August 14

Republicans off to Canberra

Parliament House  We reported in this column on 4 June 2006 that the republican movement was moving its official national office from Sydney to Canberra. Apparently, this was not their first Canberra office-we’re told they had a clandestine office at the taxpayer funded Australian National University –until the University became aware of this. 


The new office is needed, the republican movement says, to lobby politicians.  Why would they bother?  Most politicians jumped on the republican bandwagon prior to the referendum. You see, politicians are among the small minority of Australians who take any notice of what the out- of- touch commentariat says about anything. The politicians actually thought they were on a winner, and that this was what the public wanted. In any sense they will be more wary next time.  Experience indicates that as a result of some factional deal, we may see some commitment by Mr. Beasley to raise the issue if he were to win the next election. Mr. Beasley will of course know that this will be a waste of time and money if he does go ahead with it. But a statement may be necessary to get support on something else. If one is made, the precedent from past elections suggests this will be done prior to, but not during the policy speech. Now that we know Mr. Howard intends to lead the Coalition, all the lobbying in the world will not put a republic on their agenda.


 It is not the politicians the ARM has to convince. It’s the public, who remain totally uninterested in republican stunts, such as this year’s "mate for head of state" fiasco. In the same column, we also reported that the movement’s national director, Alison Henry, was leaving. This would have to be disturbing in an organisation which has such a regular turnover in its leadership.


So we were interested then to read this report in a column by Frank Walker and Matthew Benns in  The Sun- Herald on 6 August, 2006, under a headline which recalls the Gunpowder Plot to blow up Parliament, “Remember, remember…” This began:


“Australian Republican Movement director Allison Henry has quit her post to take up a key job in Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. She is now chief of staff to Labor’s shadow attorney-general and rabid republican Nicola Roxon, who wants the Queen’s birthday holiday dropped . “ 


As we reported in this column on 9 June, 2006 Ms. Roxon has already expressed in a speech on 3 June, 2006 a strange preference for even the disastrous Timorese republican model over the Australian Constitution. “East Timor,” she said “ is better served by being a republic.” She described the riots, the destruction, the violence, the population displacements and the murders in East Timor as a mere “ power struggle. ” 


She confidently predicted this “ power struggle” could be resolved under the provisions of the East Timorese constitution, which Australia, incidentally, warned East Timor not to adopt. Ms. Roxon obviously has not time for the reserve powers of the Crown, and its unwritten conventions, which in 1975 were used to refer a serious stalemate between two obstinate politicians, who were quite  prepared to run the country into financial disaster unless they got their way, for a speedy and peaceful resolution by the people. 


Rather than the Australian Crown, Ms. Roxon, herself a politician, prefers an elected politician. Why?  Because the politician as Head of State will “command genuine respect, affection and legitimacy and is therefore a person best placed to calm the situation”.


She said, as Timor was aflame, and blood ran in the streets: “Imagine if instead of Xanana Gusmao the East Timorese had to rely on Sir John Kerr, as the representative of a distant foreign monarch, to restore order. One shudders at the thought.”


Ms Roxon may well shudder at the thought of a peaceful settlement of a dispute between two politicians but most Australians (and I suspect most Timorese) would prefer that than the unmitigated disaster that befell the East Timorese republic.


And by the way, Ms. Roxon, in case you didn’t notice, it wasn’t the President who stopped the bloodletting. It was the Australian Army, who owe their allegiance not to a politician, but to an institution above politics –the Australian Crown.


From her extraordinary preference for the East Timorese model, readers should not be concerned as to the effect of Ms Henry’s appointment. She is unlikely to  make Ms Roxon more  “passionate” in her republicanism, as the republicans ususally put it, or  to use  Messrs Walker and Benns’ term ,  more “rabid.”  (Note that that is their terminology, not ACM’s.)


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