Commentary by Prof David Flint AM
As Australians rejoiced over Mary Donaldson’s proclamation as Queen of Denmark, an unintended consequence emerged: this joyous occasion—along with the interest in not one, but two royal families—likely dealt the final blow to the “politicians’ republic.”
With the landslide defeat of The Voice referendum, the government clearly indicated that while retaining the constitutionally questionable post of Assistant Minister for the Republic, any referendum is well and truly for the never-never.
But then, the Greens called for the issue to remain on the government’s agenda, while the republican newspaper The Australian demanded the government be ready to put a referendum at some appropriate moment in the future.
The Australians for Constitutional Monarchy’s (ACM) referendum No case argues that the republican model offered was a “politicians’ republic.” While former Coalition Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull admitted this claim had been “potent,” he called for a plebiscite to determine the model, followed by a referendum.
There is not the slightest indication this government will take this up, and if the opposition under monarchist Peter Dutton forms the next government, they certainly will not.
A Republic Not for the People
Despite the wealth of the Yes case, and the fact it was supported by most of the politicians and the mainstream media, the No case prevailed nationally, 55 to 45 percent, as well as in every state, and 72 percent of electorates.
ACM argued that what was being offered then, and subsequently, is inconsistent with a republic as understood by the Romans, who gave us the concept, and Montesquieu, who was a strong proponent.
As they understood, a central feature of a republic was one where there were significant checks and balances to prevent an abuse of power.
Both the referendum and the latest model fail to endow the president with the reserve powers that the governor-general currently holds, especially the crucial power to sack a constitutionally delinquent prime minister.
What was, and is, being offered are models that significantly increase the powers of the political class. That is why ACM dismisses them as politicians’ republics in contrast to our present crowned republic.
Internal To-and-Fro Over the Republic
It is interesting to recall that the Danish and other similar constitutional monarchies arose at a debate very early in the republican campaign in the 90s organised by a key inner-city branch of the Liberal Party and held at a hotel overlooking Sydney Harbour.
When a republic was put onto the national agenda by centre-left Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating, he had appointed a Liberal, not yet an MP, Mr. Turnbull, to hold an inquiry into how to advance the movement.
Although Australia’s centre-right Liberal Party, founded by Sir Robert Menzies, had always been intensely loyal to the Crown, this was to change when the republicans and the mainstream media arrogantly pronounced the republic “inevitable.”
As a result, a significant number of Liberal politicians naively jumped onto the Republican bandwagon.
To Mr. Keating’s delight, not only was “the” republic operating as a distraction from his political problems, as former Governor-General Bill Hayden told the Queen, it was also driving an enormous wedge into the parliamentary Liberal Party.
This was neutralised by the party’s leader, Alexander Downer, who declared the issue would be put to an elected convention to prepare for a referendum. This policy was continued by his successor, John Howard.
At the Liberal Party debate, I could not fail to notice that there was a significant group of young Liberal apparatchiks there.
Typical of their class, they were probably loyal to some “moderate” or left-of-centre factional powerbroker. Most would have been employed as “advisors” to politicians and were more likely to push the republican argument.
This became obvious when I argued the No case during the debate and observed that a constitutional monarchy was one of the best forms of government known in the world.
This was greeted by a hostile and noisy wave of aggressive laughter and jeering.
In reply, I simply said, “I would draw your attention to the following countries, all advanced, well-educated, often very wealthy, healthy, egalitarian, more attached to the principles of the rule of law and to democracy than most of the countries in the world.”
With a map in my mind, I began, “The United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Denmark …”
The interjectors fell into a surly silence.
The rest of the debate proceeded in relative quiet. There was no vote.
But as a result of this, ACM began to comment regularly on various statistics relating to the comparative performance of different countries.
We could always make the point that invariably, constitutional monarchies, often including Denmark, are disproportionately represented among the top five, 10, or 20 on just about any criterion.
For example, in The Economist’s latest index on democracy, 50 percent of the top five, top 10, and top 20 countries are constitutional monarchies, despite representing only 15 percent to 20 percent of the world’s states.
The Ship Sails on the Fake Republic
Since the 1999 defeat, Labor governments and some Liberal politicians have threatened a second referendum, but none has ever introduced one. I suspect that they know their day in the sun has passed.
Over time, interest in a republic has fallen. Moreover, once Australians say No in a federal referendum, they have hitherto been unwilling to change their mind.
This has occurred even when a broadly similar referendum has been put in as many as five times.
Graham Richardson, an eminence grise in the Labor party, long ago argued that if the republic were not “dead and buried,” it was comatose.
Nevertheless, its proponents work hand-in-glove with the generously well-funded Australian Republican Movement.
The present federal Labor government actually appointed, in accordance with the party platform, a constitutionally questionable assistant minister for the republic.
Nevertheless, priority was given to the 2023 referendum for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, indicating that if this were passed, a republic referendum would follow in their second term.
However, The Voice referendum met a massive defeat, 61 percent to 39 percent.
The government now indicates that a republic is for the “long term.”
The general view among commentators is that a republic referendum is, at best, off the agenda for a generation.
This is despite attempts by the Greens, the newspaper The Australian, and the former Liberal prime minister to breathe life into a campaign that is, at least, comatose.
But what has delivered the coup de grâce is the enormous media and public interest in the Danish monarchy, something which will not stop with the accession.
It will extend to the new Crown Prince and the whole Royal Family. Australians now have two Royal families to fascinate them.
Not only is the Danish accession the final nail in the coffin of the politicians’ republic, but it is a stake through the very heart of fake republicanism.