In the time-honoured tradition of the Australian parliament, Lindsay
Tanner (Age, Tuesday) chose a grievance debate to vent his spleen.
Seemingly desperate to enhance his leadership chances, Tanner's speech on
the republic was neither helpful nor an honest assessment of his or the
ALP's role in the fall of the ARM republic. Like John Howard, he can't
find it in himself to say sorry. Sorry that he didn't break rank when the
party machine put its shoulder to Malcolm Turnbull's wheel. Sorry that he
ignored the will of the people, as expressed in one poll after another, to
elect their own president. Sorry that he didn't publicly confront
Turnbull's 'celebrity ticket' politics and the phony republic he now
Tanner's retrospective courage is sadly typical of so many mainstream
politicians. When direct electionists pleaded for a broad coalition to
expose the ALP's collusion in what Tanner now calls a 'celebrity
plaything' republic he was nowhere to be seen. From day one of the
Constitutional Convention I said I would never vote for Turnbull's
undemocratic republic. Silent then, a disingenuous Tanner now damns
Turnbull as a self-serving Liberal multimillionaire who 'rammed this model
through the Constitutional Convention'.
But even unbridled contempt for Turnbull isn't enough for Tanner to
express solidarity with those who refused to cower in the face of the
celebrity and media avalanche. For holding the line against the 'glitz and
glamour republic' I'm derided as a 'professional curmudgeon' and direct
electionists are portrayed as cheap populists. Is it any wonder people
don't want Lindsay Tanner to choose the president for them?
The historical revisionism completed, Tanner went on to accuse those
republicans who opposed Turnbull of having deserted the cause. How galling
to see a professional politician reprimanding ordinary punters beset by
the need to earn a living for failing to resurrect the republic. So
removed from everyday life is the Member for Melbourne he now demands that
a rank and file army, 'popularly based and democratic', should drive the
While we're devoting spades of voluntary labour, what will my Member of
Parliament be doing? Waltzing into the Chamber to pour scorn on those
misguided fools who voted ARM and we malcontents who traitorously defended
the republic against the 'stars and celebrities' he now wants banished
from the movement? This was not a speech designed to build a mass
movement. It was a silly piece of grandstanding.
When the vitriol subsided after the referendum failed, I met ARM
National Director, James Terrie, and later went to Sydney to explain my
position to members of the Just Republic. Despite supporting the direct
election of a president, the Just Republic group had advocated a 'yes'
vote at the referendum. I was bitterly disappointed with them. But I
wanted a way forward. The meeting left me with hope. Later I met the ARM's
Greg Barns and Richard Fidler to try and mend the split and find a way
forward. During the referendum debate Barns' abuse made my blood boil. I
found it hard to forgive him. But the republic mattered. So I put the
anger aside and talked about what kind of republic I thought would capture
the imagination of Australians.
Only a month ago, the Real Republic group had a national phone hook up
to explore possible strategies. A week later I met La Trobe University
constitutional lawyer, Spencer Zivcak, to enlist his support in the
development of some direct election models. If Linsday Tanner had lifted
the phone I'd have been happy to invite him to the meeting.
Instead of big noting in the manner of his mate and rival, Mark Latham,
Tanner should be showing some real leadership and extending the hand of
friendship. Instead of blaming Turnbull and the celebrities -who
interestingly enough he refuses to name - he should be affirming his
unconditional support for a democratic republic. Instead of rehashing the
ARM's jingoism about national symbols and its shallow prattle about
hereditary, race and religion being no barrier to a prospective head of
state, Tanner should be telling us what he's prepared to do.
At some point he must accept that direct electionists opposed the ARM
model because they honestly believed it was the antithesis of
republicanism. If all Lindsay Tanner wants to do is blame everyone else,
there'll be no reconciliation. It's time he waved the big stick at his
mates in the labor caucus not at those people who saved him from Malcolm
Turnbull's phony republic. It's time he dragged his own party to the
forefront of the struggle for a republic with an elected head state. After
all, isn't that what people want?
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