April 2

Mr Kim Beazley and a republic

From his address at Parliament House at the dinner in honour of The Queen, you would have thought Mr. Kim  Beazley, Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Australian Opposition,  was indeed a monarchist. Has he changed his views?

Not from his press conference the following day, 14 March 2006:

JOURNALIST: John Howard’s comments on the constitutional monarch being a guaranteed thing while the Queen’s there but not so much after. Do you think he’s showing signs of agreeing with the public mood more on this issue?

BEAZLEY: Lat night I saw a great Australian, John Landy, hand the baton to the Queen. I would love to see the baton passed to a great Australian like John Landy and that we had an Australian Head of State. Now, the Queen knows, very respectively because we do believe she has been, and is, a very good Queen, the Labor Party, without reference to personalities, is proudly and passionately republican and we want a republic for this country. We will move on that on election to office. But we also recognise that in moving on it that we have in place now as our Head of State a very good Monarch in the Queen. We’re very pleased that as we become a republic that the Queen will be head of the Commonwealth and we’d still be part of it.

JOURNALIST: Do you think John Howard’s showing signs of heading down that path as well?

BEAZLEY: No, I don’t think John Howard is showing the slightest sign of heading down that path. I don’t think John Howard wants to think about an Australian republic at all. But we believe in it. We’re passionate about it. You see the symbols of it all the time. John Landy’s a terrific Australian and it was a great choice to be the final stage, the final person in the relay. But he has, himself, of course been a representative of Head of State for a State Government and what a wonderful thing it would be to see the baton passed at the end of a long process, to a great Australian like John Landy. You’ll not see that, of course, until we have an Australian Head of State.

Now a Beazley government after the next election seems unlikely , but politics are unpredictable.  Christopher Pearson, in “Promises and rhetoric” ( The Weekend Australian 1-2 April, 2006) asks if he  were to win, what would he do as prime minister? Would he be careful, or would he be radical?

He raises this  “uncontested passage” in notorious Latham Diaries:

 "[Michael] Costello ( Kim Beazley’s chief of staff) spent most of the dinner (expletive) that the Beazley operation is about radical social reform and that I should be part of it. He reckons Beazley often says to him, ‘When I’m prime minister I’m going to turn this country upside down.’ "

Mr. Pearson makes a distinction between “rhetorical flourishes” and those few non-negotiable undertakings   Mr. Beazley cannot abandon without losing the level of support in caucus necessary to survive.   

These are a withdrawal from Iraq, the republic, Kyoto, and getting rid of the Medicare safety net. After ACTU indications it would accept a compromise ,  Mr. Pearson thinks an industrial law rollback is now less likely.

Why should the republic be a “core” promise? As Malcolm Turnbull famously wrote,  “Nobody’s interested. “ (That is nobody apart from  journalists and politicians.) That it is in the platform, which is set out in the separate  column on  today., does not make it a core promise. Party leaders often ignore the platform.   

The reason is probably because it is the price, or part of the price , for crucial factional support. This is typical  of political wheeling and dealing , all done behind the scenes, and always aginst the public interest. It is a principal reason for the disdain the public feel for politicians .

We have just seen, in NSW,  a disgraceful  example of this when, as part of some secret deal, a 2004  bill abolishing the Oath Of Allegiance was rammed through the upper house, timed for infantile effect to coincide almost with  the arrival of The Queen in the state.  

We would be interested to know the price paid  to score this cheap victory in NSW. What have they agreed to support? If anyone knows, do  tell us so we can publish it. Putting the republic into the ALP platform, and the ill fated media inquiry over which Kerry Packer triumphed  was the price paid to keep Paul Keating out .

And the republicans believe the people will agree to dismantle the Crown and hand over the detritus to the…. politicians!

Mr. Pearson says that fulfilling the core promise on a republic would be  likely to begin with a plebsicte to see  whether there was majority support for a republic in theory.

While Mr Pearson believes the likeliest outcome is that most people would endorse a republic, I do not agree. The latest Newspoll of 13-15 january, 2006 indicates  46%  support, with only 27% strongly in favour and  with lower returns for the aged , coalition voters, women, and, ominously for the republicans, among  the young.( Note that, Mesdames Roxon and Ryan)

 Taking account of the  margin of error, the total support, including weaker support, could be as low as 41% and as high as 49%, neither a winner. But that is before  the national debate which would precede the  vote. If  the electorate were not offered the same access to Yes and No vote cases as was given in 1999, this would suggest  that something sisnister was being attempted, and ACM would do everything to make this known.

In any event, ACM has long argued that it would be the height of irresponsibility to ask the people to cast a vote of no confidence in the worlds most successful constitution without agreeing , or even knowing what is to repolace it.

Christopher Pearson is right, I think, in his conclusion that  no model would receive enough support  to succeed. While the republican movement pretends it has no model, the opportunists are willing to join with the direct electionists  if that gets the republic across the line in a referendum.Another faction, the turnbullian conservatives, will oppose direct election. Greg Craven and Malcolm Turnbull predict , in my view correctly, that a referendum on direct election would  suffer a defeat greater than in 1999. Why? The republicans will be more divided , as will be the media.

The result, if the first plebiscite does pass , would be catastrophic for the nation. As Christopher Pearson warns:  

 “that  would leave us with the existing arrangements in place but terminally undermined. As Australians for Constitutional Monarchy convener David Flint says: ‘Beazley is a constitutional vandal.”  What’s more, he knows perfectly well that his proposed course of action is a delinquent piece of self-indulgence but he’s not going to let that stop him. “

All of this is of course predicated on an ALP victory and Mr. Beazley leading the party.If then the  cascading series of plebiscites and referenda fails, as I believe it will, the ALP as well as republican Liberal politicians will have to face the fact that the people do not want this change.

I would not be surprised if perceptive politicians in both parties, including any potential leaders, have not already come to that conclusion.  Unfortunately, some are locked in by secret deals to go through the motions,   putting the Australian taxpayer  to the expense of indicating that No definitely means No.    








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