On January 1, 2007, the television news from France 2 relayed through SBS began with scenes of the New Year celebrations, most notably in Sydney. It was still New Year’s Eve in Paris. After no more than two minutes, if that, the strains of the Marseillaise accompanied an announcement that viewers were about to see and hear a New Year’s Message from the Elysée Palace.
It would be from Le Président de la République, Monsieur Jacques Chirac. A political message of about 12 to 15 minutes followed - without any questions or any interruption.
Three politicians from the President’s party, the President, the Prime Minister and the Interior Minister had been campaigning for well over a year about the next presidential elections, in which they may each be candidates. The unfortunate aspect is that under this republic, the Head of State regularly uses his great powers for purely political purposes.
And this is the model which republican experts tip will flow from the Australian Republican Movement’s plan for a cascading series of plebiscites and referendums.
From the perspective of Australia’s constitutional system, there are two important issues for 2007 and beyond. One is the state of our Federation. The other constitutional issue is whether a future prime minister will seriously push constitutional change. The next prime minister will play the decisive role in determining this.
The contenders are, on the one hand, the Leader of HM Australian Opposition, Mr Kevin Rudd, and on the other, several members of the Liberal party. One of them is not even on the front bench.
He was the subject of a recent report, “Voters favour millionaire MP” by Linda Silmalis in the Sunday Telegraph on December 24, 2006. This was about a poll commissioned by the Telegraph which found that the “millionaire republican” Malcolm Turnbull had emerged as the next serious challenger to Peter Costello were Prime Minister John Howard to retire.
The Telegraph headline exaggerated the support the poll indicates for Mr Turnbull. Is the Telegraph campaigning in its news pages for Mr Turnbull? On December 3, 2006, the Sunday Telegraph had two pages of uncritical news and photographs, and a separate sympathetic opinion piece on another page, all dedicated to Mr Turnbull.
When it comes to Mr Turnbull, the media seem to have put aside not only their usual scepticism, but also their memory. Mr Turnbull is often reported to be a fervent supporter of the flag, with no mention of the fact that not so long ago he was a major campaigner against it:, a director of Ausflag, and benefactor of a new flag exhibition.
As to the poll, undertaken by Galaxy, respondents were asked: “If John Howard wins the federal election next year but steps down mid-term, which one of the following would you prefer to see as the new leader of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister?” The choice offered was between Tony Abbott, Peter Costello, Brendan Nelson, and Malcolm Turnbull, presumably in this alphabetical order.
The overall results were: Abbott 12 per cent, Costello 32 per cent, Nelson 9 per cent, and Turnbull 16 per cent with 31 per cent uncommitted.
For coalition voters, the results were: Abbott 16 per cent, Costello 43 per cent, Nelson 9 per cent, and Turnbull 14 per cent with 18 per cent uncommitted.
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