The timing of Kevin Rudd’s announcement that there would be another republic referendum was indeed curious. As we asked yesterday, was it because some of the commentators had been saying that he has become a policy mirror image of John Howard? So did HM’s Leader of the Australian Opposition then decide to take a leaf out of Mr. Costello’s book and show a degree of brand differentiation from Mr. Howard? Or was it just a distraction? Perhaps it was one of the factions insisting on this as the price for being quiet over, say, his renunciation of the Latham Tasmanian forestry policy, or his refusal to criticise the government over the cancellation of Dr Haneef’s visa? Or was it, as Phil Haberland put it in The Sunday Times on 13 July 2007, that some people wanted Kevin Rudd to go on the warpath y for a republic and a new flag when the story, probably apocryphal, swept across the world from some New York fashionista about Prince William wanting to be our next Governor-General?
Whatever the reason for his announcement, the prospect of yet another referendum was not exactly greeted with that fawning degree of excitement in the media which it would have attracted in the nineties. When it was reported, this was done staidly and without emotion. The story even reached some media in France and Germany, where stories about the doings of the Australian Opposition leader are uncommon. Perhaps they remembered when Mr. Keating as Prime Minister regaled them with stories about an Australian republic and a new flag, while offering to redesign Berlin.
I was invited to debate the advent of a referendum against Professor Warhurst representing the ARM on the Channel 7 Sunrise programme and on the Neil Mitchell programme on Melbourne Radio 3AW. A phone in poll on Channel & reported 68% to 70% opposition to a republic, and one on 3AW produced a similar disdain for the Rudd initiative. Leon Delaney on 2SM and its regional network asked some probing questions, and ABC news was interested in the constitutional monarchist view. So was the West Australian the day before.
When Professor Warhurst raised the head of state argument as espoused by Kevin Rudd, I pointed out that the High Court in 1907, led by Sir Samuel Griffith [pictured], had unanimously described the Governor-General as the “constitutional head of state.” [ “High court resolves Head of State debate,” this column, 10 January,2007] As the judges had all played significant roles in achieving federation, especially Sir Samuel, we must assume that they understood the role and function of the Governor-General. Professor Warhurst's resonse to the authority of the High Court was one I have never heard put in legal argument -he said I was looking at the past and he was looking to the future.
Nobody minds republicans debating this issue in the elite salons of Sydney and Melbourne, but it is beyond the pale to ask the taxpayer to fund not one but at least three more federal and heaven knows how many State exercises in this futility. If the republican movement could muster the numbers, which they clearly can’t, they would be marching down the streets chanting: ” We want a republic now, but we haven’t the foggiest idea what sort.”
Next time, they should spend their own money, not yours.