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PHOENIX REPUBLIC April 22, 2008

Posted by wmmbb in Australian Politics.
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Will the Australian Republic arise from the ashes and devastation of the 1999 Constitutional Referendum? I am somewhat surprised that the invited experts in the governance group of the 2020 Ideas would settle on the revival of this idea. According to ABC News Online, leading monarchist Professor David Flint apparently made reference to Mugabe’s behavior in Zimbabwe, and drank a toast to the Queen as it was her birthday (something I did not know, much less cared about) to illustrate the complete irrelevance of monarchism for me, at least.

Flint suggested apparently that the 100 member governance group was stacked since the support for the Republic had one person opposed and one abstaining, which assumes an intentionality that did not exist. The difference with Zimbabwe is that this outcome was not intended. A more likely explanation may be that a Republic that after all requires a referendum might be a tipping point for constitutional change. I well remember Professor Gordon Reid of the University of Western Australia writing that “Australia was a frozen continent” in relation to constitutional change.

It might be just the frame of the editorial writer of The Sydney Morning Herald, but their editorial suggests while people at the Ideas Summit were looking for a leverage point to change the constitutional framework:

The call for a rethink of our federal system was at times explicit. The group charged with reforming governance, unsurprisingly, included a review of federation in its wish-list, along with a national co-operation commission. The group charged with considering the economy was also plain about the need for a constitutional overhaul; it sought a new federal-state compact to provide the basis for a “seamless” national economy. But mostly the need for constitutional change was implied in words such as “uniform”, “co-ordinated” and “integrated”, which were the recurring theme of the summit’s concluding session. Time and again, delegates saw the remedy for problems as action on a “national” basis. Whether the subject was health or education, water or indigenous affairs, better government or greater productivity, the unifying element was the call for a cohesive approach that Australia’s inefficient federation fails to provide.

Whether the aim was an improvement in the condition of indigenous Australians, the overhaul of regulatory regimes, effective action against climate change, or a new emphasis on preventive medicine, the delegates clearly expected the Federal Government to provide not just the leadership but to take continuing responsibility.

I suppose that the notion of “states rights” would be revived in any referendum campaign, but given the recent record in government not by the Opposition. I am not sure, and prove me incorrect, how monarchism can contribute to this since as we have had amply demonstrated the office of Governor-General is in the gift of the Prime Minister. If the British Monarch were to resign from that position, as Edward VIII did, even for such a noble purpose as to marry the women he loved,consulted or otherwise, any Australian Government could not care less.

Ruth Pollard writing in The Sydney Morning Herald had a strange and misguided frame on the implications of the Republic. She made reference to perhaps a cypto-monarchist talking point. She reported:

The idea of a republic is not new, but the proposal received some of the longest, and heartiest, applause of the final session.

Tackling the often divisive issue in a two-step process, delegates voted overwhelmingly for an initial plebiscite on ending ties with Britain, followed by community consultation and a referendum.

Less conspiratorially the word “monarchy” was probably omitted in error. I have no idea of the thinking of people in Britain, but I suspect a significant number if given the opportunity, for more pressing historical and social reasons, might vote for its abolition. For them, I suspect it is neither the cheapest or most democratic alternative.

I did make comments elsewhere, and included a joke. I actually laugh at my own jokes, and sometimes those of others including this example from Reg Lynch:

Phillip Corey in today’s edition writes:

“I mean, they would have been entirely welcome to, and I’m sure they’ll have their say, but the key thing is this: Australia of the 21st century will be a republic.”

Mr Rudd’s bold declaration is likely to inflame the matter further after the governance group at the summit voted for a two-stage process of plebiscites to make the country a republic.

I doubt whether the monarchists will be inflamed – they seem to spend their time toasting the Queen. Without any disrespect to her as a person, I suspect most people look upon the antic of the monarchists – Flint, Downer et al – with amusement. This is just another example of the media attempting to create the news and set up talking points – yawn, time to go to bed.

ELSEWHERE:

John Quiggin discusses the self-proclaimed elites disclaiming the selected elites while they engaging some historical reenactment.

Mark Bahnishce evokes Manning Clark’s “straigtheners and narrowers”. Mark observes:

I think what we’re seeing is the final collapse of many stereotyped stances in dichotomised public debates which were characteristic of the Howard era.

I would like to think that possible to engage in a constructive and participative conversation as the “essence of democratic practice”.

ON MATTERS RELATING TO THE SUMMIT:

Andrew Bartlett has a seemingly comprehensive round up on blog summit postings.

And then there is the official 2020 Summit site including the Initial Report, produced in record time – now that is efficiency for you.

Bob Ellis apparently was among the elite selected, along with J M Coetze and Georffrey Atterden to join in the gabfest as the national conversation reborn. He is echoing one of the points that John Quiggin made in his summary:

As numerous speakers said, the sense of new possibilities and a new openness to ideas has been one of the striking outcomes of the change of government, to an extent that has certainly surprised me.

Theatre Notes, via Club Troppo, has the inside running on the vibe and vibrations of the Summit.

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Comments»

1. Harold - April 23, 2008

How can you have a dialogue on Australia’s form of state if you appoint only republican summiteers? Of course you get a 100 percent vote in favour of “a” republic. Did you notice that they didn’t indicate what kind of republic should replace our Australian Monarchy. It is not a British Monarchy. We share our Monarch with 16 states, but it is an Australian institution.

2. wmmbb - April 23, 2008

Thanks Harold.

I can understand where you are coming from, but I don’t think it was intended. I agree, the people at the Summit in the governance section are not representative, and I do not know the criteria used to select them, except that they were considered to be expert in the area, which perhaps was largely the case. The overwhelming support for the republic at the Summit surprised me. I do not necessarily have the best explanation.

Yes, I suppose it is an Australian institution set up by the Parliament, very much like the confirmation of Henry VIII marriage to Queen Anne Boleyn in 1635 or the Act of Settlement in 1701, yet it a British person who becomes in effect the head of state, not an Australian citizen.

Given past experience, there is likely to be two questions. Firstly to indicate support for the idea of an Australian Republic and head of state, and what form that should take, presumably consistent with the practice of parliamentary democracy.

Should the question arise: Are you in favor of an elected (and by whom?) or an appointed head of state?


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