There's a convention that, in any discussion of Australian constitutional law, sooner or later somebody will allude to the scene in The Castle "it's Mabo, it's the vibe."
Sorting some press clippings I came across Paul Kelly's breathless reporting of Paul Keating's new book After Words on the front page of The Australian of Friday October 21st 2011 ("Your Majesty, you're an anachronism…").
The Australian has in the past displayed an impish sense of humour when it comes to Keating. In 2008 Janet Albrectsen in an op-ed had the temerity to compare then PM Kevin Rudd favourably to Paul Keating. Keating fired off an enormous reply that weighed in at nearly 600 words. (Ordinary mortals are advised to keep their letters to newspapers below 300 words).
The letters editor did the unkindest thing possible under the circumstances and published what I assumed was the entire letter (now only available on another site). Janet Albrechtsen, naturally, was delighted to be singled out and admitted to the Keating Scumbag Society.
[More after the break]
I fear that this time there was no tongue in cheek. Paul Kelly actually intended that air of wide eyed excitement when writing what boiled down to an advert for the Australian's publication of extracts from this book.
As already mentioned by David Flint ("Queen tells Keating to wash up", Friday October 21st 2011) Keating took the opportunity of a visit to Windsor Castle in 1993 to tell Her Majesty that the Australian people regard the monarchy as an anachronism.
This was 6 years before the Australian people had a chance to comment on the preferred republican model – the one pushed by Keating while in power (it was called the Turnbull-Keating model for a reason) and the one pushed by the Australian Republican Movemement before and during the referendum. However Australians rejected it in 72% of electorates and in all the states. Some anachronism.
I was not surprised that Mr Keating's publishers chose the time of the first visit by Her Majesty in nearly 5 years to launch Paul Keating's book. It was bound to happen that somebody in the media and litterati would see an opportunity to push the republican cause.
Paul Kelly commented on this without irony.
"In a remarkable coincidence, given the Queen's present visit, Keating's personal account of the meeting when he told the Queen that Australia must become a republic is published for the first time in The Australian today."
A remarkable coincidence I thought. This took me back to that scene in the 1994 film Muriel's Wedding. Each time the family go out to dinner a woman turns up – whom the audience figures out pretty quickly is the father's mistress.
"Deirdre Chambers, what a coincidence!"
Australia's most republican Prime Minister publishes a book at the time of a Royal Visit. It gets a big splash in the only national newspaper with republicanism front and centre.
"What a coincidence!"