According to press reports, the Australian Republican Movement will use next years Commonwealth Games to dispel fears the nation would be kicked out of the Commonwealth if it becomes a republic.
Australian Republic Movement national director Allison Henry says the Games provide a major opportunity for them to advance the republic debate. We first saw a report of this by Peter Ker in The Age, on 30 May, 2005, STRONG ARM TACTICS.
Having unsuccessfully tried to turn the Royal Wedding into a movement for Constitutional change, the ARM was now calling on Australians to reflect on what they denigrate as our "OUTDATED CONSTITUTION" during the Commonwealth Games.
We should be wary. When the republicans call on us to reflect on our Constitution, they mean, of course, that we should throw it out!
In response to this report, I sent this letter to The Age: 3o May, 2005:
Do the republicans never learn?
In 1999, they insisted we had to change our constitution and our flag for the Olympic Games! Now they are at it again.
Australians are well aware that our constitution is not "outdated"-it’s only half the age of the American! After spending millions on their folly, we decided this question-by a landslide- in 1999. There is no reason to revisit this question, and certainly not for a sporting contest. Yours etc,"
We now know that the ARM did more than announce their misguided plan to politicize the Games.
There was worse.
Ms Henry told AAP that in 1999 the monarchists pushed an effective "scare campaign" the nation would be thrown out of the Commonwealth Games if it had an Australian head of state.
This is completely untrue.
ACM never claimed that if Australia became a republic we would be thrown out of the Commonwealth.
When Daryl Williams, the Federal Attorney General, claimed in 1999 that in the event that we became a republic, we would continue in the Commonwealth without the need to reapply for membership, he demonstrated that the republicans were extraordinarily unaware of the history and practice of the Commonwealth.
ACM pointed out that Commonwealth practice required that the Australian government notify the Secretary General of any such change. He would then contact all the other 52 members of the Commonwealth seeking their concurrence for the change. If any one objected, or declined concurrence, the application would fail.
When it became apparent that their application would fail in 1960, South Africa withdrew its application. The South African republicans had assured the electors, especially the English- speaking whites, that a South African republic could stay in the Commonwealth.
They forgot or ignored the practice established when India became a republic.
And in 1987, Fiji did not proceed with its application to stay in the Commonwealth when it became obvious that some members would exercise their veto.
Instead of accepting the position, the ARM, in a series of press releases, launched a torrent of abuse. They said we were silly, that our argument was an insult to the intelligence of Australians, our behavior was shameful.
Bob Hawke, on the John Laws programme, went so far as to accuse me of being a liar.
So I wrote to the Commonwealth Secretary General, Chief Anyaoku, who confirmed that ACM was correct.
His letter is reproduced in The Cane Toad Republic, 1999, chapter 13, where you can read the full story.
The point was the republicans had not done their homework. And this was a time when Dr Mahatir had blocked our membership of another international forum.
If the republicans could not be bothered to find out what actually happened in the Commonwealth, of what value were all their other assurances concerning what their supporters in the legal profession claimed was a safe model?
The ARM is entitled to argue for constitutional change- provided no taxpayer funds are involved. They are not entitled to rewrite history.