October 8

John Howard’s motives impugned. Pity they did not do their homework

John “Howard was not a monarchist because of deep sentimentality for the British heritage associated with Robert Menzies, “ writes Dennis Altman in a review of Paul Kelly’s The March of Patriots for the October 2009 issue of The Australian Literary Review. 

“Indeed, one wonders if the real reason for his desire to not change the political system is that the confusion around our head of state allowed greater powers to the prime minister than would any republican system, even with a non-elected president.”

Perhaps Professor Altman had taken too much notice of Paul Kelly, who argues that John Howard not only repelled “the” republic – he cleared the path towards his own “radical-conservative model:  a strong prime minister, weak Governor-General, absent head of state.”

He did not. Nothing changed, constitutionally, with John Howard.  The office of Governor-General was no different than when it was held by Sir John Kerr, who dismissed a prime minister attempting to govern without supply.

…unfair attribution of improper motive to John Howard…

Dennis Altmann is a professor of politics at La Trobe University. Paul Kelly is one of Australia’s leading political writers. But neither seems to have recalled that the republican model on offer in 1999 – the one overwhelmingly preferred by the republican media and political elite, including Paul Kelly   – would have vastly increased the prime minister’s power? 

Had it applied in 1975, Sir John Kerr would have been dismissed, not the errant prime minister.

If John Howard had wanted to increase his authority , surely he would have campaigned for that model?

As we said at the time, if the model on offer had been adopted, Australia would have been the only republic in the world in which it would have been easier for the Prime Minister to sack the President than his cook.

He could do this at any time without giving any notice, without giving reasons and without any effective appeal.

Both Professor Altmann and Paul Kelly should go back and read the referendum bill.

They have unfairly attributed a totally unworthy and improper motive to John Howard, one  which is completely unjustified.

[This is essentially the text of a letter sent to the editor of The Australian Literary Review]


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