|Keeping the Crown in people's minds|
|Written by Senator Nick Minchin|
|Friday, 17 October 2003|
Senator Minchin: Thank you for the opportunity to speak.
Congratulate ACM on the Conference, and all of you on your support for this vital organisation.
I’m a member of a number of community organisations dedicated to important causes – the Liberal Party; Sustainable Population Australia, Chapman Society, Lavoisier Group, Samuel Griffith Society, and of course the Adelaide Football Club.
But I regard the ACM and its cause as being at least as important as any of the other bodies I support.
I cannot think of anything more important to our legal, political and constitutional structure than our Constitutional Monarchy.
It is the bedrock, the foundation, the lynchpin of one of the most sophisticated and successful set of constitutional arrangements in the world.
I’ve been part of many successful election campaigns in my 26 years of active politics, but nothing has given me more satisfaction than our victory in the Referendum on 6 November 1999.
What was so significant about the success of the NO case was that it was a grassroots campaign, which overcame a mighty army arrayed against us – the media, the Labor Party, the Australian Democrats, State Governments and Oppositions, numerous significant Liberals and the intellectual elites.
Ours was thus a stunning and comprehensive victory.
But I offer 2 critical messages – supporters of our Constitutional Monarchy cannot be complacent; and we must be realistic, not romantic, about why we won.
Guarding against complacency is the prime responsibility of this great organisation, and I commend Kerry and David and other ACM leaders on the level of activity being maintained in the wake of the referendum.
It would’ve been easy to pack up and go home after the battle of ’99 – but you know as well as I do, the war of ideas goes on.
In fact Labor and the Democrats recently combined to pass a motion to have a Senate Committee inquire into the establishment of and models for an Australian republic. The Committee is yet to call for submissions, but when it does I urge you to have your say.
Australian supporters of a republic remain highly motivated and committed, and have enormous resources at their disposal.
It was intriguing to see Australian republicans drool over Peter Hollingworth’s recent difficulties. In the referendum campaign the republicans mocked our assertion that we already have in the Governor General an Australian Head of State, but as they sought to capitalise on Peter Hollingworth’s situation, they all willingly and self-servingly described him as Australia’s Head of State.
It was breathtaking hypocrisy on the part of so many of our antagonists in 1999.
But the commentary surrounding the sad demise of Peter Hollingworth must surely have confirmed for all time that the Governor-General is indeed our Head of State.
The process by which Peter Hollingworth was replaced by Major-General Michael Jeffery as our Head of State also demonstrated what an effective set of Constitutional arrangements we are blessed with.
But we can never be complacent about defending these from Republican attack.
I also said that we must be realistic, not romantic, about why we won.
There are no doubts many Australians who love the British Royal family and the magic of monarchy.
Many of us are delighted that an Australian woman is joining the Danish royal family, and the republican Australian media has taken a remarkable interest in that happy event.
Nevertheless, we should not kid ourselves that the NO case prevailed 4 years ago because of majority enthusiasm for the British Crown and royal family.
A key and distinguishing feature of Australians is our pragmatism.
My good friend and fellow Constitutional Monarchist Alexander Downer, has come to know the world intimately in his 7.5 years as our outstanding Foreign Minister.
Alexander often remarks that it is that pragmatic streak which most marks us out from the peoples of other nations.
It is a characteristic borne of our history of building one of the world’s most successful civilised societies in the space of 200 years on an isolated continent at the bottom of the world, whose tough and uncompromising natural conditions have broken the hearts of many men and women.
It is that characteristic pragmatism which ensured the NO case prevailed in 1999.
A majority of Australians were persuaded that the current system seems to work fairly well, and its opponents could not establish that their alternative would work any better.
It was about what works, and what might not work.
It was not about the Crown, the Queen, Prince Charles, Buckingham Palace or anything else to do with royalty per se.
The sillier republicans tried to make the trappings of monarchy the issue with no success, because that was not and never was going to be the swing factor for middle Australia.
The challenge for Republicans was then, is now and forever will be, to establish that they have a system which will work at least as well if not better than what we have.
They couldn’t do it 4 years ago and I personally think they will never be able to do it.
Some of my less hard-line Constitutional Monarchist friends say they’ll always oppose a Republic, but think it’s inevitable.
I say it is not inevitable.
I say that because I do think our Constitutional Monarchy is the best system of Government so far devised by man and works better than any republican model on offer.
I also say that because I doubt Australians will ever vote for any Republican model except one involving a popularly elected President, and no Australian Government with even a modicum of political wit will ever put such a model to a referendum.
Recent events in California have amazed all us political junkies.
As a supporter of the Grand Old Party of the US, which unfortunately these days go by the name of the Republican Party, I am delighted to see California re-call its Democratic Governor and install a Grand Old Party candidate by the name of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
However, this extraordinary sequence of events must be a massive warning sign to Australian Republicans of the consequences of a popular election for a President.
There is a columnist in the Adelaide Advertiser by the name of Rex Jory who is a friend of mine but unfortunately a Republican – I regret to say that some of my best friends are Republicans, which proves what a lousy advocate I am.
Rex wrote a good column last week saying that, while he was an Australian Republican, the Terminator’s Californian victory demonstrated the enormous dangers of a popular direct election in which profile and lots of money could so comprehensively determine the outcome.
Rex asked us to imagine if Kylie Minogue nominated for President of Australia, and wondered in the wake of the California result who would dare predict that she would not win.
This is the great catch 22 of Australian republicanism – it’s leaders know that direct election of a President would be a disaster, but they also know that Australians will never support any other Republican model.
What we must remember is that the majority Australian support for our Constitutional Monarchy is a function of our pragmatism; it is not a function of any reverence for the Crown and the trappings of Monarchy.
Many well-meaning Australians urged me to argue for the restoration of knighthoods upon our return to Government in 1996.
With considerable respect, I told them to forget it – nothing could more comprehensively undermine the integrity of our support for Constitutional Monarchy than to restore knighthoods.
I believe in and support our Constitutional Monarchy because it works – not because I want to be called Sir Nicholas.
We must accept the paradigm of pragmatism and constantly argue our case within it.
The great legacy of functionality which our colonial history has bequeathed us was starkly summed up for me on a visit to Argentina 3 years ago.
Argentina should be just as rich, stable and successful as Australia, but demonstrably is not.
I asked a well educated, intelligent young Argentinean banker in Buenos Aires why he thought this was so.
He said in reply that the answer was simple: Australia got the best of the British, and Argentina got the worst of the Spanish.
And isn’t it fascinating that Spain, itself, in restoring its democracy in 1976 after more than 40 years of fascist rule, had the wisdom to restore its Constitutional Monarchy as a fundamental part of its democratic structure.
I met many Argentineans who wish they had a Constitutional Monarchy just like ours – they understood what a source of stability and constitutional security it has been for Australia.
Our mission is to defend our Constitutional Monarchy, to support it and to ensure that the generations of Australians to come, can enjoy the privilege of living as we do within a constitutional structure second to none.
That is not to say that every line in our Constitution is immutable.
Indeed I am delighted that the Prime Minister has distributed a discussion paper on possible reform of the Constitution’s provisions relating to the mechanism for resolving deadlocks between our two Houses of the Commonwealth Parliament.
We do have one of the most powerful upper houses in the democratic world and one of the most problematic procedures for resolving deadlocks.
Legislative, not Constitutional change since Federation has entrenched conflict between the two Houses.
I refer of course to the introduction of proportional representation for the Senate in 1949, and the enlargement of the Senate in 1983.
Both these legislative changes were introduced by Labor Governments, and in combination they have delivered enormous power to a handful of Senators representing tiny parties on a seemingly permanent basis.
Thus there is an increasing number of deadlocked Bills and an increasing threat to the good government of Australia.
I do think we should change the Constitution to improve the mechanism for resolving deadlocks and I personally favour the second option in the Prime Minister’s discussion paper.
That option would allow a Government re-elected after a normal election for the House of Representatives and half the Senate to convene a joint sitting of the two Houses to consider legislation which had been twice defeated, three months apart in the previous Parliament, and defeated again in the new Parliament.
It is a relatively modest proposal, which will provide a better way for resolving deadlocks.
It deals only with what I might call part of the superstructure of our Constitution and not the basic hull.
It is a proposal to amend our Constitution in response to the consequences of Labor’s legislative changes to the number and method of election of Senators, which have increased the number of deadlocked Bills.
Thus I conclude by confirming my profound support for the foundation of our Constitution – our Constitutional Monarchy - while advocating a modest change to the deadlock provisions to enable democratically elected Governments to govern.
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