime Minister prepared to break a promise about a carbon dioxide tax would have obviously agreed to this.

So why didn't Mr Brown insist on action on a republic vote? The answer is simple. He knew – as everybody does – that support is now so low that not only would it have been defeated, the electorate would have punished anyone indulging in such a waste of time and money.

…monarchists responsible for republican divisions …

 It is yet another rewriting of history to claim that the constitutional monarchists were responsible for republican divisions or that we cynically exploited this. As Cardinal Pell said when he moved that the ARM’s Republican model be the subject of the referendum , monarchists had voted “with discipline, integrity and honour….their virtue brought its own reward. Republican disarray yesterday was our own doing. The republicans know well that to divide is to rule even when the division is self-inflicted.”

Mr. Turnbull should remember that republican divisions were indeed self inflicted. And he and his ARM, and not the monarchists, were responsible for much of this.

They began by suggesting during the convention election that their minds were open to direct election. But as soon as the convention assembled, their minds slammed shut.

it became clear that the ARM would not tolerate any model based on the direct election president, and they would use bluster and every procedural device to destroy this.

At this point it is relevant to recall that the monarchist delegations at the convention were substantial, with the ACM’s being the second largest delegation after the ARM’s.

The republicans claim John Howard manipulated the convention. If he did he did not do it well. Both the chairman and deputy chairman were avowed republicans as were most of the delegates he nominated.

So it was considered appropriate that only one of the 10 seats on the politburo, the powerful resolutions committee, would go to monarchist Lloyd Waddy. After he pointed out that monarchists might see this as unfair, Kerry Jones was added, but so was one more republican.

In any event the two monarchists were to become embarrassed witnesses rather than participants in the increasingly bitter disputes in the politburo.

These were between Gareth Evans and Malcolm Turnbull on the one side and the direct elect republicans, Pat O’Shane and Moira Rayner, on the other. As deputy chairman Barry Jones commented at the conclusion – “ There’s a book to be written on this.”

Kerry Jones declared that she had never in her life had she been in a group where “more argument, petty contest, personal agendas and vendettas were exposed.”This became so intolerable that the direct elect republicans decided to walk out of the convention. Fortunately for the republicans, Lloyd Waddy QC was prepared to play the role of a mediator and persuade the direct elect republicans to remain.

A Machiavellian monarchist would have encouraged such a walk out which would have been extremely damaging to the republican cause. So rather than practising “deceit” and “trickery”, the monarchists acted as Cardinal Pell declared, “with discipline integrity and honour”.

….monarchists and direct elect republicans…

Malcolm Turnbull forgets that monarchists and direct elect republicans did not form an alliance but were thrown together when the government appointed the 10 person Vote Yes and Vote No Committees to campaign and administer the two advertising budgets. The government decided the only fair way was to fill these was according to votes won the convention elections.

The ARM dominated the Vote Yes committee; the Vote No Committee was to be made up of two direct election republicans who opposed the ARM model, and the remainder eight were to from ACM which had won 72.8% of the monarchist vote.

The Vote No committee worked in a business like way, more effectively than the Vote Yes Committee. Apart from Clem Jones, direct election lacked an organisational structure.

The point is that Malcolm Turnbull had everything going for him in 1999, including his wealth, his energy and his intellect. He also enjoyed mainstream media support, and that of about two thirds of the sitting politicians, as well as a cast of celebrities. The times were good for him, not only with the matrimonial problems of the younger members of the Royal Family, but the juxtaposition of the Centenary of Federation, a new century, a new millennium and even the Olympic Games.

All this inflated the Yes vote, but not enough.

…the people won…

 The essential barrier to change was not some non-existent passion for an elective presidency but the common sense of the majority of Australians.

They knew there was nothing wrong with the Crown, and rightly suspected the agenda of the political class and their media acolytes in attempting to ram through a questionable constitutional model which would have substantially increased their power and influence.

As ACM argued, this would have been the only republic in history where it would be easier for the prime minister to sack the president than his or her driver – without notice, without grounds and without appeal. This was a victory of rank and file Australians over an establishment epitomised to a great degree by the present member for Wentworth. He should face up to this and not so obviously try to rewrite history.


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