Even if the out-of touch republican politicians have not realized it yet, the press is gradually coming to the conclusion that the republican movement is in trouble. As the ABC and Fairfax commentator David Marr put it, the republican movement is “near comatose,” a conclusion we reported in this column on 22 January, 2006.
And now, Lenore Taylor has come to a similar conclusion. Writing appropriately in The Queen’s Birthday issue of The Australian Financial Review, 9-10 June, 2007, Ms. Taylor says that republicanism is “on life support.” .Even a republican prime minister – Labor’s Kevin Rudd or the Liberals’ Peter Costello – “will struggle to revive the issue.”
She finds that even the most ardent republicans can not pretend there is strong support for their cause. Moreover they are resigned to it not coming back until the end of this reign. She finds this to be “quite an admission given all the time they have spent telling us that it’s all about our own identity, rather than about passing a judgement on the Queen or her offspring.”
Republicans, she says concede the upsurge in “overt patriotism” that has characterised the Howard years has not translated into support for a republic. She refers to love of our flag among the young. (Perhaps our youth know of the now surreptitious but once open republican agenda to change the flag.) When Ms Taylor interviewed me, I referred her to polling which now indicates that among the young support for the republic was in free fall. The strongest indication of this came an in-depth youth poll undertaken by the West Australian which we reported here on 6 September, 2006. That showed a collapse to 38% support for some vague undefined republic. Ms. Taylor’s research confirms that support seems to have fallen away “most dramatically” among the young.
Ms Taylor also refers to the then Senate majority’s attempts to push republicanism in 2003 and 2004. (This involved republican senators, not content with the $150 million of taxpayers’ hard earned funds already spent, shamefully throwing away even more of the taxpayers’ money on that hopeless exercise, how to ram a republic down the throats of Australians. I hasten to add that this is my considered judgement not Ms. Taylor’s.) But as Ms. Taylor says, senators from all parties “toiled” – yes, “toiled” – over a 200-page committee report wrestling with the issue of how Australia might move further down the road to a republic. They took submissions all over the country, and they debated all the issues at length. (As we reported here on 24 May 2004, those toiling senators were to be confronted in Perth by Janet Holmes à Court, La Passionara of the republican movement, who choked back tears when she recalled the 1999 referendum defeat.) The government, which sensibly regards the issue as settled by the 1999 landslide rejection of the republicans’ preferred republic, has not “even deigned to respond” to the senators’ wasteful exercise. On that,Ms. Taylor finds that “no one much seems to care, or even to have noticed.”
Ms Taylor asks is this because, as I argued, that there is an almost universal lack of interest among the rank and file in republicanism? Or will it, “as republicans dearly want to believe, surge back into the headlines once the nation has a leader apt to take up the cause?”
Ms Taylor says this raises two questions. First do republicans have such a leader? And even if they do, does that leader have a plan to overcome the previously fatal divisions within the republican movement? Her answers will depress republicans – both are in the negative.
Peter Costello, one possible leader,last year went so far as to include “the” republic (as if they have a model) among the “five big issues” the nation would have to face over the coming years. In what was probably yet another attempt at brand differentiation from John Howard, he claimed that some sort of republic is where “we” are already in “our sympathies and in our imagination."
Mr. Costello said that republicans needed a person to "provide a model capable of winning genuine public support.” But what was a big issue last year seems to have shrunk, for he now tells Ms. Taylor that he thinks this is ”a very low-order issue for Australians.” He said:”I just don’t think there is any great interest now. They might become interested if the Queen passes on the crown, that might be a trigger, but in the absence of any new constitutional development or the succession issue coming up it will remain a second-order issue and, what’s more, I think if you try to force it, the public would be likely to harden its opposition to the idea."
Nor does Labor offer much hope. The Leader of HM’s Opposition, Mr Rudd, does say a republic is an “important part of Australia’s future,” but then says it would not be a priority for Labor’s first term in office. It would be dealt with "in due season." Nicola Roxon, a passionate republican who is on Labor’s front bench, ominously told Ms. Taylor that the first term of a Rudd government would be used “to lay the groundwork for what could be done to bring about a republic in the future.” What does this mean? Taxpayer funded republican propaganda?
Ms Roxon, like Peter Costello and the Liberal minister and former prominent republican Malcolm Turnbull, believes a “full debate on the issue is unlikely to be triggered until the Queen leaves the throne.” They forget the Commonwealth and the world will then be plunged into sadness, to be followed by enormous interest and fascination as the Coronation approaches, and about the Sovereign and the new Heir. Nobody will be much interested in the attempts by a gaggle of republican politicians and others to revive a dead issue. The chances are that at the time of the next Coronation, Ms. Roxon, Mr. Costello and Mr. Turnbull will be enjoying the generous superannuation the taxpayers provide for their class.
Ms Taylor also draws an interesting comparison between the present vitality and viability of the republican and constitutional monarchist movements.
”At the height of the 1999 referendum, the ARM occupied a large suite of offices in central Sydney, employing around 20 campaigners…(n)ow it has a small office in inner Canberra near some car yards,(and) just one parttime member of staff.”
She says monarchists are “leaving nothing to chance”.(We are of course right to be suspicious. Republican politicians, without any mandate, are intent on removing all the symbols of the Crown, one of the few checks and balances against the abuse of power. And we never know what a republican prime minister will do under factional pressure or if he finds his popularity collapsing.) She says “Australians for Constitutional Monarchy have an office in the centre of Sydney, two full-time staff and 20,000 supporters on their books. National convenor David Flint is confident republicanism is at a "dead end". "Australians are not lying awake at night wondering who their head of state is," he says. "And since we take the view that the Governor-General is our head of state, then to the extent that they want an Australian as head of state, they already have one."
”And he believes the ARM’s policy is untenable. He says the first plebiscite "looks like asking people to cast a vote of no confidence in their constitution without knowing what might replace it" and the subsequent question of a new republican model raises even greater questions.”
Ms. Taylor concludes: “Which leaves Australia on the verge of having a republican prime minister but still a very long way from having a republic.
” Enjoy the Queen’s birthday.”
Incidentally, her article appeared under the superb headline:”Long Live Our Noble Queen.”