September 18

Robert Manne, relying on a non-existent constitutional rule, slams monarchists as fraudulent liars

Robert Manne, Professor of Politics at Latrobe University, is a noted Australian public intellectual and therefore a republican. Indeed it is fair to say he is one of the nation's leading republican intellectuals.

Appointed to the 2020 Summit governance panel, he was one of the 98: 1 majority which voted to terminate constitutional links with the UK. These were in fact terminated in 1986.

He has just written an essay attacking the national newspaper, The Australian which is part of the Murdoch stable. The essay, "Bad News" has been published in the series Quarterly Essay.

…unburdened by knowledge…

 In response, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Chris Mitchell, has dismissed the essay as “an ad hominem attack by a man so unburdened by knowledge that as a professor of politics he has not even grasped his own federal government's political position.”

In “A critic untroubled by facts who seeks to silence dissent, ( “The Australian 17 September) , Mitchell refers to the “many factual errors that have marred Manne's work over the decades.”

He puts his finger on the problem which he believes is that throughout his political writings, Manne seldom relies  on " primary sources. He writes about morality and feelings as if they were a substitute for intellectual rigour.”

A good example of this failing to rely on facts which research could readily establish, was  in his last significant contribution to the republican debate.

In a discussion with another academic, Dr Mark McKenna, on The Weeekly website in 2008, they accuse monarchists of lying and fraud in their argument that the Governor-General is head of state. The discussion was to promote a book “ Dear Mr. Rudd”.


…no such rule…


To justify their attack on monarchists, Manne and McKenna rely on the "rule" that the Governor-General must "push off", as Manne so elegnatly puts it, when The Queen  is in Australia.

But had they checked Sir David Smith's well known and authoritative book, Head  of State, 2005, they would have found out what  former chief justice Sir Anthony Mason was also embarrassed to find: no such rule exists. And the Palace is unaware of any such rule.

Nor  was this the reason former Governor-General Sir Zelman Cowan became a republican, as Manne suggests.  The incident about Sir Zelman to which  Manne is no doubt referring was in 1980.

This was the opening of the new High Court building by The Queen.  Sir Zelman was removed from the official party, but not because of the application of any such "rule".

It was because the then Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, wanted to take his place on the platform. As Sir David  says, Sir Zelman was very hurt.

Sir David's book was published three years before Manne and McKenna branded monarchists as liars and engaging in a fraudulent argument. This was crucial in 1999; the principal argument by the republicans was that only under their republic could we have an Australian as head of state.

Instead of slamming monarchists as fraudulent liars, Manne and Mackenna could have first undertaken some elementary research.


Quite extraordinarily, Manne has declared: "I don't want to write for The Australian because I don't want to give it legitimacy by writing for it."

In a letter to The Australian (17/9) Dr Hal Colebatch comments: “ Manne seems to have exaggerated ideas of his own importance (I believe there are terms for this).

"Does he believe his opinions matter to anyone but himself? Or that he has the power to confer or deny legitimacy to The Australian or anything else?”


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