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.
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