The year 2005 began with some last ditch attempts by some republicans to revive the Head of State argument, the issue that just does not cause Australians any sleepless nights. I
n the meantime, we received some interesting information about the costs of elections, so we thought we might raise the one question republicans avoid-how much will it cost? Also we have the latest on the bill to change the succession, some compelling evidence that republicanism is not only on the wane here, it is certainly so in the UK. We have our say on the pathetic behaviour of too many in the British press in relation to Prince Harry. To read some of the commentariat, you would assume that their youth was spent in monasteries and nunneries- imagine if they had had the lens of the paparazzi on them when they had just left school even in their private moments!
The last thing our republicans like to discuss is the cost of a republic. Having already diverted millions and millions of dollars from schools, hospital, transport and defence in their failed attempts to achieve this folly, republicans would prefer that the cost issue never surface.
In the meantime, one of our correspondents has informed us that, believe it or not, the cost of electing our politicians is actually increasing!
The AEC, the electoral commission, has determined that the public funding rate, which is indexed in line with the Consumer Price Index, should be raised to 196.147 cents per eligible vote.
This is the amount you, the taxpayer, generously give the politicians so that they may drive you to distraction by campaigning for your vote. Some of them are, you will recall, those same politicians who have solemnly, on the Bible, sworn an oath of allegiance to our Sovereign, or made an affirmation, but who still want a republic.
Now it is conceded by most that the devious process the republicans have designed to achieve a republic-two plebiscites and a referendum, and that only at the federal level – will, if it works, result in republic where the people elect the president. The republican establishment seems to have accepted the obvious-a politicians’ republic is out of the question.
What they now hope for is another sort of politicians’ republic, the president being yet another politician. Although the result of a referendum for such a republic will be, as republican constitutional law professor Greg Craven predicts, a defeat even more resounding than in 1999, the republicans are, if anything, persistent.
So if they have their way, we assume that presidential candidates will also be eligible for the same largesse as other candidates for office. So the taxpayer will have to pay for much of their campaigns. Otherwise, it will be said, only the rich need apply. So even if a presidential candidate loses-and obviously all but one will lose- he or she will do well. With the model the republican establishment now hopes to foist on the nation, Australians would be paying many, many, millions every three or four years to have more politicians campaign so that one of them can be president.
The successful candidate will then bore us with continual campaigning until the next election. No investiture, no state funeral, no Christmas message will be safe from his or her political campaigning.
The total cost of a presidential election is likely to be in the vicinity of $100 million every three or four years. (The cost of selecting and appointing a Governor-General is of course negligible-and look at the quality we get!
And of course we pay The Queen not even a brass razoo-and without any question of golden handshakes superannuation or all those other costs of the departing politician.) And do not forget that the cost of getting to the point of persuading Australians- three federal votes- will be substantial.
With what has been spent to date, around $150 million, the cost of the two plebiscites and the referendum, around $210 million, as well as the first election,$ 100 million, the taxpayer will be out of pocket substantially-in the vicinity of half a billion dollars!
Just imagine. Half of a billion dollars just to get put a politician into Yarralumla- so he or she can campaign for three or four years for his re-election. And this is just the direct cost. After that there would of course l be pressure to enhance the position. After all, he or she will not be a mere Governor-General, but a President! During the referendum there was talk of the cost of new accommodation for the President which was alleged to have been planned; this was soon denied.
This is to say nothing about the more important question, which is how much will it cost if this republic is a disaster. Malcolm Turnbull, the first leader of the ARM, thinks it would be. We just cannot imagine what the cost would be of such a president, a politician with a mandate, who could make the country ungovernable because of the obstruction, and the political games he or she could get up to so that he or she can beat or even keep up with the Prime Minister. (And if you don’t believe that, just look at the Fifth Republic. A peek at the news from Paris on SBS will show you how M. Chirac plays this political game. And it is not only when the president and prime minister come from opposing parties- competition as we know occurs within a party)
One final point on this-why is it that the pollsters never refer to these costs when they ask questions about a republic? Or is the answer too obvious?