Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

Republican blues

A little tip to the Pro-monarchists today: Don’t look so smug. It doesn’t look good, esp as the public already have doubts about any group endorsing a foreign countries leader, and led by people like Alan Jones, Tony Abbott, David Flint and John Howard. Not exactly the most popular or down to earth group of individuals in this country.
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Today, as in 10 years ago, around 60% still support a republic. Which is rather an odd measurement, given the more pertinent question is how many support the status quo of the Queen remaining our head of state, a proposition I would wager to get less than 20% support. The monarchists may crow today, but they all know well that the only reason the republic referendum failed was due to a split within republican ranks over which model, either a minimalist retaining of the status quo (my preference) or a direct election model. It was clever politics by Howard, but as Malcolm Turnbull perfectly said ‘it broke the nation’s heart’.

As Bob Hawke has proposed, and I wager Rudd will follow, the best way to proceed from here is to wait for the queen to pass on, then make the change. It’s rather an odd measurement historically (representing neither a military victory, or significant date) but it’s practical and in keeping with the general style of Australian’s political evolution. No bitterness, but a quiet and dignified change as represents a tidying of our affairs and formalization of the current practice.

Which is the other reason the monarchists shouldn’t look smug, for the change they have so resisted is guaranteed to come. And instead of managing that change as a sensible conservative would, ensuring the best possible reform (ie maintaining the way the system runs and making only editing changes to the constitution) we now face the very real (and I think slightly worrying) possibility of moving to a directly elected president (who may come to challenge the PM on issues, and change the way our legislature and parties operate). The voices for such a model are out there and growing. The introduction of such a model will in all likely hood be the real result of the monarchists actions 10 years ago. So not only will they have only delayed instead of preventing change, they will allow a system many of them will find far more unpalatable, and which represents a possibly fundamental shift in Australian politics.

Not quite so clever an achievement now, don’t you think.

Still, a sad day for all republican supporters. I never saw the issue as one of independence (if you don’t think we are an independent country you have a real lack of understanding about our system or a persecution complex), but rather as a way of writing in law what is already in practice. Unlike the American’s we haven’t tried to immortalize our constitution writers or the document they created. Most Australians recognise that it needs to be regularly returned to and improved to ensure the constitution of this country still suits our purposes and need. That it protects the citizens, restricts and accurately describes the governments operation (ie there is no mention of the PM in the document), and establishes its responsibilities (the entire problem of federalism from inefficent hospitals, a lack of uniform laws, and destroyed cross border assets like the Murray-Darling is due to the constitution).