A few weeks before the federal election on 15th July 2010, Julia Gillard addressed the National Press Club in Canberra. In response to a question about republicanism she said (amongst other things) that the lack of enthusiasm for a republic in 1999 was due to the fact that the issue was being pushed by people like her. Australians, she said, responded badly to this elite push.
The Prime Minister pointed out that her own seat of Lalor voted No. "So we would need to see that community activism come forward in order to create the kind of environment where a republic referendum would be able to be successfully concluded."
(more after the break)
Only a week out from the election, on 15th August, the Prime Minister was interviewed by senior journalists at The Age. This video was also posted online . She was asked about republicanism.
JULIA GILLARD: I would be happy as Prime Minister to be there as a participant in that debate, but I actually think that the history of the last referendum and why it was lost tell us that people don’t want politicians coming along and imposing models on them. They want to feel an organic sense of connection to this debate and so we would need to step up in community advocacy and community activities.
SHAUN CARNEY: So you wouldn’t be looking to drive it?
JULIA GILLARD: Look, I would be looking to be a participant in it but I think once you said one political figure, the Prime Minister was going to drive it then you are almost immediately starting out on a cause that’s got failure written all over it because it will become a partisan question. I think we need the movement for it to be deeper than politicians talking about it. We need community members engaged.
Greg Barns responded furiously in The Sydney Morning Herald on July 28th 2010, (Barns, "Do we really want Charles as king?", SMH, 28 Jul 2010), insisting that it was the government’s job to promote republicanism. Or to put it another way, it is the government’s job to trash an extraordinarily successful constitution in order to replace it with who knows what.
In fact the media in general failed to grasp what the PM was saying. This became clear following the reports on her remarks in Townsville . On August 17th headlines appeared in the media like this from the ABC Queen's death right time for republic move: Gillard, or this from The Daily Telegraph PM says Australia will become a republic when reign of Queen Elizabeth II comes to an end, or this from The Age Once Queen goes, let's have a republic: Gillard.
…republican media over eager (not for the first time)…
At the time I thought this was a change of direction and published an article to this effect on the ACM site. However looking more closely at what she said – as opposed to the headlines – it is clear that she is sticking to the “grassroots strategy” she proposed to the Press Club, and in the interview with The Age: “What I would like to see as prime minister is that we can work our way through to an agreement for the model of a republic”. It sounds like a commitment to action in government (“as prime minister”) – and that I suppose is what the media leapt on – but really she is kicking it back to the republicans.
“As prime minister” means simply “while Prime Minister” but it is meant to suggest a commitment to action in government without actually promising anything. While Prime Minister she could see the Western Bulldogs win the championship. It doesn’t mean she needs to do anything about it.
And then there is the tasteless insistence that Australia could abolish the crown on the death of the Queen. Even that is undercut by a reference to the Queen Mother’s longevity. “Obviously I'm hoping for Queen Elizabeth that she lives a long and happy life, and having watched her mother I think there's every chance that she will [sic] a long and happy life.”
Julia Gillard subscribes to the view that it is up to republicans to promote republicanism. Oddly enough republicans don’t agree.
…The Queen Coming to Australia…
The announcement that Her Majesty will be attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth met with another absurd statement in this line from the leader of the Australian Republican Movement.
ARM chairman Michael Keating said it was time the government sponsored a robust debate on the future of Australia's sovereignty.
No Mr Keating, that is your job.
…poor baby republicans…
There is something contemptible about these republicans insisting that all the hard work has to be done and paid for by someone else, preferably the tax payer. Australians for Constitutional Monarchy was founded under the Keating government but we thrived. We continued to thrive after Kevin Rudd became Prime Minister and we continue to thrive now that Julia Gillard is Prime Minister.