The fake republican movement has a grim history
By David Flint
Billed to speak after Tony Abbott in Melbourne recently, I sought inspiration from his foreword years ago to Twilight of The Elites.
‘To the Paddington republican set,’ he wrote, ‘Flint should have been one of them. Weren’t people like Flint supposed to be victims of a racist crown and the boring, conformist Australia which flourished under it? As it happens, “White Australia” in its heyday seems to have given Flint’s family the same welcome as has been more widely extended to people from Asia since the 60s. As a “non-Anglo“, Flint is… a living refutation of the cultural determinist argument that the “British” monarchy somehow stops people from other backgrounds feeling at home in Australia.’
Perhaps as a result of this, I was occasionally dismissed on a republican website as no more than a ‘perma-tanned Indonesian-born blow-in’. Rather than causing me concern, I found this served as an excellent opening for the odd after-dinner speech. Once audiences realised I had no intention of playing the victim, they laughed heartily.
The fundamental problem with republicanism in Australia is it is always fake republicanism.
It’s never about designing a virtuous, constitutional republic, actually empowering Australians. It’s always the opposite: increasing politicians’ power. The current version is to get rid of the one part of the constitutional system which works smoothly and at minimal cost, providing both leadership beyond politics and a constitutional guardian. During the epidemic, it became glaringly obvious that politicians have even chipped away at this.
As political scientist, Graham Maddox, concluded before the 1999 referendum, the Australian Republican Movement’s brand of republicanism has no roots in Australia’s past or her traditions.
Our tradition,’ he says, is more linked to collective action and public ownership than ‘rational economics’ would allow. And which Labor prime minister covered his push for rational economics with fake republicanism? Unsurprisingly, Governor-General Bill Hayden warned the Queen that Paul Keating was using republicanism as an electoral distraction.
Maddox noted something I had also found, that those modern states with the strongest commitment to communal welfare are precisely those that have retained their constitutional monarchy, a point supported by the prominent French socialist, Jack Lang.
I made this point in an early referendum debate run by an inner-city Liberal party branch. This was not in the usual dusty school of arts, but over a fine hotel sit-down dinner. When I recalled that constitutional monarchies are disproportionately over-represented among the world’s most advanced countries, a group of no doubt left-Liberals almost fell onto the floor shrieking in laughter. I merely listed Europe’s constitutional monarchies; they gradually fell into a sullen silence.
When it came to ascertaining whether the ARM’s predecessor movements were also fake republicans, I found the best source was the Bulletin. As a boy, I could hardly fail to notice it, not so much for its pink cover, but for the brutal front-page banner which, until Kerry Packer bought it, shrieked that pronunciamento, ‘AUSTRALIA FOR THE WHITE MAN’.
To advance its purpose pre-federation, the Bulletin was determined that Australia should become a white republic outside the Empire. The reason? Immigration was mainly an imperial matter, and the Empire’s immigration policy was far too liberal. Clearly, the Bulletin believed, wrongly it transpired, that only in a republic could White Australia survive.
So, in 1888, it rallied 40,000 people to an anti-Chinese, pro-republican demonstration in the Sydney Domain. Forty thousand is enormous today; imagine how large it seemed then.
Leading that first republican movement, the Bulletin declared Australia had to choose ‘between independence and infection, between the Australian Republic or the Chinese leper.’ The journal particularly denounced Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain when Royal Assent was refused to the Queensland Sugar Works Guarantee Amending Bill. Why? Contrary to Imperial policy for racial equality, the Queensland Bill would have banned the employment of coloured labour! In the year our predecessors formed a federal Commonwealth under the Crown, the Bulletin published this denunciation of the very minister who guided our Constitution through the Imperial Parliament:
If Judas Chamberlain can find a black, or brown or yellow race… that has as high a standard of civilisation and intelligence as the whites… as brave, as sturdy, as good nation building material, and that can intermarry with the whites without the mixed progeny showing signs of deterioration, that race is welcome.
What the journal did not appreciate was that Section 51(xxvii) of the recently approved Constitution gave the new parliament full power over immigration. Despite objections from London, a Bill was given Royal Assent by the constitutional head, the Governor-General, for the legal means to apply the White Australia Policy. The only real debate was whether White Australia should be openly stated, an ALP demand.
The second republican movement was even worse. The agenda of the Soviet-controlled Communist party was for a one-party people’s republic. While at times they attained the commanding heights of the trade union movement, unlike Italy and France, communism never made any significant electoral impact in Australia.
Thus every significant republican movement in Australia has been fake, unconcerned with improving the governance of Australia. Even the Real Republicans, who were cast with Australians for Constitutional Monarchy in the referendum No case, chose a questionable Convention model. This would have effectively involved the ruling parties choosing three candidates the people could vote on. Kevin Rudd, Malcolm Turnbull and Paul Keating? But at least they have rejected the ARM’s latest outrage.
So even the Real Republicans’ direct-election model was just another politicians’ republic, the term so superbly devised by ACM’s lead referendum strategist, Rick Brown. Provided any future referendum No Case is run by people as competent, as constant and as committed as those who ran ACM’s 1999 No case, Australia will never become a ‘politicians’ republic’.
[Spectator Australia, 19 February 2022]