It always helps in life, particularly in matters relating to the future governance of this country, to know what people are actually thinking.
I recently dined in an Indian restaurant in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs. It was an excellent meal, but at the beginning I noticed the waiter circling and smiling. He came over with the owner, a charming lady in a sari.
The following conversation ensued.
Waiter: I know you…I have seen you on TV. You are … you are… let me think …you are…your name is … Malcolm Turnbull, the republican!
Following the roars of laughter from my table, I said:
The other side, actually.
He smiled: Of course you are, you were on the other side -you had a spokeswoman, Kerry, Kerry….. your daughter!
In less than two minutes, I had been Malcolm Turnbull, then Kerry Jones father!
Now according to Michael Gordon writing in The Age on 11 December, 2004, the real Malcolm Turnbull, the member for Wentworth in the House of Representatives, has warned that while he indicated his strong support for a republic in his maiden speech, a future referendum offering a directly elected president would be doomed to fail.
He has backed Treasurer Peter Costello’s view that only a republican model offering minimalist change will ultimately be accepted.
But much of the republican movement now opportunistically backs a populist model, with a president directly elected by voters. In the recent Senate committee report on this question, which was released with the obvious hope that electors would not notice, a Liberal Senator, Marise Payne, closely involved in the Australian Republican Movement, had a most curious change of mind about the convoluted plan to guide Australians into a republic, the cascading series of plebiscites and a referendum.
She now realizes that the plan is designed to result in the referendum that neither Mr. Turnbull nor Mr. Costello want. They don’t want it because if it succeeds, we can say goodbye to stable government in Australia. We do not know why it took Senator Payne so long to realize this. After all, the plan was endorsed by her own ARM in which she plays a leading role. Or did she not understand that the model the plan was designed to favour would be a disaster? Or perhaps she actually believed the ARMs twaddle that their convoluted plan actually left it to the people to say what they wanted.
Of course it is not. It is designed to neutralize the ACM and worse, to get the existing constitution out of the choices. The republicans will say in reply-but you will have five choices to list in order of preference .Yes, five republics, and not the existing system. Three will have a snowflake’s chance in hell of getting up, and one, Malcolms has already been rejected.
The ARM knows that if the existing system were there, it would win. Again. So they and the Senate committee propose a sleight of hand – whisk away the existing constitutional model from the vote.
They expect then that the direct election model will win in the second plebiscite. That is why Senator Payne changed her mind, and now wants one half of the ARM plan.
But Mr. Turnbull says that a referendum on a direct-election model would be, to quote his own words, very easy to beat. This is because once voters appreciated that the president would almost certainly be a political partisan, most would change their minds. This is a view also held by Professor Greg Craven.
These comments point to one fact that has not changed. It never will .
Republicans will never be able to agree. They are divided into two camps. If ever one model is put to the people, a significant number in the rival camp will prefer the existing constitution. As psephologist Malcolm McKerras says, referring to a French mathematician, The Queen will always be the "Condorcet" winner.
That is the existing constitution will be the overwhelming winner because it is the first or second preference of the majority I am not sure that the commentariat has absorbed that fact, because every so often we hear the observation that a republic is inevitable. So was socialism.
Because the republicans fear the people prefer the existing system, and if they flirt with a republican model it is only because nearly 99.9 per cent of the commentariat tell them it is fashionable and inevitable, they are now trying to pull the wool over the peoples’ eyes by eliminating the existing constitution from the preference vote in the second plebiscite they propose to be held before the next referendum on this tired subject.
They won’t succeed. Why? Because there is more common sense out there in the electorates than in all the commentariat and the Senate committee combined