January 25

Sex and the constitution

The BBC phoned me at 945 pm on 21 January, the day Prince William arrived in Sydney. They wanted to do a studio interview that evening on the outlook for a republic in Australia. I suggested the ABC in Harris Street in the Sydney CBD. They were delighted that I was prepared to go there for an interview at about 1100 pm.

They wanted me to appear with a republican. I mentioned some well known names. They were to get back to me in 20 minutes to confirm the availability of a studio, and a republican. They phoned back to  confirm the arrangement  confessed they hadn’t been able to find a republican. 

Were they all in bed with their phones unanswered?  I did wonder whether the nation's republicans were far  too distressed about the reception for Prince William.

In any event I drove into town to the near deserted ABC headquarters. There, the charming Stanley, who normally does this shift, welcomed me and installed me into  a vacant studio.

Soon London came on the line.  It seems that in our vast country they had not been able to find one Australian resident republican who was awake.  But they had found a long term London expatriate.

She was the journalist and author, Kathy Lette.  Wikipedia  says that “despite her stereotyping of English people as condescending and unfriendly, and her perceived dislike of men, (Ms) Lette lives in London and is married to a fellow Australian expatriate, the "silk", television host and author Geoffrey Robertson QC, whom she first met when appearing on his Hypotheticals panel debate show.”

…strange tendency… 

 

 Ms. Lette has a strange tendency to bring sex into every issue, even where it is totally irrelevant.  I had become acquainted with her husband, the expatriate London based Queen's Counsel  Geoffrey Robertson  when I was chairman of the Press Council. We had – and have – a common interest in press freedom issues. 

But  I suspect Ms. Letter  may have influenced him  to adopt her  Freudian approach.

I recall a major function in Sydney for Anglo- Australian lawyers a few years ago. It was to mark the anniversary of  the murder of King Charles I by Oliver Cromwell.  Michael Kirby defended the King and Geoffrey Robertson defended the republicans.  He went into excruciating detail about sexual tortures of females at the time, the relevance of which escaped me and I suspect the large audience of prominent lawyers.

 

…"passionate" republican, of course. Are republicans anything else?…

Both are both “passionate”  republicans. As I informed the BBC later, in Australia, only republicans are deemed "passionate."  There are  no "passionate " monarchists. 

(The Prime Minister Kevin Rudd avoids this description, preferring to style himself a "lifelong" republican. To which Malcolm Turnbull, recently Leader of the Opposition and leader of the ARM during the referendum said, "for a self described "lifelong republican", Kevin Rudd was curiously absent from the barricades in 1999."  Touché.)

In the interview  I argued the constitutional advantages of our system. while Ms. Lette began by referring to the sexual attraction of the Prince, continuing with talk of "budgie smugglers"* and tampons.

I suppose it was better than the nasty and mean-spirited attacks on the Prince by the republican movement.

The republican commentariat  soon realized this was the wrong approach,and would alienate most Australians. So the line of  the hard core republicans became "charming but not relevant to Australia." Some others conceded that a republic was unlikely in the near or medium future. 

The next day a London friend emailed a colleague in Sydney :

"Just heard David on the BBC wireless main news.  The usual polished performance!  Unlike the unneccesarily excitable republican woman.  Well done, David!"

 You can decide. You can hear the debate here.

*["Budgie smugglers" is a slang term  introduced in the last decade to describe men's swimming costumes, such as those long worn by Australia's volunteer lifesavers  and by competition swimmers and divers.  The term is sometimes used perjoratively in the press by those with a political or social agenda. ] 

 


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