Liberal republican MP’s are no doubt embarrassed that on the inauguration of a new group of Labor Liberal and Democrat republican politicians, one of the co-convenors attacked the Prime Minister, John Howard.

Senator Stott Despoja told the ABC, one of the few media outlets to bother to report the event, that “one of the hurdles” to achieving a republic is “the current leader, that is, our Prime Minister”

Among the handful of Liberal politicians present was Malcolm Turnbull, who, when the results of the 1999 referendum were still coming in , said that if John Howard were to be remembered for anything, it would be as the man who “broke the heart of the nation”

Mr Turnbull was not one of the co-convenors, who have apparently been working on the project for months. While he did not think anything could be achieved during the present reign, Mr turnbull had previously wished the group well.

When the ABC’s Alexandra Kirk pointed out that the latest poll put public support for an Australian head of state at below 50 per cent, which raised the issue whether people really cared about a republic, Liberal co-convenor Senator Mitch Fifield said that one of the purposes of the forum is so that “politicians can actually lead the debate." He said politicians are in “the persuasion business.” Asked when action on achieving a republic would occur, Senator Fifield said:

“Well, 10 years, we’re approaching 10 years since the last referendum, ’99, 2009’s not that far away. So I think some point beyond there is likely.”

Senator Stott Despoja is apparently not so patient. She said: “10 years is a long time. I don’t know if I want to wait that long…”

Although the three politicians have been working on the project for months, they have clearly made no headway on two fundamental issues. The first is the form of a republic, and the second is process.

Senator Stott Despoja endorses the ARM policy which is to pretend that the convoluted and expensive process of the cascading series of plebiscites and referenda is not designed to favour the model in which the president is directly elected. But this was openly endorsed by the Labor leaders, Mark Latham and Kim Beazley.

Senator Stott Despoja was willing to talk about process, which is ARM policy. She said that it would be “possible for a plebiscite to be put at the next election.”

While this is the policy of this Democrat-Labor alliance, which seems to get its marching orders from the much diminished and unelected Australian Republican Movement, this is not the policy neither of the Liberals nor of the Nationals. (The Nationals are completely opposed to any republic.)

The outstanding question is whether Senator Fifield, whose views on this were not reported , is now at odds with his party’s leadership on this.

Senator Fifield should tell the voters now whether he endorses the cascading series of plebiscites and referenda, or whether he is accepts government policy, which is that this issue was determined in 1999, and should not now be revisited.

(We wrote about these issues in our letter to The Age, which was included in yesterday’s column)

The three co-convenors did however agree on one matter. They all found a curious solace in the fact that the political class favours a republic.

Senator Stott Despoja reflected this view when she said that surveys of political candidates’ views “say around three quarters of political candidates and politicians support an Australian head of state”

Actually they don’t.

A 2004 study by ANU shows that 73.5% of candidates from all parties described themselves as favouring an Australian republic, which is an entirely different matter. We already have an Australian Head of State, a point conclusively established in the only authoritative work on the subject, Sir David Smith’s book, Head of State, recently launched by the former Governor General and Labor leader, the Hon. Bill Hayden.

Senator Stott Despoja said the views of the political class are “pretty good figures to be working with”

In fact these figures demonstrate just how out- of- touch many candidates for political office are these days. I referred to this phenomenon in my 2005 book, Malice in Media Land, where I concluded that candidates for political office today are “more likely to adopt the views of the elites than their own supporters”

Last year, 2004, a Senate committee spent a vast amount of time and money – not theirs, yours- in producing a report on their inquiry into how to force a republic on to a reluctant electorate. The report was such a travesty it was released at a time when no one would notice.

This was partially because of the irreconcilable differences among the committee, involving the extraordinary spectacle of a Senator, who is also an ARM leader, actually dissenting from the ARM’s policy.

People are entitled to argue for a republic. But can anyone possibly justify one more cent of the taxpayers’ hard earned money being spent on this folly?

Until next time,

David Flint