The republican movement, damned as “near comatose” by the well known Fairfax and ABC commentator, David Marr, now openly admits that republicans are divided into three warring factions. The Victorian Convener, Mr. Pieter van Vliet, in an angry letter to The Age published on 28 March 2006 under the title, “The way to our glorious republic”, condemned many of his fellow republicans. Why? Just as the old communist party did, the republican movement politburo now hands down a line which contradicts everything they previously stood for, and expects blind obedience to the new line. The difference is that the ARM has no control over other republicans.
And just as the old communist party used scorn to attack any heresy, so Mr Van Vliet describes those who dare not to follow the party line as “grumpy old men.”For this ARM condemnation, we could almost call it a fatwa, he targets two opinion writers in The Age, each of whom represents the views of one republican faction.
They come, he says, from competing sides of the spectrum. How this recalls the Bolsheviks’ strictures against both right and left factions. He accuses each of them of continuing a “spoiling tradition”.
Actually, Mr. Van Vliet is absolutely wrong there. He was not at the Constitutional Convention, but if he cares to read Kerry Jones’ excellent book “The Peoples’ Protest”, he will see that it was the Australian Republican Movement that played the part of the spoiler among the republicans.
Before the Convention, no doubt to maximize their votes, they said their minds were open to direct election. Once the Convention assembled their minds closed so shut they tried to isolate the direct electionists, and treated them so roughly, that a walk-out was only averted through the mediation of Lloyd Waddy.
Mr Van Vliet’s fatwa is directed firstly against Waleed Aly, who franky, appears neither to be grumpy nor old. Mr. Aly was the subject of our column on 22 March 2026 . He argues that a directly elected president would be a “constitutional wrecking ball”.
The other was journalist Ray Cassin , who informed readers of The Age on 27 March 2006 that “Republicans must bow to popular support for an elected head of state. ” Although republican constitutional law experts warn against the Irish model as unworkable in Australia, Mr. Cassin wants such a model. We do not know Mr. Cassin, and while we detect certain grumpiness in his style, we cannot comment on his age.
Mr Van Vliet represents a third republican faction which follows the current republican movement official line. In brief they want a republic, but haven’t the foggiest idea what sort of republic they want.
They actually demand a plebiscite in which they want the people to cast a vote no confidence in our remarkably successful constitutional system, without having any idea what is to replace it . Later, they want the people to choose a model, but with no opportunity at all to cast a vote for the present constitution. Their plan is to lock them into change, any change provided it is republican.
This is to be followed by a referendum, which of course they do not propose now as they know it would be defeated.
Now it is the firm belief of the leading republican and constitutional lawyer, Professor Greg Craven that the second plebiscite is likely to result in a referendum on the direct election model. He was, after much effort, able to persuade Senator Marise Payne on this point. The Senator is prominent in the republican movement, and as a result she dissented in the recent Senate Committee report on how to achieve a republic, yet another monumental waste of the taxpayers’ funds by the republicans. Does the Senator now lead yet another faction, the fourth?
The republicans are even more divided than in 1999, and not only over strategy and tactics, but over the fundamental design of a republic.