July 1

Republicanism across the Tasman


I have not long returned from New Zealand, where I spoke on republicanism in Australia at the University of Canterbury Law School in that most Anglican of cities, Christchurch, on constitutional change in Australia and New Zealand at  the Summer Sounds Symposium at Blenheim, and on media regulation  to the Foreign Correspondents Association in Auckland, where I was also asked one question about an Australian republic.


I remain of the view that the citizens of one of what must be one of the most hospitable and the most  beautiful countries in the world, New Zealand, are even less interested in republicanism than the shrinking minority of Australians are.

In addition, there  is one factor affecting the Crown in New Zealand which is absent in Australia. On several occasions it was put to me that the Maori people recall constantly that the Treaty  of Waitangi was made with the Crown.

Notwithstanding this, a passionate argument was made by one New Zealander at the Symposium that his compatriots will ensure republicanism triumphs there before it does in Australia.


In any event, my theme was that an Australian republic is not inevitable. Moreover it is not even likely during this reign, the next reign or the one after that.


The Symposium was the subject of a reflective piece in the New Zealand Herald of 28 June by John Roughan.


…"Tribes and the tolerant state," by John Roughan: New Zealand Herald…


The full piece is on the Herald’s website. An extract, with some comments, follows:

“Last weekend I was among fellow chatterers at a Marlborough vineyard for an annual symposium organised by Amy Brooke, an author and blogger of fiercely traditional principles.  

“The first evening featured a discussion of republicanism led by the national convenor of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, David Flint, previously chairman of Australia's Broadcasting Authority and Press Council and still president of the English Speaking Union there.


“He cut a fine figure of rational tolerance. Containing a certain triumphal glee, he gave a fair explanation of the viewpoints of Australia's two strains of republicanism, the parliamentary and electoral, and explained how they lost the 1999 referendum.


“Briefly, the referendum offered a republic with a head of state appointed by Parliament. It was voted down by an unholy alliance of royalist sentiment and popular distrust of politicians. A directly elected presidency might have done better.


“Cunningly, the Rudd Government now proposes two referendums, [ actually plebiscites – the term “referendum” has a precise meaning under the Australian constitution: DF] the first to pit the status quo against unspecified change, then, if a majority votes for change, parliamentarians will worry about convincing voters at a subsequent referendum that an independently elected head of state is really not a good idea.


“Listening to Flint, I pondered why monarchists do not support the parliamentary republicans. Constitutionally very little would change, he said. [ Mr. Rougham may have misunderstood my stating that the republicans say that the 1999 model would change little. This is certainly not and never has been my view: DF]

“Governors-General are chosen by the parliamentary majority [ in practice the recommendation comes from the Prime Minister: DF] and exercise all the formal powers of the Queen.


“In fact a resident in touch with the public mood is a more effective head of state; it is hard to imagine the Queen forcing a government from office as Sir John Kerr did to the Whitlam Government in Australia.


“Why, therefore, persist with the notional authority of a woman on the other side of the world? Someone said the question was emotional.


“A couple of other contributions from the floor found it odd that New Zealand, if not Australia, still paid obeisance to a position of hereditary privilege. They were said to be emotional too.


“All three of us, it struck me, had Irish surnames. Tribalism is emotional, not rational.


“There is no reason to change a constitutional monarchy that works. I simply dislike its stiff Germanic character – it doesn't represent me, or at least not most of me.


“The Queen is too English, too wordless and emotionless, especially on occasions that call for something splendid to be said. I was appalled at her effort for the opening of the Auckland Commonwealth Games.


“The failure to send even one member of the family to Hillary's funeral, and our indifference to the slight, confirmed for me the death of any intimacy this institution has had with our national life.


“It survives in the hearts of people like David Flint, I suspect, for reasons that are every bit as emotional as mine. The president of the English Speaking Union feels the force of heritage, I would guess, more strongly than I do.


“He wouldn't call it tribal but it is.”

[In my view, being Australian is neither racial, nor religious nor tribal but lies in loyalty to and in sharing the common values of our nation. And the commonality of the English speaking countries relates more to language and political culture, rather than these factors: DF]



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