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ACM Home arrow Convenor's Column arrow Humpty Dumpty enters republican debate

Humpty Dumpty enters republican debate Print E-mail
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Sunday, 13 April 2008

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...the Summit rigged, Humpty Dumpty enters the campaign ...


The campaign to divert even more money from schools, hospitals and water to change our constitution in a most fundamental way, and then our flag, is gathering apace.

The rigging of the republican debate  began in 1993 when Paul Keating stacked his Republican Advisory Committee. You had to be a paid up passionate republican to be a member.

The Committee was chaired by Malcolm Turnbull, then leading and apparently funding generously the republican movement. He was also part of the flag changing movement but has since seen the light.

This practice of stacking bodies examining republicanism has, sadly, been followed with the governance panel for the 2020 Summit.

The panel is so gerrymandered it would make an old style Queensland politician green with envy.

Realising that something is wrong, two former High Court judges have just resigned from the panel and the 2020 Summit.[i]

In a report about a new Taverner poll on constitutional change in the Fairfax Sunday newspaper, The Sun-Herald, 13 April 2008 (“The last of the Royals”), Kerry –Anne Walshe reveals that there is one more “ avowed” republican at the Summit.

We had counted so many we thought we must have missed one.

But to our surprise the person named is former governor-general and  High Court judge, Sir William Deane.

Sir William has served The Queen, sworn allegiance to her, represented her, and in 1982 was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1982.

To our knowledge he has never renounced all of this.  

We hope that there has been some misunderstanding.




... media polls...


In the meantime, polling on republicanism has resumed after a delay of over a year.

The answers obtained in an opinion poll depend, of course, on the wording of the question. The words should be as neutral as possible and have a reasonably precise meaning.

A serious weakness in most polling in the constitutional debate has been in the use of the word “republic” without some elaboration.

This has inflated the apparent support for change.

Used alone, “republic” is a “Humpty Dumpty” word.

In “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” Humpty Dumpty said there in a rather scornful tone, "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.”

“Republic” is the Humpty Dumpty word par excellence.

Montesquieu and classical political philosophers would have seen the Commonwealth of Australia as a republic.

So did Cardinal Moran at the time of Federation.

Bagehot saw the Westminster system as a “disguised republic.”

Recently Mr. Justice Michael Kirby rejoiced in the Commonwealth of Australia as a “crowned republic.”

So a poll or plebiscite question which uses “republic” does not tell us much.

The question in the Sun Herald Taverner poll was “Should Australia become a republic?”

Apart from the Humpty Dumpty word “ republic” , the first word of the question is  “should.”  

This has the core meaning, according to the Encarta dictionary, “that something is the right thing for somebody to do.”

A more neutral verb would give a fairer view.

Even the verb “become” is not the most neutral word. It also has the meaning of being “an appropriate or socially acceptable thing for somebody to say or do.”

This is not nitpicking. The words used in polling are crucial.

By way of contrast the 1999 referendum question, developed by a parliamentary committee and settled by republican and monarchist MP’s, briefly elaborated on the sort of republic which was proposed and used neutral language.[ii]

In any event, 49% said yes to the Taverner poll, but according to a second question, most of these want it delayed.

Accordingly,  the Taverner Research managing director Philip Mitchell-Taverner issued the following warning.

"It would appear from these latest poll findings that those who want us to become a republic may be sensible to wait at least until Queen Elizabeth leaves the throne before there will be ready acceptance of the change."

The last Newspoll showed support for a vague republic  was down to 45%,[iii] and according to the last West Australian in depth youth survey, 38%.[iv]


...Humpty Dumpty hypothetical...


The Sun Herald Poll Taverner poll has a second question partially about peoples' views today about how they may feel many years hence.  

This is “Should Australia move to become a republic as soon as possible or when The Queen’s reign ends?”

The same comments apply to the use of the word “republic” without elaboration, and the use of the word “ should.”  

If the question is as presented, it gives a preference to the first two choices, both preceded by the word “should.” It seems to give two alternatives, with the existing Constiution being an after thought.

The answers were:

·          As soon as possible: 39%

·          When The Queen’s reign ends: 30%

·          Stay as we are, regardless of who is on the throne:26%

·          Unsure:5%     

 

Support for a vague ,undefined republic at the end of the reign in the Taverener poll is higher than in other recent polls.  .  For example a Newspoll in 2006 said that support for an undefined republic on the succession of Prince Charles was 52%.[v]

 




...mate for a head of state poll..
 

Not to be outdone, Peter FizSimons in the same issue of the Sun Herald, enters into the fray.

Mr. FitzSimons spent a lot of time and effort, with some leading legal minds, on the previous “mate for a head of state” campaign.[vi]


His column, The Fitz Files, has a  caricature of the ACM National Convener. Suited he has two wings. They are both Union Flags.

He proposes his own “simple referendum question.”


“ Do you believe that this is the 21st century after all, and if so, do you think it high time that we backed ourselves as a grown up people capable of governing ourselves without recourse to the current embarrassing anachronistic system, whereby our head of state is selected by every generation putting a baseball mitt to the highest nether regions of the English aristocracy?”

We suspect this would require a supplemental grant to the electoral commissions printing budget.

He says if you vote yes, you get to vote in the next round on what sort of republic we should have.


If you vote No, as Australia did in the 1999 landslide, Mr. FitzSimons proposes what he sees as an awful fate.

“...you must listen to speeches from Professor David Flint of Australians for Constitutional Fairytales, until your nose bleeds and you learn the error of your ways.”


...our proposed questions...

 

We think it would be reasonable ask people whether they wish to have this issue on the agenda. In particular :

·          Whether they think that after the Republic Advisory Committee, the Constitutional Convention, the referendum and the Senate Inquiry and Report, more taxpayer funding should be spent on this issue;

·          Whether they think the issue should be reopened after the vote in 1999, and

·          What priority they give to fundamental change to the constitution and the flag.

We suspect that both the politicians know the answers.   

 


 


[i] See this column, ” Panic at the Summit: judges resign,” 12 April, 2008
             
[ii] The question was “Do you approve of the proposed law to alter the Constitution to establish the Commonwealth of Australia as a republic with the Queen and the Governor-General being replaced by a President appointed by a two thirds majority of the members of the Parliament?”

 The ARM sought to remove the words “President” and “republic”; ACM sought to have added  words which accurately described the unusual provision concerning dismissal .

These were: and who may be dismissed at any time by the Prime Minister without notice, without the giving of reasons and without any right of appeal.”

 
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