The republican movement, which the Fairfax and ABC commentator David Marr describes as “near comatose”, is moving its official national office from Sydney to Canberra, according to a report by Kerri-Anne Walsh in the Sun Herald of 4 June 2006. This will allow them to indulge in their love for stunts. It will be opened on the Queen’s Birthday. But it won’t be their first Canberra office. We are told that for some years, the movement had a clandestine office at the taxpayer funded Australian National University, run without the approval or knowledge of the University. When the University became aware of this, it had to close.
In the meantime, the movement’s national director is leaving, which must be disturbing in an organisation which has seen frequent changes in its personnel since its inception.The movement says the reason for the move is to lobby politicians. This is curious. Few politicians were willing to come out against the referendum in 1999. Many if not most jumped on the republican bandwagon thinking they were on a winner, and that this was what the public wanted. They swallowed the agenda of the out- of- touch commentariat. It is not the politicians they have to convince, it’s the people. They remain totally uninterested in republican stunts-remember the "mate for head of state" fiasco.Nor are the people impressed by republican arguments. The movement has in fact abandoned all argument, and put all its eggs into process.
So how will their lobbying go? Presumably the republican lobbyists, if they get into a politician’s office, or more likely that of an advisor, will be putting the bizarre message that they now want a republic, but haven’t the foggiest idea what sort of republic they want. If the interview isn’t then terminated (“We’ll call you, don’t call us”), they will argue for the adoption of their convoluted and very expensive process of a cascading series of plebiscites and a federal referendum.
The astute advisor to our politician will then point out that the leading experts among the republicans, such as Professor Craven and Mr. Turnbull, believe that this process will ensure that any referendum will be about a republican model where the president is elected. In fact most of the republican leadership know this, but only Senator Payne has admitted it publicly.
As for most republican politicians, this model is poison. They would prefer the existing constitution. The lobbying will not get far. So will they go back to that embarrassing failure, “the head of state campaign’? Far more likely will be some other desperate stunt which will fail to ignite any interest outside of the commentariat.
In the meantime, the crisis in East Timor where the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister are in open and unresolved conflict is typical of the problems of former colonies who have not inherited sound institutions from their colonial masters.
The British were not perfect, but they were by far the best colonisers. They brought the rule of law to Australia, even as a penal colony. The common law which we have inherited and Australianised has allowed the greatest freedom for the people and a limited role for government in their lives – although this has increased in recent decades.
In a remarkably short period of time the British gave us self government under the Westminster system. No other colonial power did this – most did not have this at home. And notwithstanding the recent attempts to rewrite history, the process of granting us responsible government was in train before and was not the result of the Eureka Stockade.
Years ago I saw a letter in the Courier Mail saying the British opposed Federation because they did not want a strong Australia. The British actually proposed it in the middle of the nineteenth century, and we rejected it. I recall a visiting French law professor in one of our law schools telling me of his amazement that in 1900 the British not only allowed their colonies to federate, and to have their own government, but that we were actually given the power to change our Constitution.
When Timor became free -mainly with Australian assistance – the Timorese politicians ignored Australian advice and, although spoken only by small elite, adopted Portuguese as the national language. Against our advice they modelled their constitution on that of Portugal, hardly a model for constitutional stability and democracy.
And this is the sort of constitution which the republican movement secretly plans to foist on Australian nation.