As we reported in “Dissent in Republican Ranks” (23/12), the historian and long standing republican, Dr John Hirst, delivered a lecture recently, “Enemies of the Republic”. He warns a (politicians') republic will be even more unpopular in the next reign
Curiously, he does not see us as the enemy; this is for the unfathomable reason that we say we already have an Australian as Head of State. (If our opponents underestimate us – as they did in the nineties – who are we to dissuade them?)
…no silver bullet…
He says the first enemy of “the” republic is the argument that it put off during the present reign.
He agrees with us that this has nothing to do with some new found respect among republicans for The Queen – it’s just that the politicians realise the issue is increasingly unpopular.
Dr Hirst is rare among the republicans to realise that the succession of Prince Charles is no silver bullet. For example, it won’t bring the divided republicans together.
He poses the obvious question: “Will Peter Costello and Professor Greg Craven be prepared to support a directly elected president in order to be rid of King Charles? “
He admits, as few republican leaders do “I do not think so.” Well of course they won't. And most republican politicians are in their camp.
We have long been pointing out that the end of the present reign will not be the silver bullet which the republican movement craves.
Dr. Hirst agrees, saying that if the popularity of Prince William is a problem for republicans now, this will be enhanced by his becoming Prince of Wales and coming closer to the throne.
In other words, Dr. Hirst is saying if you think republicanism is unpopular now it will only be worse after this reign.
…once bitten, twice shy…
Our republican politicians believed the elites in the nineties when they decreed their bandwagon was unstoppable. They are not going to put their necks in the noose again just because of the sweet smiles of a greatly diminished republican movement.
Talk to republican politicians and you will soon realise they know – as we do – that a government which tried to divide the nation on an issue seen as irrelevant and on the nose would be dealt with severely by the Australian people.
Greens leader and Senator Bob Brown also knows this, but has the luxury of never needing to worry as he will not be called on to form a government.
…even Paul Keating wouldn’t…
I doubt that even if Paul Keating were Prime Minister – and you could not get a politician with a more unhealthy obsession about republicanism than Mr. Keating – he would not proceed to do anything concrete on the issue.
Apart from his rigged inquiry – the Republic Advisory Committee – he did not move on a referendum or on his threatened plebiscite.
He once proposed putting the question “Do you want an Australian as Head of State?”
ACM’s then National Convenor Lloyd Waddy said he would advise constitutional monarchists to vote ”Yes” : we already have an Australian Head of State.Mr. Keating did nothing.
….committed republicanism never strong in Australia…
Dr Hirst thinks the argument for putting a referendum off until after this reign is an enemy of “the” republic; the real enemy is that support for “the republic” is weak and crumbling.
As Canadian Robert Finch says :” in Australia the republic has come and gone, in Canada it's never come.”
And remember republicanism was never broadly based, even in the heyday in the 90s. There is not a pool of strongly motivated rank and file republicans. Republicanism as a strong belief is restricted to the elites.Republicans have never been able to do what ACM did- get 20,000 people out to demonstrate and over 55,000 to fight in the referendum.
The manpower for their campaigns – for the convention election and the referendum – was mainly out-sourced to the Labor Party and the ACTU. ACM carefully built our own built our own through a national and divisional structure in each of the states and territories, with a coordinator in every federal electorate. We fought the referendum as you would fight a military campaign.And we remain ready to fight the next – if there is one.