Apart from warning republicans that they may have to resign themselves not only to the reign of Charles III, but also William V, Professor Greg Craven told his fellow republicans, in very clear terms, that direct election is, as he so eloquently put it, a dead duck.
He says they should understand this. Otherwise they will be seen no longer as Chardonnay republicans but as Cocaine republicans, that is deluded republicans!
This is the judgement, I stress, of a republican with some considerable understanding of the issues. He is said to have written that superb defence of the existing constitution, which Jeff Kennett delivered in a speech to the Samuel Griffith Society. If you cannot access the reference to his paper just over a year ago at the Griffith University, ARM and The Australian’s Conference on Constitutional Futures which I gave in the Hot News of 2 January 2004, an alternative, and one more readable, is here.
(Incidentally, Jeff Kennett’s speech is, in law and politics, a gem. It is a devastating case against Paul Keating’s push for a republic. )
Incidentally, was it not odd that in a conference on so-called constitutional futures, a university committed, we would have thought, to free discussion and research, did not have just one out of the several speakers to argue for the exiting constitution!
I suppose they must have felt bound by the precedent established by Mr Keating when he vetoed any participation in the Republic Advisory Committee by anyone who was not a committed republican. But Griffith is a public university, paid for by the taxpayers generally and its students. They are not all republicans.
Professor Craven points to the phenomenon that Professor Malcolm McKerras calls the Condorcet principle, where an alleged majority cannot prevail. This is because of the fact that the second preference of many direct-elect republicans and also many of those who favour the president being chosen by parliament, is the status quo.
What Professor Craven is saying in effect is that most conservative republicans will never accept direct election and would much prefer to stay with what we have.
That is why the ARM now thinks they can lock the people in through that confidence trick, a plebiscite drafted by the spin doctors.
If they were to read Greg Craven and Malcolm McKerras, they would see why this is unlikely to work, even if they were able to pull the wool over the people's eyes in that first plebiscite. One suspects that the ARM thinks the first plebiscite would be a pushover. Thay must believe some of their commentators who typically claim that republican support is at some ridiculously high level. It is not.
According to the recent Newspoll of 1200 respondents, 51 per cent are in favour of a republic, but of these only 31 per cent are strongly in favour. Nineteen per cent are partly in favour - which part we just do not know. What is clear is that their support cannot be relied on, even in a plebiscite. And in the recent Herald Sun Survey of 28000 readers, 56 per cent would say No to a republic! These were presumably mainly Victorians - the State that registered the strongest vote for the 1999 model. Of course, both polls were about an undefined republic - the ‘republic of your dreams’. Once the details are handed out, the vote in favour falls. This is because of the fact that when people see it is not the republic they want; they then have to decide to live with their second preference. This will be either the model on offer or the status quo. Some will obviously prefer the status quo.
The strategy of the ARM is to get a favourable and high vote in the first plebiscite to lock the voters into whatever model the elites then decide to allow to go to the final referendum. Their plan will be to minimise the leakage of votes from the first plebiscite. After all you wanted a republic, didn’t you, they will say to those who see the model they definitely don't want!
David Flint is a former chairman of the Australian Press Council and the Australian Broadcasting Authority, is author of The Twilight of the Elites, and Malice in Media Land, published by Freedom Publishing. His latest monograph is Her Majesty at 80: Impeccable Service in an Indispensable Office, Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, Sydney, 2006