The Leader of HM Australian Opposition, Mr. Kevin Rudd, has again indicated that “becoming a republic was an important part of the nation’s future” but that this “would not be a priority in his first term in government.” This was in a wide a wide-ranging interview with Phillip Coorey and Peter Hartcher published on 27 April 27, 2007 in The Sydney Morning Herald ( “Unions won’t rule us: Rudd.”)
Mr Rudd’s predecessors, Kim Beasley and Mark Latham unwisely fell for the current ARM scheme to obtain a republic by trickery. The ARM pretends that they now have no idea what sort of a republic should be imposed. Instead they want the people to cast a vote of no confidence in the existing constitution through a plebiscite. A second plebiscite is to choose the republican model. The current ARM leadership thinks this will be a model where the people elect the president. This is to be followed by a referendum where experienced republicans, including Mr. Malcolm Turnbull and Professor Greg Craven think the ARM scheme will fall apart. They expect that if the scheme gets this far, the people will wake up to the mess that is being proposed. Mr. Latham inexplicably went one step further than Mr. Beasley. He decided he would cram the three votes into his first term. Mr Rudd no doubt realises that if he were to keep to this, and he were to win government, he would be involved in three major campaigns in his first term. He would have little time for anything else. He no doubt also realises that support for even vague republicanism has fallen significantly, and is in free fall among the youth. Serious support is mainly to be found among the inner city elites. And now that the current ARM leader is an endorsed Liberal candidate in the next Federal election, and tried unsuccessfully to get the Liberal Senate vacancy which came up unexpectedly this year, Mr. Rudd must be asking himself why the ALP remains captive to the ARM, now a shadow of itself, on this important issue. In any event he says that his top five priorities are ensuring prosperity beyond the mining boom, fixing the nation’s infrastructure, restoring workplace flexibility and fairness, dealing with climate change and water, and improving state-Commonwealth relations. These together make up, he said, “a future agenda, and at best I think Mr Howard only gets a bit of it. The republic doesn’t fit in with any of those five priorities.” He said he would deal with “the” republic “due season.”
It is of course imprecise to refer to “the” republic. This assumes republicans are united as to some model, or actually know what sort of republic they want. As we know, the republican leadership says they do not have any idea of the sort of republic they want. So until the republicans indicate precisely the sort of republic they want, what is under public consideration is not “the” republic. It is “a” republic, in fact, any old republic.
In fact, the word “republic” is so vague, its use may mean that the user is not seriously thinking about constitutional change. Mr. Rudd, or indeed Mr. Costello, may say that becoming some sort of a republic is an “important part of the nation’s future.” It may well be that they actually believe what they are saying. But that is clearly not the view of the majority of Australians. Support for even the vaguest of republicanism is declining. Mr. Rudd’s assurance that “we’ll deal with that (i.e. a republic) in due season,” is either a sinister threat or one way of assuaging the obsessions of the inner city elites, and keeping them on side. For a future prime minister in office who finds himself in a corner, dealing the republican card may seem to be a clever way of rallying backbench and commentariat support, just as politicians of old would use a foreign war as a distraction. Fortunately, on all previous indications, the people can be expected to see through this.