March 18

Republican commentariat rattled

The republican commentariat is decidedly rattled by Australians love and respect for The Queen, and their almost total  disinterest in fundamental constitutional change. And it shows. Take three examples, Mike Carlton, Mike Steketee, and, in the next column, Mark Baker .

But first, a reader has drawn our attention to Dr Anne Henderson’s disparaging reference in her piece in The Australian on 14 March, 2006 to the “much tinier” crowds that greeted The Queen than those in 1954. Of course that was the first visit of a reigning monarch, and a public holiday had been declared. But the crowds in Sydney in 2006 were certainly substantially larger than those on the last occasion. The amusing point our reader makes is that this criticism comes from one of the organizers of the  national celebrations of the "mate for head of state" campaign, which after considerable media attention, attracted about 50 people in Sydney and 30 in Brisbane.

I suppose Mr. Mike Carlton is not responsible for the offensive  headline in his Sydney Morning Herald column on 18-19 March,2006  While I appreciate his description of me as “egregious”, he is in error to refer to ACM as being a “dwindling band of laughing cavaliers”. There is always a lot of laughing in monarchist circles, but they are certainly not dwindling. In fact, just the opposite.   


In a piece in The Australian  on 16 March, 2006,  entitled “Slow, rosy sunset of the  monarchy” Mike Steketee fears  that the republicans who are laying the groundwork for another referendum may not survive this reign.



He opens with  quotes from this column: "Emotion and excitement” were the feelings of Australians at the Queen’s "homecoming" this week. “So says David Flint, national convener of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, who has taken on the role of filing royal dispatches on the monarchists’ website during the Queen’s visit. "She looked warm, charming and happy to be in Australia again," he reports. "Wherever she went there were welcoming crowds … The homecoming was a triumph." As it surely was. 


He refers to my informing a  BBC British audience that "the reception is joyous".  That was as we left St Andrew’s Cathedral. The bells were ringing and the large crowds were cheering The Queen It was truly joyous.


It is heartening, says Mr Steketee, tongue in cheek, “that monarchists in Australia have “rediscovered their enthusiasm for the Queen. For a while there, she seemed almost unloved. "Don’t mention the Queen" was the strategy the monarchists adopted for the republic referendum campaign in 1999.” 


“They were not so much monarchists, they said, as constitutional monarchists: it was the system that mattered….Monarchists mounted an argument for why it really was the governor-general, not the Queen, who was our head of state; an idea that, despite endless repetition, remains a very long stretch.” 


He writes that the referendum safely out of the way, “the Queen has truly come home, as Flint puts it so quaintly.” He says that I have even emerged from the closet to acknowledge that "the Crown is central to our constitutional system."


That is how it is, Mr Steketee. Far from denying that, we have strongly espoused that. This in no way contradicts the fact that the governor General is the Head of State, which is a diplomatic , not a constitutional term, almost unknown inAustralia until the republicans put all their eggs in that particular basket. ( An excellent case can be made, and has been made by Sir David Smith  for the proposition that the Governor General is the constitutional head of state. No similar study has been made by republicans to demonstrate the The Queen is the constitutional head of state)


Mr Steketee falls into the usual error of believing various self appointed “Royal Watchers” who divine what The Queen actually meant to say, or even breathelessly report private conversations The Queen is alleged to have had . He telling us what we already  know, that the Sovereign will accept any constitutional change-after all we are talking of a constitutional monarchy. Bu then he goes further and claims what he cannot susbstantiate by any evidence, he claims that   “from all accounts they are bemused that it has not happened already.” 


All accounts? We have challenged these assertions for years.

What the editor should do is say to Mr Steketee: when, where , by whom, to whom, and in whose presence? If you can’t answer that, don’t assert it. And, by the way, don’t tell us that Richard Butler told you so, or you read such a claim in a book by a journalist.


To his credit Mr Steketee does admit something which has escaped many republicans-time is against them.” Opposition to a republic is stronger among young people than the middle-aged.” Tell that to Ms Roxon, shadow Attorney in HM Loyal Opposition. In this realistic tone, he points out that support for “a republic” –note , any old republic- has been drifting downwards from a peak of 54 per cent in 1997 to 46 per cent 


And yet, Mr Steketee believes in the impossible-that republicans are uniting. He says ,their first challenge is to survive this reign. As I mentioned in this column on 22 January, 2006, ABC and Fairfax commentator David  Marr described the movement as “near comatose”, which is not a term I used in the interview which preceded his report.


This was my letter to The Australian: 



Mike Steketee (Opinion 16/3) suggests I may have gilded the lily in my enthusiasm for the Queen’s homecoming. That magic of monarchy we saw with Princess Mary and will see with Prince William was in strong evidence in Melbourne last night when eighty thousand people spontaneously joined Dame Kiri  in singing Happy Birthday to The Queen, and then  in standing to sing the few officially sanctioned bars of God Save The Queen.  As one  young person  there said, it was “an amazing and totally spontaneous mark of respect for The Queen from  the people of Melbourne.


Steketee is wrong to suggest some  “mischievous monarchists” had ever suggested that  an Australia republic could not stay in the Commonwealth. All we pointed out in 1999 was that the republicans had not even bothered to find out how to stay in! “ 

The Australian did not publish my final paragraph:


“As with other republicans, Steketee would have preferred that we had not debated the  detail of the changes proposed in 1999. But that is precisely what the Founders intended. As Sir John Quick and Robert Garran wrote, the referendum procedure is there to encourage public discussion of any proposed changes, and to delay these until there is strong evidence that they are “desirable, irresistible and inevitable”.  There was no purpose to be served in 1999 in debating the quality of the service rendered by the reigning Sovereign- it had been impeccable. This was not even in issue. Nor will it be if another referendum on this issue is ever again submitted for determination by the Australian people.”



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