September 16

Moral republicanism? Professor Craven can’t be serious

Why does Professor Greg Craven bother?  He concedes Australians are not at all interested in change to some unknown sort of politicians’ republic. He knows that the current fashion among the republican politicians to put off the change until the end of the reign is just clutching at straws.

He suspects those republicans who are now 50 will be receiving congratulations when they reach their hundredth year from King William V.

…once a monarchist..

 Professor Craven, an eminent constitutional lawyer and a university vice chancellor,  is a man who is not ashamed to change his mind or adopt new ideas. During the referendum I was involved in a debate with him in Perth where the republican team included the Federal Attorney General, Daryl Williams QC and Senator Stott Despoja. I was with the former Governor-General Bill Hayden and former minister Reg Withers.

By that time Professor Craven had changed from being a strongly committed constitutional monarchist to becoming a supporter of the “least-worst “model proposed by Dick McGarvie and then, to a supporter of the Keating Turnbull model.

So in the debate I mischievously described him as the Australian answer to the Marquis de Talleyrand. (Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, an aristocrat in holy orders, had served in succession the doomed  King Louis XVI,  various republican revolutionary regimes during the Reign of Terror , the Emperor Napoleon I, the restored King Louis XVIII and  after the revolution against that King, the bourgeois monarch  Louis-Philippe.) 

Rather than being indignant, Professor Craven took my criticism as praise. He continues to embrace ways and means of obtaining republic – provided always that it be conservative.

…the Craven plan to revive republicanism….

In a recent article in the Australian Financial Review (7/9) “A right royal send-off” he suggests “a simple way to nudge the republican train into motion”.  

This involves adopting former NSW premier Bob Carr’s rather shop worn proposal, provocatively repeated  when he moved the vote of thanks to the  Governor–General at the Sydney Institute on 1 September.

This is a blatant piece of spin which insultingly assumes the Australian people are stupid. This is for a constitutional change which provides that the president of the politicians’ republic not be called a president but be called – believe it or not – the governor–general. 

As I understand it Professor Craven seem to be saying that instead Parliament should now pass legislation to declare the governor-general to be what she already is, the head of state.  When Tony Abbott proposed this in a book at the time of the Constitutional Convention , The Sydney Morning Herald presented this story under a headline” Monarchists dump Queen.”

This headline was of course completely untrue. It was just part of the Herald’s blatant use of its news columns to campaign for a republic. After the people overwhelmingly rejected the politicians’ republic, some monarchists proposed to Prime Minister Howard legislation be passed to declare the governor-general the head of state.

For John Howard the issue of a republic was settled by the referendum. He could not see the point. 

The fact is of course that under international law – the term head of state is a diplomatic term – the governor-general is already head of state.  And as the High Court long ago said, the governor-general is the constitutional head of the Commonwealth.

Professor Craven proposes such legislation be used to introduce a massive campaign of creeping republicanism or republicanism by stealth.  He often writes amusing pieces. We hope that on this occasion he is pulling our leg.

This would involve removing all symbols, and  even the designation for ships of the Royal Australian Navy, Her Majesty’s Australian Ships.  I suppose “Royal “would go too. And when The Queen comes to Australia she would not be received in her constitutional position but as The Queen of the United Kingdom.

Why not, dear professor, not receive her then as The Queen of New Zealand or The Queen of Canada?

…immoral republicanism…


Professor Craven calls this “moral republicanism” The late Professor Winterton – a dedicated republican when Professor Craven was still a constitutional monarchist – would have seen this as wrong in principle. He had come to the conclusion that the monarchists had won the head of state debate, which had become an “arid and ultimately irrelevant battle over nomenclature” (Quadrant , September, 2004.)

 He completely disapproved of creeping republicanism, where opportunistic politicians remove the signs and symbols of the Crown.  He would also have seen this as a tactical error for republicans.  He once told me “The more the people see the symbols the more they will wish to be rid of the Crown.”  ( I of course disagreed, and said so.) 

More importantly he believed that as Australia is in its fundamental law a constitutional monarchy, we must maintain the usages of monarchy and not become a republic by stealth.It is curious that Professor Craven does not appreciate this.

What he is proposing is not moral, but the opposite.  Or is he once again writing for fun?


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