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ACM Home arrow Convenor's Column arrow Republican plebiscites slammed as irresponsible vandalism: Senator Minchin

Republican plebiscites slammed as irresponsible vandalism: Senator Minchin Print E-mail
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Tuesday, 17 June 2008

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Senator Nick Minchin was responsible for implementing the Coalition's promise at the 1996 election to hold a Constitutional Convention to consider the question of a Republic.

He regards this as one of the greatest honours bestowed on him by Prime Minister John Howard.

The conduct of the Convention is a great tribute to him. It was open, fair and transparent, and allowed participation by the people, political leaders of all parties across the Commonwealth, as well as a selected group of outstanding Australians. 

The process of selection for this was so fair that the very competent chairmen turned out both to be republicans and most of the nominated members were not constitutional monarchists.

Compare that with the 2020 Summit.

Senator Minchin is one of those honourable people in politics who are  not afraid to hold to their principles when this is unfashionable or even when it is declared  to be hopeless by most of the media and the political class.

In holding to his principles he has always behaved honourably, and ensured that his opponents are treated fairly.

To use a word which has become unfashionable, for reasons which are self evident, he is a gentleman.

It is disappointing that those who ran the 2020 Summit did not accept that they should have behaved similarly. 
In the referendum campaign, Senator Minchin was one of a small band of constitutionalists who would not be swayed by the fashion of the day, and who did not lose hope because of a massive media and political juggernaut.

He was involved to the hilt on every single day of that campaign.  He played a significant role in ensuring that the republicans were defeated in the 1999 landslide.

The fact that our safe and stable constitution is still in place owes much to his efforts. 
So when he speaks on this issue , he does so with considerable authority. 



.......inviting  a vote of No Confidence in our constitutional system...



Senator Nick Minchin has now issued a powerful warning against the use of a plebiscite or plebiscites to overcome the "complete failure of the 1999 Referendum.”

He likened this strategy to a form of guerrilla warfare which has as its object the undermining of our constitutional monarchy to the point where it is hoped that it will simply collapse under the attacks.

The plebiscite he says would be "a gigantic and irresponsibly expensive distraction designed to produce a vote of No Confidence in our current Constitutional arrangements,... a form of Constitutional vandalism cynically designed to rip apart the legitimacy of our Constitutional Monarchy." 

"It would produce a dangerous and extended period of Constitutional instability, with the legitimacy of the very pillars of our Constitution being severely damaged. 

Senator Minchin said that constitutional monarchists must have”no part" in such a process, and should "oppose it at every turn." 

He said it is the responsibility of constitutional monarchists "to demand of Labor that they abide by the process for Constitutional change laid down so wisely by our Founding Fathers." 

"We cannot let them get away with the fraud and deceit of a plebiscite based first on the fatuous proposition that we need a Republic in order to have an Australian Head of State." 

He said that constitutional monarchists must work harder to ensure "that Australians understand that Constitutional Monarchy is about a system of government that works, and is not simply about who sits on the throne."

The text of his speech follows. 

 

13 June 2008

   

Thank you for invitation to speak at your Queen's Birthday luncheon – honour to do so.

 

And right that we honour the extraordinary public service of Queen Elizabeth the Second, our Sovereign.

 

Even though I am now 55 – with my birthday in April, the same month as the Queen’s – she has been our Queen for all but six weeks of my life.

 

And she has not merely presided but has reigned with grace, dignity, compassion, wisdom and commonsense.

 

It is Australia’s great good fortune to be a Constitutional Monarchy with Queen Elizabeth as our sovereign.

 

I affirm to you today my strong support for our Constitutional Monarchy, which in my view will survive well beyond the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

 

A Republic in Australia is certainly not inevitable.

 

It was my privilege to be a Minister in John Howard’s Federal Coalition Government for 10 years, and to share with him a deep and abiding commitment to our current Constitutional arrangements.

 

One of the greatest honours he bestowed on me early on in our Government was the responsibility of implementing our promise at the 1996 election to hold a Constitutional Convention to consider the question of a Republic.

 

Given that I simultaneously had responsibility for reform of the Native Title Act, it was a challenging but exciting task.

 

The planning and implementation of the national election of Convention delegates was a considerable undertaking, but I’m pleased to note resulted in the first non-compulsory national election for about 75 years.

 

Can I say with due modesty that the Constitutional Convention was one of the great successes of our Government, accepted by Constitutional Monarchists and Republicans alike as a great meeting of minds and a very fair and equitable process for considering all the issues associated with Australia becoming a Republic.

 

It is a great tribute to John Howard’s integrity that following the 1998 Convention he honoured his commitment to put in place a Constitutional Referendum on the ARM’s preferred model.

 

He also honoured his promise to stay out of the Republican campaign, thus leaving the task of advocacy for the status quo to the likes of me, Tony Abbott and other conservatives within our Coalition.

 

Nothing in my political life has given me greater pleasure than to be part of the 1999 campaign to persuade the Australian people to reject the proposed Republic.

 

Our victory was resounding – with every State, even Victoria, voting NO.

 

The unity and sense of purpose among the defenders of the status quo was magnificent, and contrasted starkly with the disarray on the Republican side.

 

But now as a result of our loss of Government last November, we have a Federal Labor Government bound by a Party Platform which commits it to the destruction of our Constitutional Monarchy.

 

We have for the first time for 12 years a PM who is a committed Republican.

 

We have a PM whose biggest initiative so far was to hold a 2020 summit, the only outcome of which anyone can remember was a renewed demand for a Republic.

 

We have for the first time ever a Labor monopoly on power at Federal, State and Territory level, with all that that means for the future of our Constitutional Monarchy.

 

We have 9 Labor Governments which cynically and deceitfully perpetuate the lie that our Governor-General is not our Head of State, and whose whole raison d’etre for a Republic is the proposition that an Australian should be our Head of State.

 

Given that an Australian, Michael Jeffery, is already our Head of State, this seems a remarkably flimsy basis for Constitutional upheaval of the kind required to turn Australia into a Republic.

 

On that note may I take the opportunity to praise the work of Michael Jeffery as our Governor-General and Head of State.  He has conducted himself with great dignity and exemplary behaviour.

 

May I also congratulate Quentin Bryce on her appointment as our next Governor-General, and the first female to hold that office.

 

I have every reason to believe she will be a fine occupant of that great office – and I am pleased to note that in the past she has identified herself as a Constitutional Monarchist.

 

I expect her to be a very good Australian Head of State, who will strengthen public support for the role of Governor-General in the current Constitutional arrangements.

 

While the new Labor Government appears to have chosen well, there are no doubt many in Labor ranks determined to ensure that Quentin Bryce is our last Governor-General.

 

It will no doubt fall to you and I and millions of other Constitutional Monarchists to ensure that she is not.

 

Labor’s approach to the destruction of our Constitutional Monarchy will this time be more subtle, more devious and more insidious than that of the last Labor Republican PM, Paul Keating.

 

This time Labor is committed to a 2-stage process, which first involves destroying the legitimacy of our Constitutional Monarchy.

 

Their chosen vehicle for destroying the legitimacy of our Constitutional Monarchy is the device of national plebiscites to “establish support for an Australian Head of State and the preference for different forms of a Republic”, as set out in Labor’s National Platform.

 

Given Labor’s complete failure in the 1999 Referendum, this time they will try to use a form of guerrilla warfare to undermine our Constitutional Monarchy to the point where they hope it simply collapses.

 

They will begin by continuing to perpetuate the Orwellian lie that we don’t – but should – have an Australian as Head of State.

 

They will continue to reduce the complex issue of an Australian Republic to the simplistic notion that it’s about us having an Australian Head of State.

 

They will use taxpayer funds to hold a national plebiscite asking Australians if we should have an Australian Head of State.

 

Assuming majority support in the plebiscite for that proposition, they will conduct another plebiscite offering presumably two models for a Republic.

 

The model which receives majority support in the plebiscite – which is bound to involve a popularly-elected President –will then be put forward in a Constitutional Referendum.

 

This is a process which we Constitutional Monarchists should never support.

 

A taxpayer-funded national plebiscite is nothing more than a massively expensive opinion poll.

 

It will tell us nothing that a professionally conducted opinion poll will tell us.

 

It could not tell us anymore than the most recent nationwide opinion poll on a Republic told us.

 

A Roy Morgan survey in May 2008 confirmed that only a minority of Australians - 45% - want Australia to become a Republic with an elected President.

 

Support for a Republic with a President appointed by politicians would be considerably less.

 

It is a process that is bound to lead to a directly-elected President, which most thoughtful Republicans agree would be a disaster.

 

A plebiscite conducted by a Labor Government will of course not be fair and objective.

 

It will be based on perpetuating the lie that we don’t already have an Australian Head of State.

 

It will be a gigantic and irresponsibly expensive distraction designed to produce a vote of No Confidence in our current Constitutional arrangements.

 

This is a form of Constitutional vandalism cynically designed to rip apart the legitimacy of our Constitutional Monarchy.

 

It would produce a dangerous and extended period of Constitutional instability, with the legitimacy of the very pillars of our Constitution being severely damaged.

 

We should have no part of such a process.

 

We should oppose it at every turn.

 

If Labor wants to destroy our Constitutional Monarchy, it should seek to do so in the only legitimate, honest and lawful manner available – by way of a Referendum to amend our Constitution.

 

The only legitimate way for Labor to bring about its Republican paradise is to agree on the details of a Republican system of Government, pass the requisite legislation through the Commonwealth Parliament, and put the proposed Constitutional Amendments to the Australian people in a Referendum.

 

It is our responsibility to demand of Labor that they abide by the process for Constitutional change laid down so wisely by our Founding Fathers.

 

We cannot let them get away with the fraud and deceit of a plebiscite based first on the fatuous proposition that we need a Republic in order to have an Australian Head of State.

 

At the same time we must all continue to argue the public case for the virtues of our current Constitutional arrangements.

 

And this case is not about simply affection and respect for the Queen and her successors.

 

This is about protecting and preserving one of the most successful national Constitutions ever devised by humankind.

 

One only has to observe the facile, shallow and never-ending soap opera that is the US Presidential election process to be forever grateful we have been bequeathed our Australian Constitution.

 

As this is a Queen’s Birthday luncheon, it is important to note that Australians’ continuing reservations about a Republic are very much influenced by their great respect and admiration for Queen Elizabeth.

 

As I mentioned before, a recent Morgan Gallup poll found support for a Republic with an elected President was at 45%, the lowest level in nearly 15 years.

 

However if Prince Charles became King, support for a Republic in this same poll rose to 56%.

 

That is a welcome sign of the affection Australians have for Queen Elizabeth, but a sobering message for we Constitutional Monarchists.

 

It is the reason many Republicans state openly that the next Referendum on a Republic should not be held until Queen Elizabeth is no longer on the throne.

 

And it is the reason why we must work harder to ensure that Australians understand that Constitutional Monarchy is about a system of government that works, and is not simply about who sits on the throne.

 

I am a supporter of our Constitutional Monarchy not because I’m a Royalist, but because we have a set of Constitutional arrangements that has served Australia extraordinarily well and there is not a Republican model to match it.

 

We need to convince a majority of Australians of two things in relation to our system of Government:

 

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

 

There is an inherent law of unintended consequences.

 

The first should appeal to the underlying pragmatic conservatism of most Australians, and it puts the onus on Republicans to prove that the current system is broke, which to date they have failed to do.

 

The second should be known to anyone who has had anything to do with Governments.

 

If there is one thing I learnt in 10 years as a Federal Minister, it is that there are always unintended consequences of any Government action.

 

I shudder to contemplate the unintended consequences that could be unleashed by the Constitutional upheaval required to turn Australia into a Republic are unimaginable. 

 

So while today we honour Queen Elizabeth, the greater honour is for the institution she represents and the system of government of which the monarchy is the lynchpin.

 

One of the many reasons I joined the Liberal Party was its long and proud tradition of support for our Constitutional Monarchy.

 

With Labor in power everywhere, our Constitutional Monarchy faces a difficult period.  Nevertheless you can be assured that I and thousands of other Liberals around Australia will continue to take every opportunity to articulate the great virtues of one of the best set of Constitutional arrangements the world has ever seen.

 

Thank you.

[This is the text of a speech given by Senator Nick Minchin to a Queen's birthday lunch in Sydney hosted by  the Australian Monarchist League and made public in a media release by the Senator's office]

         
 
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