November 17

Professor George Winterton: ” a worthy opponent”


Among the overflowing congregation at the requiem mass  for the respected and greatly loved Professor George Winterton were several prominent constitutional monarchists.  And yet, as Tony Stephens observed in his excellent obituary, Professor Winterton was an initiator of the modern debate on an Australian republic. (“Fighting for law's golden thread,”  The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 November, 2008)

For constitutional monarchists, Professor Winterton, was “ a worthy opponent.”  That judgement comes from one of the nation’s foremost authorities on Australian and British political history, John Paul.

He was indeed. He was always fairness itself. He was, incidentally,  a close reader of these columns, regularly challenging opinions, but congratulating ACM when, for example, we published opposing views.

On one occasion he warned a group of republicans in my presence, “Watch Professor Flint. Don’t be put off by his style. He will fight us tenaciously and with the utmost vigour.”

I saw him in the street after the 1999 referendum. He said: “Well, David,  you won this time. But next time you’ll have a real fight on your hands.”

“ No we won’t, George,” I said.  “Your side has peaked.

“1999 was your most auspicious year. If you couldn’t do it then, you will never do it.”

“Those things you had which could be used to encourage change – the Centenary of Federation, the new century, the new millennium, the Olympic Games, the Royal divorces, the media- political juggernaut, a generous wealthy benefactor – they will not come together  again.”

“George, I am sorry to tell you this. But it’s all downhill from here.”

He smiled and we went our separate ways.

…highest ethical standards….

A leading authority on the constitution, in everything  that he did he was always gracious and honourable.  He was therefore not embarrassed at all in denouncing error or impropriety in the republican camp.

In 2004, he came to the conclusion that  the head of state dispute  was an “arid and ultimately irrelevant battle over nomenclature” (Quadrant , September, 2004.)

He was also persuaded in recent years that another attempt to change the constitution should not be made during the present reign.

He completely disapproved of creeping republicanism, where opportunistic politicians  remove the signs and symbols of the Crown.

Not only did he think this a misguided tactic.  He once told me “The more the people see the symbols the more they will wish to be rid of the Crown.”  

Of course I said this was not so; people honour and respect the Crown.

But I agreed entirely with his more fundamental objection, succinctly explained by the eminent jurist, Dr Peter Gerangelos, in a  most moving eulogy delivered on Wednesday, 12 November, 2008, in the superb church of St Francis of Assisi, in the very heart of inner Sydney at Paddington.  Father Ken Sergeant, Father Peter McGrath, OFM and Monsignor Tony Doherty, formerly Dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral, were the concelebrants of the requiem mass.

Professor Winterton’s fundamental objection to creeping republicanism was 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.

To him, legality is such a precious golden thread, it must always be maintained. 

To his dear widow, Ros, his children David, Philip, Maddy and Julia, his mother Rita, and his brother Peter, ACM extends our deepest sympathy on the passing of a great Australian.



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