July 12

Mr Costello and the Prime Minister

John CurtinACM has no political position.  We give no advice to our supporters as to how they should vote. We have however adopted a policy consistent with our mission, which is to preserve, to protect and to defend our heritage: our Australian constitutional system, the role of the Crown in it and our Australian flag. Our  policy is to advise our supporters which candidates in an election support our mission, and also to advise the electorate at large of any major party’s active policy promoting republican change should it form government. We did this in the last election. About 1 million copies of our brochure on the proposal Mr. Latham announced before the election were distributed in key electorates, particularly in Queensland.  This followed our practice during the referendum of targeting our advertising.  

In the current media frenzy over the leadership of the Liberal Party, we could not fail to notice that one of Mr. Costello’s most influential supporters –in intellectual circles- praises his republicanism.

Now some people incline to the  view , and not only among constitutional monarchists, that Mr. Costello’s republicanism is more to do with brand differentiation from Mr. Howard rather than a strong belief in any possible advantage for the nation which might result from making this monumental change.

But Professor Greg Craven does not accept this view. Professor Craven is the executive director of the John Curtin Institute of Public Policy at Curtin University, named after one of our greatest Prime Ministers, a Labor man, a Privy Councillor and a staunch constitutional monarchist. Writing in The Australian on 12 July, 2006 he clearly does not think much of Mr. Howard’s attachment to the monarchy, or indeed of the Prime Minister himself.

 He writes :” In a prime ministerial career that has seen him accorded god-like omniscience in some quarters, Howard’s thought pattern has been marked by a chronic preference for short-term political wins over long-term, sustainable victories.
“One good example was his throttling of the possibility of an Australian republic. Howard could have opted for a conservative republican model that would have guaranteed our existing Constitution for a century.

“Instead, he preferred to buy a couple of decades for a ramshackle monarchy, at the risk of long-term constitutional instability.”

On the other hand, he lauds Mr. Costello for his “outstanding qualifications….Like them or not, his ideas are big ideas: population, republic, reconciliation and federalism.”

Professor Craven has moved from an attachment to the existing constitution, through the McGarvie model, to that adopted by the official republican movement in the referendum campaign. Although he would not agree with this summary of his position, it is to remove The Queen but keep the Crown. ACM proposes to demonstrate at our annual conference this year, that is impossible.

Rather than being dazzled by the elusive “big picture “ ideas that seem to so excite Professor Craven, another commentator, John Garnaut , writing in The Sydney Morning Herald on 14 July 2006, offers a sounder paean to Mr. Costello’s real successes. Thse he says are his work in the WTO and the G20. Mr. Garnaut, clearly a practical man , never once mentions republicanism. Futher his was one of the few comments that offered anything new on the affair. His conclusion is that Mr. Costello has only himself to blame for raising the leadership in such an ineffectual way.  

In the meantime, the open disagreement between Mr. Howard and Mr. Costello seems to have had little impact outside of the commentariat, who are in a predictable frenzy. The general public does not seem to be at all interested in the too often irrelevant and repetitive media comment, and there seems to be minimal support for change within the ruling party. They are well aware of the old adage, ‘Disunity is Death’, as are  Her Majesty’s loyal Australian opposition.

The difference between the ALP and the Liberals on constitutional matters remains. While the Liberal Party has covertly abandoned its founders’ firm and unswerving commitment to the constitutional monarchy, the ALP now has a formal commitment to republicanism, albeit one entered into with little enthusiasm. This makes life difficult for ALP politicians who are constitutional monarchists, but it does not turn them into republicans. It is not so difficult for rank and file ALP members, many of whom are constitutional monarchists. Another significant group among Labor politicians are those realists who know a republic cannot be achieved by grafting one onto the present constitution, and who  will therefore drag their feet on this, as many did for years over the socialist objective.

Mr. Beazley, like Mr. Costello, is probably not a republican with real passion. He showed this in abandoning his previous attachment to changing the Australian flag, which his leader said “got up his nose.” But he may have to make a formal commitment at least to attempt change in order to satisfy some factional arrangement, even if he doubts the success of such an attempt. And although he must know that this would bitterly divide the parliamentary Liberal Party, and have little support in the  branches, Mr. Costello might in office feel obliged to push some or other republican model to demonstrate his difference  from John Howard. In the lower house, only the Nationals, as a party, will remain committed to the Crown.

The succession of either Mr. Costello or Mr. Beazley will mean that constitutional monarchists will need to be even more ready and vigilant. Of course, it may well be that the next prime minister is someone else. There are people on either front bench who would be most unlikely to attempt to turn Australia into a republic.


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