January 24

Malcolm Turnbull returns to the fray

Mr. Turnbull has come out, fighting yet again for a republic but this time, with two significant differences.

First, he wants the referendum to be preceded by a three part plebiscite. In addition, he feels he could now live with a directly elected president. How that will suprise the  direct elect republicans with whom he fought so robustly at the 1998 constitutional convention.

…conditions for another referendum…

When he became an MP,  Mr.Turnbull indicated that in his view there should be no move against the Australian Crown  unless three conditions were fulfilled:

First,the present reign had ended,

Second there was be a consensus among republicans on the model.  (But a decade after the 1999 referendum,  such a consensus is not even close.)

Third the opposition must be minimal. (I assured Mr. Turnbull that opposition would be at least as great as in 1999, when over 50,000 ACM volunteers worked to defeat that model.)

…reversal on direct election…

Mr. Turnbull was for long  categorically opposed to the direct election of a president.” Those republicans who supported that at the 1998 Constitutional Convention would be in no doubt about that. No longer, it seems.

In a media blitz in the Murdoch press in England and Australia, (see, for example, “Has a three-day visit by the charming Prince William changed us?”  Sunday Telegraph 24 January) Mr Turnbull has indicated he could now live with such a republican model .

He said: “As George Winterton and I demonstrated in 1993, it is possible to codify the powers of the president so that they are genuinely ceremonial only and there is no possibility, however remote, of a coup from Yarralumla.”  But when former Prime Minister Paul Keating and his Attorney General Gareth Evans tried to codify the reserve powers, they eventually  threw up their hands in despair, saying the task was impossible.

…he favours a plebiscite…

I also thought Mr. Turnbull was opposed to a plebiscite. ACM's longstanding opposition to a plebiscite on the constitution has essentially been that this would be grossly irresponsible. It asks for a vote of no confidence in one of the world’s most successful constitutions.

He now says:“In my view, the next step should be a consultative, non-binding poll which asks Australians whether they would prefer to have an Australian citizen as head of state rather than the king or queen of the UK."

(Republicans do not admit the Governor- General is our Australian Head of State, but she most definitely is under international law.  And according to the High Court in 1907, she is the constitutional head of the Commonwealth.) 

" It should go on to ask whether they believe that if we're to become a republic, the new head of state's powers and duties should be the same as those of the governor general.  The final question should be about the method of election.“

"After considering the results of that comprehensive poll, parliament can consider whether to proceed with a referendum and what amendments it should involve.”

…No, Mr. Turnbull, there were nasty attacks on the  the Royal Family…

 Mr Turnbull also says in response to the popularity of Prince William, the republican movement has never denigrated the Queen or her family.

Actually the republican movement ha sdone exactly that.  Remember  that nasty phrase – not Mr. Turnbull’s but his predecessor’s –  “a colostomy bag on the body politic” 

I remember appearing on the radio against a prominent  ARM spokesman who said a No vote was a vote for King Charles and Queen Camilla. A brochure to this effect was circulated with a nasty caricature of the two.

Then there was the brochure for a new flag exhibition under the ARM logo which denigrated the UK, including the Royal Family. One proposed new flag was emblazoned with these words in full:  “ F**** off to Fagland”.   

 …compulsory voting…

Among his explanations for the 1999 loss,  Mr. Turnbull cites compulsory voting. This was introduced in 1924. But before that there were 13 referendums. Only two were approved by the people.  Compulsory voting does not seem to have changed that.

I would say the principal reason for the 1999 defeat was that voters  wisely preferred our existing crowned republic to a flawed model which would have vastly increased the power of the political class.




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