The “It’s time” theme, used in the 1972 election, and revived for the 1999 referendum, was wheeled out when the self described “passionate” republican, Mrs Holmes a Court was made a Companion in the Order of Australia, repeating her use of this in 2004. According to a report by Kate Hannon and Claire Low in the Canberra Times on 14 April, 2007, “ Republic: many say ‘it’s time,” Mrs Holmes a Court said that she believed Australians could be ready to again consider a republic after the failed 1999 referendum. She had been an Australian Republican Movement delegate to the 1998 Constitutional Convention. At that time she had promoted a simultaneous exhibition of new flags to replace the Australian flag. Mrs Holmes a Court labours under the curious belief that Australia is not fully independent. Would she say the same of Canada?
"We have our own national anthem, we have got our own High Court, we’ve got our own honours system, we just have an attachment to the Queen and the monarchy – and I’m a huge fan of the Queen – and many Australians think it’s time we severed that tie and became totally independent," she said.
"I think we’re approaching a time when we can think about it again. I think there are plenty of people who haven’t stopped thinking about it. We need to work out a model that is acceptable to all Australians."
Three years ago, when the Senate Inquiry into forcing some sort of republic onto the nation sent a taxpayer funded caravan across the nation trying to stir up some interest, it was mainly ignored even by the media until Mrs Holmes a Court appeared before the inquiry in Perth on 18 May, 2004 . As we mentioned in this column on 22 May, 2004, AAP said that Mrs Janet Holmes a Court had choked back tears when describing her disappointment when the people in every sate rejected the republic referendum in 1999.
She said that years had passed since Australians last seriously considered becoming a republic and it was time to revisit the issue.
She had revelled in her experiences at the 1998 Constitutional Convention remained passionately in favour of Australia becoming a republic. But the bitter disappointment of the "divisive, difficult, dishonest and incredibly disappointing" referendum itself had led her to "put the idea of a republic out of mind".
Mrs Holmes a Court struggled with her emotions as she recalled stories of people bringing their children to Canberra to be a part of an historic transition, and of people being too emotional to return to work after hearing the referendum had failed. (We have never heard of either, although on 6 November 1999, Mr. Turnbull did famously accuse John Howard of breaking the heart of the nation, and an American born actress did cry on national television. Looking over Bondi Beach the next day, Australians there, young and old, seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely. Perhaps that was an aberration, and the rest of the nation was in mourning.)
"It’s real lump in your throat stuff," she said. Mrs Holmes a Court stressed she was not "anti-Queen", adding she had met many members of the Royal family when her family owned theatres in London’s West End. ( The Holmes a Court fortune was founded by Mrs Holmes a Court’s late South African born husband, Robert, who was best known as a successful corporate raider. He died of heart attack in 1990. The family company, Heytesbury Holdings – Lord Heyesbury was a distant relative- continues and Mrs Holmes a Court is one of Australia’s wealthiest women.)
The same issue of the Canberra Times contains an extract from Clive James’s recent book. The extract was about a matter on which ACM has no position, asylum seekers and the Tampa affair. But it is his unsympathetic reference to the intelligentsia’s expectations about the republic which may be of interest. He said that in 1999, the intelligentsia had “roundly condemned” the people after the 199 referendum because “they had declined to embrace manifest destiny and vote for a republic.”
It is obvious that it is easier for the republican elites to repeat, endlessly, that very tired mantra, “it’s time,” than to assess the indispensable place of the Australian Crown in our constitutional system, develop a constitutional model which is at least as good, and then persuade the people that the proposed change is, as Sir John Quick put it, “desirable, irresistible and inevitable.” Lecturing the rank and file, endlessly, that “it’s time,” and that, any way, you are a passionate republican celebrity is frankly, no substitute.