Had John Howard accepted Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson’s recently revealed recipe for a Coaltition victory in 2007, it would have been a disaster for the Coalition.
“I believe that Australia needs your leadership during the next term of government,” Mr.Pearson told the then Prime Minister in a letter dated 17 September 2007.
“You are uniquely positioned to secure the following inspirational agenda for the country: to move Australia fundamentally but prudently: 1) from symbolic and practical reconciliation to 'recognition of indigenous people with a reconciled, indivisible nation'; 2) from a 'repudiational republic' (which is Australia's current default direction) to an 'affirmational republic'; 3) from a 'welfare state' to an 'opportunity state'.”
(When I read this I had no idea of what either a "repudiational" republic or an "affirmational republics" are. I give my suggestion below.)
Noel Pearson's advice is revealed in Paul Kelly’s new book, "The March of Patriots – the Struggle for Modern Australia". The book argues that it was Pearson who opened Howard's eyes to the power of the nexus between conservatism and reconciliation that the Liberal leader belatedly embraced. An extract was published in The Australian (7/9)
"Australia is built on two foundation stones: one foundation stone is the indigenous heritage and on top of that was laid the British heritage. And these foundation stones still exist. They endure, they should endure for the future,” Mr.Pearson argued.
"Reconciliation and the affirmational republic need to be linked together conceptually as well as politically. I think that reconciliation alone will not be enough for your re-election bid – you must consider your position to a republic as well. The necessary constitutional amendment requires 'Nixon to go to China'.
"Only a conservative leader can change the constitution by carrying the conservative constituency and delivering the 80-90 per cent strategy that is needed so that the majority of electors in a majority of the states is achieved.”
"This is something that cannot be successfully me-toed because the maths won't allow that. Labor cannot prosecute a 51 per cent strategy on constitutional change: only a conservative leader can prosecute a 80-90 per cent strategy that has any chance of success."
…No to a politicians' republic….
John Howard rejected Noel Pearson's republican proposal, as surely Mr. Pearson should have expected. Noel Pearson told Paul Kelly that the PM said: "I can't find this in myself."
Unlike other politicians John Howard would never sacrifice fundamental principles. But he did subsequently propose that if he were returned he would hold a constitutional referendum on the recognition of the nation's indigenous people.
But that probably did not affect voting in any significant degree.
Let us imagine John Howard was someone else, and had accepted Pearson’s proposal about an “affirmational republic.” I suspect this is no more than the rejected 1999 Keating Turnbull model lavishly wrapped in patriotic and respectful spin. The voters would have seen through that.
But this turn around would have completely demoralised the constitutionalists, already made uneasy by the constitutional basis for the Workchoices legislation.
The Coalition would have been in uproar, and large numbers of members would have withdrawn their support, vital at the time of an election.
There would have been some initial confusion in the commentariat because of tension between their passion for getting rid of the Crown and their hatred for John Howard. But Mr. Rudd would, on his record, have immediately imitated John Howard’s offer, thus completely neutralising its influence on the commentariat. So most of the commentariat would have still campaigned against John Howard, as they always did.
But the disarray in the Coalition, especially in the constituencies, would have ensured a substantially greater loss than the Coalition suffered.
The 2007 election was won by Labor for reasons totally unrelated to the issues Mr. Pearson indicates. Above all republicanism was inconsequential. As Malcolm Turnbull concluded months before the referendum, nobody is interested. Of course some always are, but they are of no consequence whatsoever in an election.