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ACM Home arrow ACM News arrow Queen's Birthday Stunts

Queen's Birthday Stunts Print E-mail
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Thursday, 05 July 2001
In recent editions of 'Hot News' we referred to that annual event, republican stunts staged for the Queen’s Birthday weekend. Obviously a lot of effort goes into these – a pity they didn’t put the same effort into developing just one workable republican model over the last decade.

One of this year’s stunts was that the Queen “return” the Tom Robert’s painting on permanent loan in Parliament House Canberra. What was truly remarkable was that someone persuaded the Victorian Premier, Steve Bracks
to join in and rush off a letter to The Queen demanding she “return” the painting.

The Australian Financial Review published a letter about this on 26 June 2001. This was with a cartoon showing two royal corgis using their litter tray the floor of which is covered with shredded paper. On a torn piece you can just make out the words “Steve Bracks”. The caption – “Steve Brack’s letter to the Queen”. The letter in full stated:-

Victorian Premier Bracks letter to the Queen to hand over Tom Robert’s Federation painting is as misguided (and as embarrassing) as demanding she return our Crown land. The painting is not her personal property. It’s owned by the Australian Crown in trust for the Australian people. That’s why it is hanging – permanently – in Parliament House for all to see. And if anyone still doesn’t understand that the Australian Crown is separate and independent from the British Crown, remember that a Senator lost her seat because she didn’t appreciate this. The lesson is – be careful of being dragged into the inevitable Queen’s Birthday stunts.

Emeritus Professor David Flint

Apropos Tom Robert’s great painting, the former Lord Mayor of Sydney Alderman Doug Sutherland reminded me recently of the search by the redevelopers of the Queen Victoria Building for a statue of the late Queen. Whenever one was found discarded in various parts of the former Empire, the owners either put the price up, or found other reasons not to part with the statue. Finally one was found in Ireland, but when the authorities proposed giving it to Sydney, it was argued that it was part of Ireland’s heritage – even though it was in a junkyard. The solution? You guessed it – a permanent loan!

Dame Leonie Kramer

On any measure, the Chancellor of the University of Sydney and former Chairman of the ABC, Dame Leonie Kramer is an outstanding Australian. Sydney’s Daily Telegraph summed up the university’s Senate moves to remove her in the heading of its editorial of 3 July 2001 “Uni Senate Not Acting Honourably”. As the Telegraph said, those moving against her, resented her role in the republican referendum – because the referendum was unsuccessful”. And 2UE’s Alan Jones recalled that whenever he speaks at the University he finds the rank and file staff and students thoroughly admire and support their Chancellor. It seems some bitter republicans won’t rest until everyone who campaigned against the referendum is removed from public life.

We sent the following letter to The Bulletin commending that journal and its writer Maxine McKew for a very fair piece on the attempted coup at Sydney University.

Maxine McKew demonstrates (26 June) that the grounds for Dame Leonie’s removal which previously seemed flimsy at best, are in fact non-existent. The amended by-law under which the deed is to be done is of doubtful validity. Parliament clearly intended a Chancellor have a fixed term and not to be a puppet holding office at the pleasure of a majority of fellows of the Senate. Worse, it is intended to apply this retrospectively. The “Dame Leonie Removal By-law”, will be used without any proof of misbehaviour, and also without any allegation of anything which even approaches misbehaviour. At least Brutus and the other Senators feared Caesar would engineer a coup d’etat. (Here the coup is on the other pied).

When Professor Sparkes-Orr was dismissed for what many think serious misbehaviour, the severity of his punishment became a cause celebre, and not only in Australia. Considerable damage has already been done; what will the impact be not only on Sydney, but on the whole Australian University system, if such a respected Chancellor can be so easily brought down? As Maxine McKew wonders, do they want that on their resumes? And what else do they want?

Emeritus Professor David Flint

Republican Realism

Mark McKenna is the author of The Captive Republic: A History of Republicanism in Australia 1788-1996. It’s a good read, even if McKenna makes it clear that he wants a republic.

During the referendum campaign, Dr McKenna fell in behind the Malcolm Turnbull’s model. Now I have no problem with people wanting a republic – that is their right. But surely the republic they propose ought to be better than the existing constitution, or at least as good as it. Which the Turnbull model clearly was not.

Anyway, McKenna has come out in The Australian (25 June 2001) with one of the few realistic comments on the state of republicanism in Australia today, especially since the referendum landslide. Its not the usual winge but a breath of fresh air.

He says that the ARM approach is wrong – releasing model after model “from the mountain top”.

He says the way to argue for a republic in 2001 could begin with this list of five negatives:-

1. Don’t say becoming a republic will make us more independent.
2. Don’t say we need to become a republic to be more Australian
3. Don’t say we need to become a republic to establish our identity in the world
4. Don’t say we need to become a republic to be more confident, inventive or clever.
5. Don’t say we need to become a republic to reject British pomp and ceremony.

I wonder if they are listening in the ARM bunker? Trouble is, if they follow this list, they will have hardly anything to say. Which would not be such a bad thing.

Canada and “Homecomings”

Readers will recall that famous moment during the referendum campaign when Senator Stott-Despoja asked an incredulous crowd at Sydney’s Government House “Why hasn’t Australia become a republic? After all, Canada had!”

In fact, Canadians strongly support their existing constitutional system. Opposition to secession in Quebec has risen dramatically. Mr John Aimers, who is the head of the Monarchist League of Canada, finds that among his newer members are young people regretting their lack of knowledge about the role of the Crown who typically say “We were not taught about this aspect of Canada’s history in school and it helps to define us in the face of the overwhelming influence of the USA." He points too to the popularity of the Prince of Wales in Canada.

When the Canadian foreign minister recently suggested the monarchy was an anachronism, he was, according to London’s Daily Telegraph, quickly slapped down by the Deputy Prime Minister and five other cabinet colleagues.

The fact that Canada is a constitutional monarchy has certainly not damaged her foreign trade, or the influx of foreign students and immigrants, including those from Asia. In fact polling among potential Asian immigrants ranks Canada as their first preference. Dr McKenna is right – Australia’s republicans should think again about their reasons for a republic.

Incidentally, the Canadian’s apparently refer not to “Royal Visits”, but “Homecomings”. Perhaps we should follow this charming practice.

Chardonnay Republicans

Do you remember the noble beginnings of the ARM. I quoted Tom Kenneally’s description of this heroic event in The Cane Toad Republic:-

“That lunch at Jill Hickson’s and Neville Wran’s table had now reached the point where nearly all the fish they bought the day before at the Sydney Fish Markets had been eaten. In a manner all too typical of generous Sunday lunches in Sydney, a number of bottles of Hunter Valley Chardonnay had also been drained. Neville Wran leaned over the table and said, “The other thing I want to see happen before I bloody well die is an Australian republic.”

Since then, the press has sometimes referred to “Chardonnay republicans”. So much so that I fear that I will be photographed whenever I am drinking a glass of chardonnay. Imagine my delight then when a good friend brought back a bottle of wonderful New Zealand Cloudy Bay Chardonnay – bearing the date 1999 – the year of the referendum! Thank you Melanie!

 
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