There is an obvious weakness in the well known journalist and commentator Paul Kelly’s comment on the defeat of the republican referendum. This is in his landmark political treatise, March of Patriots. This has just been confirmed in a book review.
Kelly, at the time a strong supporter of the failed politicians’ republic, concedes this is now consigned to either a long period in ’storage’ or an ‘imaginative effort’ to find a viable direct election method.
Although the republican movement is grasping at direct election as if it were some sort of silver bullet, conservative republican Professor Greg Craven is probably right. He warns that a referendum on this is likely to go down to a bigger defeat than in 1999. In such a referendum the conservative republicans will prefer the status quo and the commentariat will be divided.
The chances of an ‘imaginative effort’ to devise a direct election model are minimal to non-existent. After ten years the republican movement can’t even say what sort of change they want.
…Professor Geoffrey Blainey's assessment…
I was interested to see that Emeritus Professor Geoffrey Blainey has come to the same conclusion I did when I read one part of the chapter. (This is in a book review in The Australian (26/9).
The part in question is about Kelly’s treatment of the tactics adopted by ACM and the No case, two distinctly different entities. Seats on the Yes and No case committees were awarded on the basis of votes received at the Constitutional Convention. All seats on the Yes Committee went to the Australian Republican movement. Seven of the No case seats went to ACM, and three to direct election republicans. Under Kerry Jones, the No Committee waged a far more effective campaign than the Yes Committee headed by the present Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull.
Kelly says the monarchy was hardly ever mentioned and seemed irrelevant. The Queen of course was not campaigning, and ACM made it very clear that its arguments were about the role of the institution, the Australian Crown, and not about the present Sovereign, however impeccable her service was. It is really extraordinary in a political debate to be told how to campaign by your opponents.
Kelly complains that the No case said there could be a future referendum if the referendum were defeated. He says this was a ‘manifest fraud’. This is an extraordinary assessment. We could have another referendum any time the current government wished – it has the numbers.
He says John Howard stayed aloof from most of the campaign until the end, happy to benefit from the ‘disreputable tactics’ of the No case. As Professor Blainey says
“Surprisingly, he attacks part of the no case presented at the 1999 referendum as ‘unscrupulous’ and part of the No tactics as ‘destructive’. But comparable tactics used by the yes side are overlooked.”
Kelly quotes John Howard pointing out that the Yes case had on its side most politicians, at least 95% of the Canberra Press Gallery, editorial support of almost all major newspapers. The No case still won – it was a landslide.
But media bias has some effect. Imagine what the result would have been if the mainline media had behaved properly.
So the monarchists were unscrupulous, disreputable and destructive. And one assumes the republicans were saints. Pull the other one.