Republicans remain divided over the Commonwealth of Nations. Some think it a waste of time, and as we noted in this column on 5 September, 2006, some even wanted us to pull out of the Commonwealth Games. Others say they will allow us to stay in the Commonwealth if only we agree to become a republic. In the referendum campaign, the republican leadership seems to have been unaware of the way in which the Commonwealth deals with such a major change. (The extraordinary story of just how unprepared the republicans were can be found in The Cane Toad Republic. When they were exposed, the republicans were furious.)
The Honourable Daryl Melham has a different tack. He predictably campaigned against the “cost” of the 2006 Royal Visit, which is inflated by apportioning the salaries of people who are going to be paid anyway. And unlike politicians, The Queen and members of the Royal Family are paid nothing, now or in retirement. Mr. Melham should be looking into the taxpayer funded financing of some republicans who have retired from politics, quite often to lucrative businesses. Their extraordinary expenses are still being paid by the taxpayers, and with minimal scrutiny. Recently Mr. Melham curiously extended his interest to the costs of almost all tours of visiting foreign heads of government and state; but there can be no doubt as to his principal target.
In the meantime, the republican movement announced that it would politicise the Melbourne Commonwealth Games by using them to campaign for a republic. As nobody noticed their campaign, they at least did not suffer the indignity of the very public failure of their Mate for Head of State campaign. Then the republicans tried to stop people singing the Royal Australian Anthem alongside the National Anthem when The Queen opened the Games. ACM, the Prime Minister, and even some republicans denounced this as a snub to The Queen. The Victorian Premier defended the ban, claiming support from one monarchist who wrote to The Australian on 2 March 2006 saying that the playing of the Royal Australian Anthem would “ give the impression that the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne is a British event” and that banning it was not a snub. The ban failed dismally when the 80,000 present joined Dame Kiri in the eight bars of the Royal Anthem the republicans had grudgingly conceded when it was clear most Australians were outraged. (The 80,000 were helped by a band of young monarchists who distributed the Royal and National Anthems. I am told that not one person rejected the text.)
Well, as usual, the republicans were completely out of touch. Not only did 80,000 people attend, a large number watched the games on television. Indeed, the top TV show for 2006 was the opening, by Her Majesty, of the Commonwealth Games. Thirteen Commonwealth Games programmes were included in the top 50 television programmes for 2006. On a rough calculation, the aggregated audience was around 25 million.
Unlike some international organizations, the Commonwealth has standards. If a country breaches those standards, it is expelled, suspended or subject to other sanctions. To do this, they don’t need some interminable inquiry, this is done with commendable speed. And you won’t find a dictatorship with an appalling human rights record heading a committee on human rights.
Now, according to a Reuters report, summarized in The Sydney Morning Herald’s “World Focus” of 19 December, 2006 under “The Wealth of Nations”, several countries are lining up to join up. Reuters listed Algeria and Rwanda, neither of which was part of the British Empire, as well as Yemen, The Sudan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.