Are we about to see a mass conversion of Australia’s republicans, even before Prince William has landed on our shores? After Ita Buttrose, the well known former Liberal politician Ross Cameron has renounced the republicanism which he revealed to a surprised National Conference of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy soon after the referendum.
Expecting to hear a defence of our constitution from a supportive politician, the delegates were surprised to hear Mr. Cameron say that the constitutional monarchy could not be defended and that a republic was inevitable. ACM, he said, should no longer spend its time defending our doomed constitutional monarchy. Instead it should design a republican constitution which was as good as the existing system.
Unsurprisingly the delegates unanimously rejected this invitation, and wrote Mr. Cameron off as a convert republican.
So it is delightful to read Mr. Cameron’s argument for the retention of our crowned republic in The Sydney Morning Herald on 18 January. The title of his piece, “Princely magnetism could swing views on monarchy“ suggests that it is Prince William who has triggered Mr. Cameron’s conversion.
In inviting Prince William to enjoy his stay, Mr. Cameron says that the strongest impulse to retain the present arrangements will possibly come not from ‘any theoretical considerations’. Rather it could come from his ‘understated magnetism and affability’.
“ William seems to have inherited many of the qualities that made his mother the most universally loved person of the late 20th century,” he says “ I for one am happy to extend a warm welcome to a young man who is both a friend to and an asset of Australia.”
This is fine stuff for constitutional monarchists. But why did Mr, Cameron have to spoil it by misrepresenting their lead organisation? In arguing that the visit of Prince William is an opportunity to restate the case for limited monarchy, he adds “ One can be forgiven for ambivalence towards our system since its defenders at the last referendum, Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, ran a dishonest but winning campaign. By campaigning on ‘Not this republic’, it admitted defeat on the core principle and damaged the credibility of its good cause.”
ACM did no such thing. ACM’s arguments were based on a defence of our constitutional system and a comparison with the model offered.
If Mr. Cameron had checked the records, he would have seen that those republicans who rejected the model on offer argued that the existing system was better than the flawed model on offer. These republicans wanted the president to be elected by the people, but they were in a distinct minority at the Convention, including a minority of the elected republican delegates. When the government established the Yes and No Committees to administer the funding for the two cases, they did so on the basis of votes for the Convention. ACM therefore receive eight of the seats on the No committee, and the direct elect republicans, two. Their common position was opposition to the 1999 model.
In the meantime ACM ran a completely separate campaign about the advantage of our present system.
Of course it is always open to Parliament to call another referendum, but ACM’s case was always opposition to any politicians’ republic. But at no time did ACM run a dishonest campaign. As John Howard said recently, ACM acted entirely properly in the referendum campaign.
Is Mr Cameron’s conversion, coming so soon after Ms. Buttrose’s volte face, an indication of what is about to happen to the depleted republican movement? Are we about to see a mass conversion?