May 6

Shock for republicans : electoral expert predicts referendum defeat, monarchy strengthened

 

He was the earliest to predict, with reasonable accuracy, the results of the 2007 Australian election, including that in Bennelong.

Now the nation’s preeminent psephologist, Professor Malcolm Mackerras, confidentially predicts that another republican referendum will be defeated.

This is in a piece “If the monarchy works for us, why bother to change it?” published on 21 April, 2008 in The Canberra Times.

He has no doubt the result will be the same as in 1999.

(Incidentally Professor Greg Craven, the republican constitutional lawyer now Vice Chancellor of ACU, predicts that a referndum about a republic where the president is elected would result in a defeat of monumental proportions, greater than in 1999.)

The republicans know this, even if some of their more uninformed supporters think it will be a pushover.

That is why they propose a confidence trick, a plebiscite written by their spin doctors.

Perhaps that is why they are currently waging a campaign to undermine confidence among constitutional monarchists.

This is line that we no longer defend the monarchy.

In this they are either spectacularly misinformed. Or they are lying.

…why Malcolm Mackerras’ opinion is important… 

First he is, as I said,  Australia's  preeminent psephologist. That does not mean of course that he is always right.

But unlike Nostradamus, his predictions are absolutely clear, and the information on which he bases them is very well researched.

 

Second, he gives reasons which are clear and cogent.

 

Third he is absolutely independent and not beholden to any party.

 

It is fascinating that he actually welcomes another referendum. Now the ACM National Council is not afraid of another referendum.

But we say that  no reason has been advanced for re-opening the issue.

And there is no justification in moving one dollar from the education, hospital, water and other budgets into this folly on which hundreds of millions of the taxpayers’ hard earned money have already been wasted.

Many of the self proclaimed lifelong republicans are millionaires. Let them spend their own money on trying to work out what they want to do.

Why should “ working families” pay for this?


But if another referendum is forced on the taxpayers by the republican elites, Malcolm Mackerras is absolutely right when he points out how this will further damage the republican cause.

 He says another defeat  would give added legitimacy to the current, thoroughly sensible, arrangements for giving Australians their heads of state, both federal and state.

So why is Malcolm Mackerras so confident of victory?

First, there is no case in the whole of Australia's federal referendum history of a proposal rejected the first time being carried the second time.

Second, the republicans suffer from a dilemma. If they present a "minimalist" model (as in 1999) it will go down for the same reasons as applied on that occasion. However, if they go for popular election of the president all the objections to that model will come to the fore.

Third, it is quite clear from referendum history that Australians typically vote no, with the saying "if it ain't broke don't fix it" firmly in mind.  

So not only are republicans staring another defeat in the face. If they persist in another referendum they will only strengthen the present constitutional system.

   Monday, 21 April 2008  
If the monarchy works for us, why bother to change it?
By Malcolm Mackerras

 

Although the debate between John Warhurst and David Barnett ("Are we ready to have our own head of state?", April 17, p19) was interesting, it seemed to me to lack realism.

I begin with the assertion by John Warhurst that Quentin Bryce has not been appointed to the top job. Since the prime minister occupies the top job in Australia, clearly Kevin Rudd occupies that position. However, in constitutional terms Bryce has been appointed to our top job. Look at the constitution. It mentions the governor-general 54 times and the Queen 29 times. The prime minister is nowhere mentioned.

Clearly, therefore, constitutionally speaking the governor-general does hold our top job. At present Quentin Bryce is doing the job of head of state of Queensland. From September she will be doing the job of head of state of the Commonwealth of Australia. Therefore, she should be regarded as being our head of state, even though that term is nowhere officially used to describe either the Queen or the governor-general. The headline to the debate was "Are we ready to have our own head of state?" The answer is we already have our own head of state. The question then is how that head of state be chosen.

Most democracies have a president as head of state who is popularly elected. In most cases if a candidate fails to get an absolute majority of the votes then a second (or run-off) election is needed.

The great virtue of our system is the very feature to which Warhurst objects. Because the appointment is made behind closed doors it is possible to get the services of someone like Quentin Bryce whom most Australians have never heard of. Furthermore, getting rid of duds is easy. We have seen that Peter Hollingworth as Governor-General and Richard Butler as Governor of Tasmania were easily persuaded to resign and quickly followed by much better men. Contrast that with the case of Kurt Waldheim, formerly president of Austria. Getting rid of him was a difficult and costly exercise.

Although, broadly speaking, I agree with the position taken by David Barnett I do wish to quarrel with this assertion he made. "But what is truly unforgivable in setting out to overthrow the 1999 referendum is Rudd's failure to grasp the complexities and risks involved in rejecting the decision of the Australian people."

Barnett's suggestion here is that there is something immoral about putting to the Australian people a proposal previously rejected. Yet we know that this has happened several times before. Take the question of so-called simultaneous elections for half Senate and House of Representatives elections. That proposal was presented by the Whitlam Government in May 1974 and rejected by the Australian people. Only New South Wales voted in its favour.

The next conservative government (including both Malcolm Fraser and John Howard) placed an identical proposal before the Australian people in May 1974. We saw a substantial rise in the yes vote and this time Victoria and South Australia joined New South Wales in voting yes. Encouraged by the increased yes vote, exactly the same proposal was put in December 1984 by the Hawke government.

The yes vote dropped and this time South Australia voted no. So the reformers gave up on this thrice-rejected bad proposal. Personally I am very pleased that the republican debate has re-emerged. It means the Australian people are very likely to be given another say. I have no doubt the result will be the same as in 1999.

The effect of that will be to give added legitimacy to the current, thoroughly sensible, arrangements for giving Australians their heads of state, both federal and state.

Why am I so confident?

First, there is no case in the whole of Australia's federal referendum history of a proposal rejected the first time being carried the second time.

Second, the republicans suffer from a dilemma. If they present a "minimalist" model (as in 1999) it will go down for the same reasons as applied on that occasion. However, if they go for popular election of the president all the objections to that model will come to the fore.

Third, it is quite clear from referendum history that Australians typically vote no, with the saying "if it ain't broke don't fix it" firmly in mind. There is nothing immoral about raising the issue again.

However, when it goes down for the second time the republicans should (and, I am confident, will) get the message to stop wasting the time and money of the Australian people on subjects which have been settled. Personally, what do I think about the republic?

That I am one of the patrons of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy gives one clue but I can sum it up more easily than that.

I am not asking those countries now republics to revert to monarchy. The proposed Australian republic is the latest fad of the change for change's sake brigade. It is totally and hopelessly unnecessary to change constitutional arrangements which, in practice, we all know work very well indeed.

Malcolm Mackerras is a visiting fellow at the University of NSW's School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

 


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