September 29

It is not about a better constitution

It's good that former editor of The Australian Paul Kelly in his book March of Patriots can see a quality of character in John Howard that he was not always ready to concede while he was prime minister, writes Tony Abbott in The Australian (26/9).  (Tony Abbott's new book, Battelines also appeared recently.) 

He approves of Kelly referring to both Paul Keating and John Howard as patriots “because theirs were new types of patriotism, at least for Australia.”  He says that at one level, Keating's patriotism reflected Manning Clark's sense of the "old dead tree v the young green tree".

“At another, it was the political equivalent of anti-British barracking at a sporting event. Even so, it tapped a vein of previously inarticulate pride in Australian exceptionalism as the near-success of the republican push demonstrated.“

“Unfortunately, Keating's patriotism was hard to disentangle from resentments that owed more to the grievances of Ireland than to injustice done to Australia.”

Abbott believes Keating's “thunderous denunciations of ‘lickspittles’ and ‘forelock-tuggers’” were compelling parliamentary theatre because Australian conservatism had been derivative enough to make them just plausible.

He does not accept Kelly’s argument that Howard discounted the personal role of the Queen in order to increase his own power. Instead he says   Howard renewed a justification for the Crown — to keep the governor-general out of party politics — that was independent of any sense of Britishness.

He agrees that in attacking the monarchy Keating’s was attempting to delegitimize the conservative parties. Their support for the Crown was supposed to make them un-Australian.

It was of course also a marvellous wedge, dividing members of the parliamentary party.The point is that the campaign for a politicians’ republic is in no way motivated by a wish to improve the constitution.

It is all about getting rid of an institution which this minority thinks at best irrelevant and at worst hated. 


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