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ACM Home arrow Resources arrow Convenor's Column Archive arrow THUMBS DOWN FOR A REPUBLIC

THUMBS DOWN FOR A REPUBLIC Print E-mail
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Friday, 02 January 2004

The Herald Sun Survey

 

This was the headline in Australia's largest circulating newspaper, The Herald Sun on the day before Christmas Eve, 30 December 2003.1 hate to think of what the new Opposition Leader, Mr Latham must have said when his staff brought the press cuttings to him. The Melbourne newspaper was reporting on the results of its Issues of 2003 Survey. This involved processing the replies of more than 28000 readers to an extensive questionnaire on a range of issues. According to the paper, the survey revealed-that if a referendum on an Australian republic were to be held now, it would fail. `Fifty five per cent indicated they would vote No. This is a dismal result for republicans, and for Mr Latham because one of his first declarations of policy was to set out his plans for an Australian Republic.Foot in mouth disease. Mr Latham had obviously not done his homework. He knows that the group he has to attract is not the inner city cafe latte set, that is, the republican voters in the minority of electorates that actually voted Yes in the referendum. If he wants to win the next election his target has to be the so called aspirational voter, the battler, who is concentrated in the outer metropolitan electorates, especially those ones John Howard has taken from Labor. For-the-battlers, the republic is a very big yawn. Not so the commentariat which almost to a man and a woman are rusted on republicans. 'They have worked themselves up into a lather of excitement over Mr Latham. .But some journalists are still prepared to consider the facts. Prominent among these is Kerry-Anne Walsh who wrote an amusing, and scathing piece in The Sun-Herald, the Sydney based Sunday paper, on 28 December 2003. Under the title' IT'S NOT EASY SELLING A REPUBLIC TO THE BATTLERS, she concluded that the people Mr Latham is wooing are precisely the same people who will reject a republic!

 

It is difficult to understand how Mr Latham made this serious error-unless of course this is some strategy dreamed up by his minders to woo and win the commentariat. But since John Howard has rendered the commentariat monumentally impotent, what advantage is there in this? The aspirational voter-the battler- is hardly likely to take much notice of Philip Adams or Mike Carlton. They probably don't read them. Worse, he or she may well be suspicious of anyone who comes to them with a Keating style agenda. Remember Troy! AUSTRALIANS FOR CONSTTTUTICNAL MONARCHY PROMOTING OUR CONSTITUTION THROUGH EDUCATION http://www.norepublic.com.au/Hot_News/HNews_Thumbs_Down_Republic.htm

 

Republicans fall out Meanwhile, Mr Latham is trying desperately trying to change his image. As Michael Baume wrote in the Australian Financial Review on 29 December 2003, while Australians may accept the larrikin, nobody likes a lout. So the spin doctors are working overtime. But can they airbrush out his past? One of the many Mr Latham abused —under the protection of parliamentary privilege- was The Australian's columnist, Janet Albrechtson. He attacked her with words I, and most of my generation had never heard before, but which we were to learn were so lewd, gross and disgusting that they would have led, in another era, to his being shunned by all right thinking people. It came then as no surprise that Miss Albrechtson, on Christmas Eve, 31 December 2003, would dedicate her column to another of his faux pas. Her story, calmly told, related to the former leader of the Australian republican Movement, Mr. Malcolm Tumbull, who was once close to the Labor Party. This was not only when he was campaigning for the Keating Tumbull Republics, Mark I and II, but also in his business relationships with former NSW Premier, Mr. Neville \Man and Mr Nick Whitlam. Hand chosen by former Prime Minister Paul Keating to chair the government's Republic Advisory Committee, and then co-campaigner with Mr Kim Beasley for the referendum, he was so close that some prominent Labor politicians, including Senator Bolkus, former Senator Richardson and unnamed persons in Mr Kim Beazley's office, were under the impression that he was asking them to help him get a safe Labor seat. Mr Turnbull denies this.

 

When the referendum results came in on the evening of 6 November 1999, Mr Tumbull turned on the Prime Minister, John Howard, accusing him of being the man who broke the heart of the nation. As most Australians were just not interested, a point Mr Tumbull accepted and actually wrote into his diary some four months before the referendum, we may take it that Mr Tumbull did not mean the whole nation, but that part which constitutes the entity that Professor Malcolm McKerras has christened the inner metropolitan republic. Although this contains 28% of all electorates, it is so small geographically that you can hardly see it on a map of Australia.

 

Funny goings on at The Holy Grail and in Wentworth But not withstanding all this, Mr Turnbull gravitated not to the Labor Party but back to the Liberal Party, where, years ago, he had previously unsuccessfully sought preselection. He became the party's Treasurer, enrolling large numbers of new members in the Point Piper branch in the federal electorate of Wentworth, where he has his mansion. When it seemed as if he would seek preselection for that seat, Labor MP's turned on him with considerable fury. Mr Lindsay Tanner blamed him for losing the referendum. Then came a particularly stinging outburst from Mr Latham. He claimed that because of the HIH collapse, and his involvement in the provision of merchant banking services to one of the parties involved, Mr Tumbull was not fit to hold public office. In fact, Mr. Turnbull had been completely exonerated by the Royal Commission. Mr Latham's comment was over the top-he was obviously engaging in the gratuitous abuse of an ally turned opponent.

 

But he made the serious mistake of repeating this outside of Parliament, a mistake Miss Albrechtson describes as 'uncharacteristic'. So Mr Turnbull, proud of his reputation, instructed his solicitors to seek an apology. Mr Latham did not apologise- he did not even reply! At this stage, he could have easily avoided what followed. The matter could have been settled and forgotten. A defamation writ was taken out, and Mr Tumbull's lawyers, as is the practice, asked Mr Latham to tell them the name of his solicitors so that they could accept service of the writ.

 

This is a convenient practice, but more importantly it is also a courtesy. Again, Mr Latham chose not to avail himself of this, and instead, according to Miss Albrechtson, mocked Mr Turnbull for taking offence. From May onwards attempts were made to serve the writ, all without avail. At times this bordered on farce, with the process server lying in wait for Mr Latham in a well known Canberra bar, The Holy Grail. http://www.norepublic.com.au/HotNews/HNews_Thumbs_Down_Republic.htm

Exasperated, the solicitors were on the point of asking the court for an order for substituted service. But just then, Mr Latham's situation changed. He was no longer just an opposition MP, albeit on the front bench. His leadership aspirations had been fulfilled. He could be hardly seen in the national media being stalked by process servers. Imagine, during a doorstop TV interview, a private detective interrupting to ask whether he was indeed the Mr Mark Latham, and then putting a writ into his reluctant hands, or worse letting it fall to his feet, the cameras lingering on it. And then the viewers would be reminded of every insulting, lewd and, it has to be said, puerile abuse that Mr Latham had heaped on others over the years. At this stage, his minders must have been on the point of  desperation. Miss Albrechtson deserves surely the last word on this sad episode.She says this is completely consistent with Latham's disrespect for institutions and authority : his abuse of parliamentary privilege, his view that yelling abuse at a referee during a child's Saturday morning sports game is acceptable and his contempt for the legal process in his tangle with Turnbull. There is only one thing more consistent about Latham- his pursuit of power...so with alarming speed the new Latham, as ALP leader rolled over comprehensively when it was politically expedient to do so. He apologised. A transparent trick and a time bomb for the ARM.

 

Now let me return to the Herald –Sun survey. Before any republican readers rush to point out this survey cannot be compared with an opinion poll, remember the typical poll surveys only a few hundred respondents. This is was a survey of more than 28,000, which is a record. Another point worth making is that opinion polls for the press are usually done over the phone. (Incidentally, the latest Newspoll taken on a considerably smaller telephone sample Australia wide says the vote for a republic is 51%). Rather than responding to a question put in an unexpected phone call, the respondents in the survey had time to think, as voters have in a referendum. Further, an independent survey company analysed and weighted the data to reflect the Australian Bureau of Statistics for Victoria. In addition, this is a Victorian survey-the state where the republicans had their best result in 1999. They still lost there, although I have seen two books, which make the error of saying Victoria, voted yes. Now the No vote in the survey, 55%, was about the Australia wide average of valid votes cast in the referendum. Does this mean that the republican vote has collapsed in Victoria. If so, what must have happened in the other states?

 

The survey result augurs badly for a referendum, as does the Newspoll. In a referendum, the Yes vote typically falls as you approach the actual vote. In other words if you do not start off with a very high vote in the early opinion polls, your chances of success later are low. But neither this survey nor any of the current opinion polls can give the voter the details the Constitution requires before the people cast their vote. Instead the persons surveyed are asked to respond to a question about some mythical and utopian republic. Once the preferred model is unveiled the No vote will obviously increase as a significant number of electors express their preference for the status quo over the proposed model-any model. Anyone who thinks a direct election model should read Professor Malcolm McKerras' paper on this on the Samuel Griffith site, (www.samuelgriffith.orq.au/paperslhtml/volume20121v12chapl0.html )and republican Professor Greg Craven's paper to the Griffith Conference which should be, but for obvious reasons isn't on the ARM site, although they were one of the hosts of that conference. They do have a link to the conference site, where his paper can be found: www.qu.edu.aulconferencelacf2002/pdf/content qreq craven.pdf). He thinks the popular election model would go down with a bigger defeat then in 1999! If it is put, and if there is no consensus among republicans, he says they should be resigned not so much to the reign of Charles III but that of William IV! All of this explains the tactic the ARM used in the elections for the Convention in 1988. In the campaign, they said their minds were not closed on the question of the direct election of the president. But as soon as the Convention started, their minds slammed shut. They even tried to close off debate on direct election, provoking the threat of a walk out by the  independent republicans. Whether the ARM is using this tactic again, or, as they claim, they now haven't the foggiest idea of what sort of republic they want, is not clear. Neither position would be attractive to the battlers, that is, if they had the slightest interest in the issue, which as everyone but Mr Latham knows, they don't. The truly extraordinary thing is that MrLatham has swallowed the ARM tactic ; hook line and sinker! This involves the proposal for the blank cheque plebiscite, which the spin-doctors will design, hoping against hope that the electors will vote for the mythical and utopian republic. You can just see the advertising. This will be presented not, if they have any sense this time, by what the ARM thinks are celebrities, but by models in beautiful locations telling Australians to vote Yes for the republic of their dreams and incidentally to cast a vote of no confidence in one of the world's few successful constitutions.!

 

Then having said yes, the plan is that the Australian people will, out of fatigue,  embarrassment or both, be forever locked into whatever form of republic the elites eventually allow to go to the referendum. As if the Australian people won't see through that ever so transparent  confidence trick!http://www.norepublic.com.au/Hot_News/HNews_Thumbs_Down_Republic.htm(Having seen how constitutional plebiscites had been misused, especially by both Napoleons, our Founding Fathers anticipated such as confidence trick and opted instead for the referendum where all the details of any proposed change are spelt out before, and not after, the vote) But there is something more in the Herald Sun survey. It contains a veritable time bomb for the ARM. It tells us something those in the No campaign had suspected and which was confirmed by polling during the referendum campaign, but which the commentariat dares not mention. Now as everyone knows the strongest groups for the status quo are, in terms of age, those over 65, and between the sexes, the women. The strongest group for a republic are middle aged men -Mr Latham's profile. Even there, the republicans are not that dominant. But the second source of support for the status quo is the young, those under 25! In the Herald Sun survey they voted 56% against a republic. This confirms similar experience in recent polls in Canada (where the youngest emerged as the strongest supporters of the status quo) and in New Zealand. So when former Senator Susan Ryan went on the ABC to say that all the ARM had to do was wait, she was engaging in wishful thinking indeed. She thinks that the next generation will be more Keatingesque than her generation were not! So apparently does Mr Latham. He should forget about this folly, and go back to the issues that really concern the nation.
 
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