July 23

Pigs might fly


You can put your  house on the phrase "the only poll that counts is the one on election day" being uttered by the politician, who is behind in the opinion polls, writes Graham Richardson in the Daily Telegraph, 22 July 2011. (At the time of writing his piece was not on the web.)

He was a leading minister in the Hawke and Keating governments, and is widely respected for his commentaries on politics.

“The real truth is that every one of the respectable polls – Newspoll and Nielsen – really does count,” he said.

I would add Morgan, Galaxy and now Essential.

“The polls give us a snapshot of where public opinion stands at a given moment. When a series of polls over a series of months point to virtually the same numbers every single time, you can be assured the results will be pretty close to right,” he continued.

“That is precisely what is happening now,” he concludes.

…republic polls…

Mr Richardson of course was commenting on the federal politics. He could have been writing about the proposal to turn Australia into some vague undefined  politicians Republic.

The polls have on this have long trended down. If a referendum were held it would make 1999 seem like a great victory. And bear in mind the fact that these polls  are usually based on questions which give the republican case a big lift  compared with any referendum question which our wise Founding Fathers ensured must be on a precise model. They are well aware of the danger of allowing some devious politicians to use a blank cheque plebiscite to change the Australian Constitution.

When people are asked in a poll whether they support Australia becoming some  vague undefined (politicians’) republic, support is close to 40%.

Past experience suggest that in a referendum this would fall to something close to 30%. Republican politicians know this. That is why they say they have put “the” republics on the back burner until the end of the reign. Some say it’s out of respect for The Queen – the respect they forgot to show in 1999.

…republicans in fantasy land..

Yet the chairman of the Australian Republican Movement, regularly claims that a majority of Australians want a republic. He did so at a recent dinner in Sydney to mark the 20th anniversary of the Australian Republican movement. Presubaly he is relying on a poll they commissioned for the 10th anniversary of the referendum from UMR. This goes against the trends- it was clearly a rogue poll. 


I have never met the current ARM chairman – the closest has been when I have debated him on television and radio. I have of course known many republicans over the years.

…republicans I have known…

Among the republicans I have known, the late Professor George Winterton stands out. A wonderful man, who was the leading republican intellectual at the 1998 Convention. He drafted a constitution for a minimalist republican model  which was published in March 1992 in The Independent Monthly,  the now defunct newspaper partly owned by former leading Fairfax editor, Max Suich.

George  was not happy when the republicans caved into our criticism of the model – and delivered a worse model.This would have resulted, he said, in the possibility of the PM and the President playing “a dangerous game of constitutional chicken.” That was essentially our argument in the 1999 referendum, although we put it differently.

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We warned that it would be "the only republic in the world where it would have been easier for the prime minister to sack the president than his cook." It could be done without notice, without reasons and without a right of appeal.

Peter Reith, the independent republican and senior Howard government minister, graciously attributed this to me, but the real author was Sir David Smith and then Reg Withers. 

  After the 1999 referendum George told me to expect the real fight at the next referendum. I smiled and assured him ACM would be there. He was a close reader of this column, and would occasionally email me to challenge something or even to agree. I made at least one correction when he was right and I was wrong.

Another leading republican – a convert – is Professor Greg Craven an outstanding  constitutional lawyer who is now Vice-Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University. He knows that there is no chance of the  present republican push succeeding. He hopes for a revival – probably something after the reigns of King Charles III and King William V.


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