April 10

The Wedding – Republicans Behaving Badly

The wedding went off well, most Australians wished them a happy life together, there were no demonstrations in the streets calling for a republic, and while Australians move on, a small disgruntled republican movement realizes they were not on the winner they had already pushed in 1999. Now they have to go back and sell the Latham plan-quarter of a billion on three plebiscites and a referendum. And this is only the precursor-the result will be the Latham preferred republic- yet another expensive, and probably rorted, election every three or four years to select yet another politician. This politician-president, in his or her struggles and political games to undermine the PM, will on all overseas evidence make the country ungovernable.

This is not even impressing republican stalwarts like Malcolm Turnbull. Just before the wedding, the online opinion site ( www.onlineopinione.com.au) published this piece from me in response to the nasty sniping from the republican movement:

ROYAL WEDDING AND REPUBLICANS

Australian republicanism has come to a dead end. Perhaps understandably, its proponents are desperately clutching at straws, the latest being Prince Charles’ wedding.

In 1999, the republican movement had everything going for it – money, celebrities, politicians and much, too much, of the media. Even then the republicans preferred not to campaign on their model. They even proposed that two words be deleted from the referendum question. They were, believe it or not, “president” and “republic”!

Rather the republican establishment preferred to campaign on certain benefits they claimed would flow from a republic: lower unemployment, improved trade, diplomatic advantages, a flowering of the arts and so on. Then there were the negative arguments. For example, the then Vice Chancellor of Melbourne University, Professor Gilbert, warned that if Australians voted “No” they would become the laughing stock of Asia. That was before the economic crisis, East Timor, and the tsunami. No one is laughing now.

Another negative argument was quite nasty, and I shall return to that later. Today the Australian Republican Movement (ARM) has realised that their support peaked before the referendum. The polls have not only been trending down, they indicate what we have long known, that the young are just not interested in major constitutional change. Rather, support for a republic is concentrated among inner city middle-aged males.

Worse, the republican movement is now locked into a convoluted and expensive plan, one enthusiastically endorsed by Mark Latham in the months leading up to the 2004 election. Its culmination, after two federal plebiscites, would be a referendum on Mr Latham’s preferred republican model. The central feature of this is what the republican movement must believe all Australians are yearning for: yet another political campaign – every few years – to elect yet another politician.

The mandate which flows from that would ensure that the president and the prime minister would forever be engaged in an endless political struggle for dominance, the effect of which would militate against the good governance of the nation, resulting at times in paralysis.

When the ARM’s national office bearer Senator Marise Payne realised this, she dissented from a crucial element of the ARM’s plan which was endorsed by a republican stacked Senate committee in its report which it released in 2004 in circumstances which ensured it was not noticed. Senator Payne only dissented after the conservative republican Professor Greg Craven carefully explained to her the dangers of the Latham model.

Professor Craven also warns that once the people hear a full debate on this model, the result would be an even greater defeat than in 1999. He says that by endorsing this plan, the ARM is ensuring that not only will Australians live under the reign of Charles III; they will also live under the reign of William V.

So it is understandable that the republicans should clutch at straws. And the straw they now think will revive their campaign is the marriage of Prince Charles to Mrs Camilla Parker Bowles.

Even Professor Craven has jumped onto this bandwagon – but as we know, Professor Craven, who has variously supported the constitutional monarchy, the McGarvie model and then the referendum model, is not reluctant to change his mind.

But the ARM has forgotten how low they stooped in their negative campaigning in 1999. They tried the same stunt then.While the constitutional monarchists took the high ground and only campaigned on constitutional issues, eschewing reliance on the standing and respect The Queen justifiably enjoys, the republican movement devised a mantra, often intoned by leading ARM speakers, which was that “A No vote is a vote for King Charles and Queen Camilla!”

They used this, to their shame, with an extremely unflattering caricature of Charles and Camilla, robed and wearing crowns.These tactics didn’t work then. And they won’t work now.

The 2005 variation of the odious 1999 campaign depends on two elements. First the denigration of the Prince, particularly by sections of the British media which excel at this.

The Prince and indeed, members of the Royal Family generally, now live in a defamation-free zone. The media say things about him they would not dare say about anyone else. Any rumour, untruth, or downright and disgusting lie is published provided it damages the Prince.

The Prince’s real story is different from the one many in the media prefer. After his distinguished service in the Navy, the Prince is approaching an age when many are contemplating retirement. But he has thrown himself into his interests and his work, and in the very last year raised one quarter of a billion dollars for charities, mainly for disadvantaged youth in the UK and poorer Commonwealth countries.

If he were someone else, someone with whom the media elites could identify, and raised a fraction of this, or made some gesture of mourning, or said something nice about the poor, he would risk the sort of secular canonisation which the media gave, for example, to Sir William Deane when they believed he was criticising the Howard Government – which if he had, would have been unconstitutional.

But this news about the Prince is kept very quiet indeed. It just does not fit with the image of the “dysfunctional” – their mot du jour – family and the “grumpy” old man they are trying to portray.

In the same vein as the reprehensible 1999 mantra, the second element of the 2005 campaign is based on the entirely false proposition, announced with almost breathless glee by the republican movement, that Camilla Parker Bowles will at some time in the future become Queen of Australia.

Of course none of us knows the future, and the Queen gives every indication that she is as healthy as her late, and greatly loved, mother was. And once people see more of Camilla as she emerges from the shadows as Charles’ wife, they will come to appreciate her qualities. She is, on all reliable information, a dignified, down-to-earth, unaffected, good humoured and reserved lady, who would never think of running off to the press with stories. And while she will be received warmly here, she will never become Queen of Australia.

This is for the elementary constitutional fact that just as Prince Philip is not King, the wife of a King does not become the Sovereign, the Queen Regnant. Only a reigning Queen can be that.

And anyway, as Charles’ wife on his accession would be entitled to the courtesy title of Queen Consort, it has been announced that she will in fact be known as the Princess Consort. She is of course entitled to use any of her names and titles as she wishes. If the title Princess Consort is conferred on her, she may prefer to use that. In the same way, the Governor of New South Wales is not known by the courtesy title which comes from her marriage to Sir Nicholas Shehadie. Instead, Her Excellency is known as Professor Marie Bashir.

If on her marriage, Charles’ wife prefers to be known as the Duchess of Cornwall, rather than the Princess of Wales, and on Charles’ accession, as Princess Consort, and that is conferred, why shouldn’t she?

If the ARM were so ill-advised as to seek an order from a court that she not call herself Queen of Australia, they would undoubtedly receive short shrift.

As one caller on talk-back radio said when the marriage was announced, “They are entitled to a little happiness in their lives too”. Most Australians would agree with that and wish them well.

The ARM could not make this an issue in 1999, and they will fail in this attempt to revive it in 2005. Rather than this, perhaps they could explain why the taxpayer, having paid millions and millions to allow them to test their preferred model at the referendum where it was rejected in every state, should spend even more now.

Until next time,
David Flint


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