Since the referendum, one of the pre-occupations of the republican movement has been to ensure media attention, so that a mainly disinterested public would be reminded of an issue they are not at all interested in. This has not been difficult, given that the mainstream media is one of the two strongholds of republicanism. (The other is among the politicians)
These republican stunts are usually mounted around Australia Day or the Queen’s birthday, and are too often monumentally foolish. One of their silliest was the demand that The Queen give back Tom Robert’s wonderful painting of the State Opening of the first Federal Parliament in 1901 by our future King. That painting hangs on permanent loan in the Parliament in Canberra. It is hardly the personal property of The Queen! But even one state premier joined in this ridiculous and frankly embarrassing demand. Do the republicans seriously argue that if Australia were to become a republic, The Queen would take it back to London in a huff? More importantly for their cause, do they really think Australians would believe such rubbish?
There is no doubt, even in republican circles-that this year’s ill-conceived “mate for head of state “ campaign, timed to precede Australia Day, was an embarrassment even in republican circles and, in terms of making Australians want a republic, a public relations disaster. ACM was able to inform supporters about the campaign through our website. We also expect to be able to keep you informed on future developments through our journal, The Defender.
The first of our reports went out on 18 December 2005 under the headline “Tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree.” This was about Fairfax journalist, Peter FitzSimons’ rather heavy hints for some time in his column in the Sun Herald, the Fitz Files, about a republican stunt timed for Australia Day, 2006. He wrote that a band of republicans have been furiously working on this for months at a secret location in Sydney's legal precinct, Phillip Street.
ACM was able to reveal in advance that the campaign that Mr. FitzSimons and the republican lawyers have been beavering away on, was to declare the Sunday before Australia Day, Sunday 22 January 2006, is to be….. “A Mate for Head of State Day!” They would wear yellow ribbons, which seemed a strange choice. It recalled the old song, “Tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree.”
The overwhelming reaction, even among republicans, was: “They are not serious, are they?” We suggested, tongue in cheek, that this would indeed be a winner: “This will persuade vast numbers of Australians to throw out their Constitution and to change the Australian flag.”
The campign turned out to be an embarassing failure for the republican movement. The proof is in the veil of silence which has descended over the campaign. Those who promoted it so vigorously would no doubt prefer it be forgotten.
The media campaign
The launch of the Mate for Head of State campaign launch was announced on the ABC’s Radio National at about 7.45AM on Wednesday, 11 January, 2005. Two people were interviewed.
The first was Ann Henderson, whose Sydney Institute would host the launch. (She also just happens to be the deputy chairman of the republican movement.) Her husband, Herald columnist Gerard Henderson, was to be one of the speakers at the launch.
The first was Ann Henderson, whose Sydney Institute would host the launch. (She also just happens to be the deputy chairman of the republican movement.) Her husband, Herald columnist Gerard Henderson, was to be one of the speakers at the launch.
The other person interviewed was the former chairman of the republican movement, and its campaign director for the failed 1999 referendum, Mr.Greg Barns. Mr Barns is implacably opposed to constitutional monarchy here, anywhere and everywhere, including Denmark. He cannot understand why, and is outraged that Australians are at all interested in Princess Mary. Mr Barns was a strange choice to announce the launch. Not long befoe we reported Mr Barns assessment of our nation. He had declared that Australia is “a pigsty.. … “… a backwater, a racist and inward-looking country.” You have you to wonder what sort of a mate for a head of state Mr Barns expects to find in the pigsty he says Australia is!
Republicans want to change the Flag, too
The launch was to be at The Museum of Sydney. This is on the very foundations of Governor Phillip's 1788 Government House, the site of Australia's first administrative, legal, political and social centre. It is the place is where the authority of Australia’s oldest and most enduring institution, the Crown was based. It is, in anyone's terms, the oldest and probably the most important heritage site in the nation. The museum is administered by the Historic Houses Trust of NSW, an instrumentality of the NSW government, who have steadfastly refused to allow the Australian Flag to fly over the building, even on Australia Day.
This was not out of any excessive reverence for the site – it has been used for a rock concert and a book sale.
And don’t think for one moment that other flags haven't been seen there. While the Trust would not allow our Flag to fly there, the museum, in partnership with Ausflag, actually launched in 1998 an exhibition there on the site of the First Government House, for… a new flag!
In collusion with this outrage, the whole front page of the Sydney Morning Herald (or should it be the Sydney Republican Herald?) was brimming with a set of the mainly ghastly offerings for a new flag. Fortunately, at least on the Herald, the most appalling flag included in that other republican movement supported exhibition was not there. (This was of course the one which had those words emblazoned on it” F*** OFF BACK TO FAGLAND”)
And by the way, you may be interested to know when the Historic Houses Trust thought it would be appropriate to have this exhibition.
When do you think? What would be the most inappropriate time of the year? What would be the greatest provocation to rank and file Australians? Knowing what the elites are trying to do to our country, and their arrogance and disregard for the opinions of the rank and file Australian, it probably won’t surprise you to know it was on…… yes, the Australia Day weekend!
Now the Friends of the First Government House Site, who are not mentioned on the Museum's website, have long campaigned to have the Museum fly the flag on Australia Day. Since the Premier of NSW, Mr. Iemma had told Waverley Council to fly the Australian Flag over the Bondi Beach Pavilion, we suggested to him he might tell the historic houses Trust to do the same thing. Not so long ago the Trust changed their policy-the Australian Flag will fly at the site. Congratulations to the friends for their perseverance.
More media promotion
In the meantime the republicans hit the media in their attempts to promote the campaign. On 12 January, 2006, Ann Henderson, was on 2GB on the Jim Ball afternoon programme.
It is important to recall that the current republican strategy is to have Parliament compel Australians to keep on voting on a republic until they get it right – “republicanism by exhaustion”. So the mate for a Head of State campaign was just another stunt to keep the issue alive. But Dr. Henderson did not explain this. She did not say that her movement wants the government to diver millions more from schools and hospitals, to force Australian to vote at least three-yes, three- more times on republicanism issues (And that’s not counting the votes in the states and about changing the flag.)
The first will be designed to get a vote of no confidence in the existing constitution- one of the world's most successful. The republicans say they haven't the foggiest idea what to put in its place, except to say they will have an Australian Head of State! Unlike the Pope, the UN and every foreign government which has received him, Ann Henderson said she doesn’t believe the Governor-General is the Head of State, a diplomatic term not used in the Constitution.
But if the republicans are talking about the constitutional head of state, it should be noted that no republican has yet properly answered the detailed case about this which is in Sir David Smith's submission to that recent further waste of taxpayers' funds, the Senate Inquiry, and in his recent book. She also made the mistake on 2GB of repeating former chief justice Sir Anthony Mason’s embarrassing gaffe in claiming a “robust convention” that the Governor-General hands over power and disappears the moment The Queen lands in Australia.
Sorry Dr. Henderson. No such convention exists.
Sir David Smith exposed this "convention" by producing a photo of The Queen and the Governor General together at the opening of the High Court. And guess who was sitting in the front row? Yes, Sir Anthony Mason. Some robust convention!
(So that she can be better informed on this issue, we can give Dr Henderson the references if she wishes.)
The donkey vote
I called in to 2GB, and they allowed me to make some points. Then Jim Ball threw the talkback lines open. Of the many calls, only one supported Dr Henderson's call to revive the republican agenda. You may find this difficult to believe.
This particular caller said that while hitch- hiking in Europe, he was often asked where he came from. Apparently his questioners invariably thought he was referring to Austria. So he became a republican, the logic of which is somewhat difficult to follow. Perhaps the problem was his enunciation of the word Australia.
Anyway, one thing is clear. The republicans have the donkey vote.
Who is to blame?
Although the campaign was very well publicized in the media, it was clear the effect was counter productive, even among republicans. So on Sunday, 15 January 2006 I suggested in my online column that republicans would soon be asking who was to blame for getting them into something so silly. Ann Henderson admitted to crikey.com.au on 12 January, 2005 that Peter FitzSimons had "thought it up", something we had worked out earlier. Mr. FitzSimons had been too eager in trying to tantalise his readers with stories of secret meetings of republicans inPhilip Street
, and about some bombshell they would soon announce. Apparently the campaign was approved at a meeting-actually a lunch- with Roger Allen, John Bell, Peter FitzSimons, Peter Gray SC, Anne Henderson, Allison Henry, Beth Jackson & Kylie McNamara.
This reminded me of the celebrated lunch at Neville Wran's, when the chardonnay flowed and the ARM was born, with Mr Wran leaning across the table saying “The last thing I bloody well want to see is an Australian republic!”
According to Mr FitzSimons, there was not one but several lunches – , or should that be meetings? All to come up with this bombshell- a mate for a head of state day, when republicans will wear yellow ribbons! Dr Henderson, who is also the Deputy Chairman of the republican movement says this has nothing to do with the republican movement, although it was all over their site. Nor is it about constitutional change, she claimed! Presumably they are to wear yellow ribbons for the fun of it.
And it won't disappear like those other secret weapons of the republican movement – remember Blinky Bill, the gaggle of celebrities, candlelit dinners in five star hotels, ambassadors for the republic, wheeling out Gough and Malcolm to say "Its Time" etc, etc. No, Dr Henderson threatens that this will be repeated every year, just before Australia Day, until Australians get it right.
There is one small mercy in this. At least we'll know now what each year's republican stunt will be.
Peter FizSimons writes to me
Peter FitzSimons curiously never acknowledged the fact ACM had worked out what he was up to, and published this back in December 2005. Instead he tried amusement to hide his obvious embarrassment In his Sun Herald column, FitzFiles, on15 January, 2006, the following letter was published under the heading, “Monarchy faces a grilling”:
“Attention Professor David Flint.
From: Your secret operative.
OK, it’s all set. Having infiltrated the republican movement, I have promised to keep you updated on what those chardonnay-sucking .café latte-dribbling elitists are up to next-and I really do have news.
Next Wednesday is at a function at the Sydney Institute, those republican mongrels are going to launch their new slogan-‘A mate for Head of State”-and a proposal that every Sunday before Australia Day those who believe in the idea of Australia being a republic hold barbecues for friends and spread the republican word from there.
Stand by for further details.
Anyhoo, Flinto, hooroo,tootle-oo, and be sure to throw another prawn on barbie for moi.
Then on Wednesday, 18 January 2006, ACM decided it was time to issue the following Press Release, entitled “One of their Mates for Head of State’:
“Republicans are to re-launch their campaign for a republic with the slogan: “A Mate for a Head of State Day” today. Australia is a free country, and the republicans are of course entitled to have any campaign they want. What they are not entitled to is one more cent of the taxpayers’ hard earned money,” said ACM National Convenor David Flint.
“They’ve had four goes at the public purse, successfully diverting millions and millions from schools and hospitals into this.”
"In 1999, they were allowed to write their own republican model which was put to the people. It was rejected in every state and 72% of electorates.”
“In 2004, wasteful and stacked senate committee adopted their plan to compel Australians to keep on voting “until they get it right”. They are calling for two very expensive plebiscites before we get to a federal referendum. That’s before we get to the states and the flag”
“The republicans say they want a republic, but then say they haven’t the foggiest idea what sort of republic. They openly disagree among themselves about the process, Liberal Senator Marise Payne having publicly broken ranks about this”
“ Is it coincidental they are holding the launch in one of the few public buildings in Australia , where like the Bondi Pavilion the state government appointed trustees won’t allow the Australian Flag to be flown, even on Australia Day?” asked Professor Flint.
The mate for head of state launch
A very interesting document came into the ACM National Office Thursday, the morning of 19 January 2006. It was a report, hot off the press, about the previous evening’s Sydney Institute launch of the mate for Head of State campaign. In releasing the report we pointed out the purpose of the campaign was to make one of their mates our head of state by throwing out the present constitution which ensures national leadership beyond politics. As David Koch, the presenter of the channel 7 ‘Sunrise’ programme had pointed out that very morning to the national director of the republican movement, how could the republican movement expect Australians to show any interest unless they tell Australians what they want to put in the place of the present system. As one of our supporters puts it, the republican movement now consists of RWM’s. That is, Republicans Without a Model.
Our correspondent actually left the launch feeling rather sorry for those taking it all so seriously.
The report continues:
“The speeches were nothing but the tired, old statements of the bleeding obvious.
“For example: Australia is a well governed country [yes indeed]; Australian multiculturalism is a success and source of pride; continued non-commitment on a particular model worthy of support; mindless appeals to crude nationalism and other miscellaneous, emotional appeals with no thinking behind them at all, such as the idea that people will get on board if they are convinced that any old Australian could be head of state [without any need for a public profile across the country or the requisite financial resources if there were to be an election].
“One audience member asked about the benefits of becoming a Republic. All three panelists had nothing to respond with. Surely when they were brainstorming over their lattes, it crossed at least one mind that a concise list of agreed benefits of change might be a good starting point, but alas, it was onto work on the catchy slogan -and a list of suppliers of yellow ribbon!
“Form over substance yet again!
“Gerard Henderson made the comment that he had found it difficult to explain the Australian system of government to a "very, very prominent few months ago". The thought that immediately crossed my mind was to yell out "has he/she heard of a place called C-A-N-A-D-A, quite near actually", but thought I might be charged and offered as a sacrifice by the worked- up members of the audience.
“Then again, maybe Senator Natasha Stott Despoja has again declared Canada a Republic!
“To a question on the cost of change, all that was meekly offered was a suggestion that if you didn't like elections, then you could ban them all. It was not a proper answer to a seriously-put question. The answer reveals to me that republicans have learnt nothing from their 1999 loss and still treat non-believers with the utmost contempt and ridicule. While ever it is thus, they will continue to form a very small club of the like-minded, with any hope of spreading the message more widely completely doomed. I guess that's my reason for the feeling of pity.”
The report contained some succinct advice to ACM: “Nothing to fear from this non-event”
Notwithstanding the feverish efforts of the republican movement, who have been badgering editors and programme directors across the country, apart from the Channel 7 programme, there was barely a mention of the launch in the media. Brett Hogan summed it up on the Channel 7 programme when he said: “There is one side in this debate which is stuck in the past, and its not Australians for Constitutional Monarchy.”
As we said in one of our columns, the republicans would soon be asking whom they can blame for this fiasco. It was sure to go the way of the ‘secret weapon’, Tom Kenneally threatened a surprised nation years ago. When he revealed his secret weapon, it turned out to be the earth shattering news that the republicans had conscripted that Australian icon, the cartoon character Blink Bill, to their cause. But Blinky Bill, who at heart is a dinky-di Australian, proved a most unwilling conscript. He was soon AWOL, and has not been seen since.
Mr. Iemma regrets
In our column on Sunday, 22 January 2006, we recalled that we had asked why the New South Wales Premier did not order that the Australian flag fly over the site of the first Government House, now the Museum of Sydney. We wondered whether we should have asked.
After his great successes in transport, law and order, education and the hospitals, Mr Iemma had just spoken about that topic which politicians in big trouble latch onto…yes, the republic. Just as 88.8% of a larger than usual Daily Telegraph poll said Mr Iemma does not deserve re-election, Tony Stephens reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, of 21-22 January, 2006 that Mr Iemma wanted to put the republic back on the national agenda.
He said he regretted Australia had entered the twenty first century without becoming a republic. ‘The idea of a republic is not dead. But his time let’s grow with it, take the people along with us and accept it with good grace when the moment comes,” he said.
If Premier Iemma thinks the republic is not dead, columnist David Marr wrote in the Herald on the same day (“A whiff of snags and a republic”) that the republican movement was “near comatose”.
The national director Allison Henry, agreed that the movement is in difficulties, admitting: "We've just done our best to stay alive." David Marr said money is tight and republicans are not known to be generous givers to the cause. Malcolm Turnbull was the great exception. Greg (Australia a “pigsty”) Barns, the ARM's campaign director for the referendum, said: "I had a budget of about $4 million, but Malcolm Turnbull contributed the lion's share, well over $3 million. His commitment was, in a sense, unique."
Shy republican politicians
David Marr asked me about republicanism among politicians. In 1999 I had estimated that at least two thirds of the sitting politicians were republican, which neither reflected the country nor the membership and supporters of their parties. This only demonstrates to me how out of touch they were. He made a very interesting point. Membership of the new parliamentary republican forum is, believe it or not secret! So the republican politicians are so lacking in courage they won’t show their colours!
This, according to Senator Stott Despoja is because the poor dears won’t feel “bound or pressured.”
No wonder it’s called, in relation to the abuse of parliamentary privilege, as the “cowards’ castle.”
Sausage sizzle is a fizzle
The high point of the mate for head of State campaign was to be a series of “sausage sizzles” on the Sunday before Australia Day, 22 January 2006. And what publicity they had had in the media! It must have been worth millions. They had Peter FitzSimons, Gerard Henderson and other media celebrities on side, with Ann Henderson and Greg Barns handling substantial media promotion. Some was balanced, for example, 2GB’s Jim Ball and Channel 7’s David Koch, both of whom ran stories where the other side is allowed to speak.
So you would think with all that , in a city of over 4 million people and a state of about 7 million people, a few interested members of the public would turn up for the main feature of the day, the widely advertised “Beachside Brunch & Sausage Sizzle” between 10:30am-12:30pm in the Biddigal Reserve, a pleasant grassy rise just a hop step and jump to North Bondi Beach?
The republican movement’s big guns duly arrived for their sizzle, commandeering the only public barbecues at the end of the beach. We wonder whether Waverley Council, still mired in the controversies over its ban on our Australian flag flying over the Bondi Pavilion, and charging lifesavers to park their cars, actually consented to moving out ordinary Australians for the purposes of this political campaign?
So who turned up? An observer told us forty six, and a journalist who interviewed me said “about fifty.” But that included the republican big guns and the media!
Later, when my description of the fiasco at Bondi Beach was published in The Australian, these figures were challenged by an extremely irate Dr Gerard Henderson. After some exchanges, when I asked him how many actually came, he insisted there were 300. But he was referring to the number of sausages, not the number of people. (And in any event we do not know whether the sausages were republican or monarchists.)
And the public? Hardly anyone, it seems, notwithstanding the massive publicity. Not even for a free sausage!
And in the meantime, crowds were queuing up a few yards away for a sausage sizzle at the North Bondi Surf Club. But these non-republican sausages weren’t free- they had to pay $1.30 for one sausage. But this was for a good cause, and Australians are interested in good causes.
Rank and file Australians are obviously not at all interested in a republic. Not at all.
As we said, who will they blame for this fiasco?
That evening, and on the next day, Monday, 23 January 2006, the media on the whole ignored the abject failure of the ‘mate for a head of state’ campaign. But in Jim Ball’s overnight programme on 2GB there was a reference to the fact that not many people were present. Then Alan Jones, in editorials both on 2GB and Channel 9, said few noticed the campaign. He said the Governor- General, who had served the nation, daily performed the functions of the Head of State. He recalled that John Howard had helped the republicans at the Constitutional Convention by agreeing to put the model Malcolm Turnbull’s republican movement wanted, to the people, although it failed to attract majority support. At the time, leading republican commentators Paul Kelly, and Mark Day, as well as the Labor Leader Kim Beazley, had praised Mr. Howard for his statesman-like gesture. The people overwhelmingly rejected the republican movement’s preferred model.
The Australian editorialized on 23 January that nobody was interested, but said the republic was inevitable. This was much better than the frenetic behaviour of his predecessor at the time of the referendum, when The Australian even issued free republican bumper stickers!
But why do most media outlets promote republican campaigns, but not report their failure?
There was absolute silence on the results of their “mate for Head of State campaign” from the members of the republican commentariat, in particular Mike Carlton, Peter FitzSimons, Gerard Henderson, Tony Stephens and Greg "Australia is a pigsty" Barns.
Australians are not lying awake at night wondering who their Head of State is.
But the international media had caught onto what must have seemed a curious campaign. Nick Squires in the London Daily Telegraph on 19 January, 2006 quoted me saying that “Australians are not lying awake at night wondering who their head of state is."Anne Henderson was reported as admitting that the campaign"
may be trivializing the idea to an educated person in Sydney or Melbourne but most people find the constitutional nitty gritty very hard to understand.” Mr. Squires said republicans concede that the debate has foundered in recent years, in large part because the Prime Minister, John Howard, is an avowed monarchist.
The republicans hoped to nudge the issue along in March, when they planned to raise the issue during the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. They forget that politicizing sport is unlikely to be well received in Australia. They didn’t realize then that the republican attempt to ban the use of the Royal Anthem there would rebound on them.
Allison Henry, director of the Australian Republican Movement, was reported as saying that having the Queen as head of state is “an anachronism. It's getting ridiculous." I was quoted pointing out most Australians are happy with the present constitutional arrangement.
"Australians are not lying awake at night worrying about who their head of state is…Every so often the republicans come up with some sort of stunt but I can't see this one getting very far."
OUR CONCLUSION: The ‘mate for head of state’ campaign was an abject failure, and a serious embarrassment for the republican movement. If anyone doubts that, just note the deafening silence of the campaign’s author and those who ran with it.