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ACM Home arrow Anthems arrow Speeches arrow Titbits from the Republicans

Titbits from the Republicans Print E-mail
Written by Philip Gibson   
Friday, 17 October 2003
The YWCA Conference Centre
Sydney, Australia

Transcript as released by the Office of Research and Education

Mr Gibson: My involvement over the years as a full time volunteer has revealed some interesting “tit bits” and I list a few today.

They could be called:-

“Curious Republican Contradictions” or
“A catalogue of conflict”

The referendum was damagingly and acrimoniously divisive.

We observed respected former Governors-General. Chief Justices, Prime Ministers, Academics with Constitutional expertise, Coalition Ministers and Members all disagreeing implacably And most regrettably and sadly, serious divisions occurred within families, at the work place and among friends. And now we observe that republicans are still totally unable to unite to present a Republican Constitution which represents the aspirations of a majority of their own supporters. Instead they ask us to pick one of 5 or 6 different models in draft and totally lacking the difficult and essential detail.

Firstly, they have serious internal disagreement on a direct election model. A.R.M. Chair Prof. John Warhurst is on record that the next ARM Conference will deal only repeat ONLY with the direct election model.(1) The “Australian” newspoll of last year says 79% prefer a President directly elected by the people. But Neville Wran says:

“As a matter of tactics, those who want a republic in place must take the direct electionists head on - the principle of the popular vote – is a recipe for chaos and confusion.”(2)

Turnbull adds

“Nothing worried me more than the direct election argument.(Paul Keating and I) both agreed that a direct election would start off with high support but be destroyed by concerted opposition from the coalition and all other credible figures who would point to its fundamental contradiction: that it would turn the Head of State into a political political partisan. There is absolutely no prospect whatsoever of the Coalition supporting a directly elected president any time soon, if ever. And most Labor leaders are opposed to a directly elected President.”(3) "Most Labor leaders are opposed to a directly elected President."(4)

Paul Keating agrees: “a popularly elected President would constitute a very dramatic – and undesirable – change to a system which all of us agree has served us well.” (5)

But Republican Clem Jones disagrees and wants direct election. (6)

Jenny Macklin ditto, Will Fowles ditto, Prof. Glyn Davis, Ted Mack and Phil Cleary ditto. But Prof. Winterton disagrees and says that a directly elective Presidency will destabilise and radically alter Australian Government.” But separately he says:- “It is practically inconceivable that the public will accept anything less than direct election. It’s direct election or nothing.” (7)

Republican Senator Andrew Murray is “FOR popular (direct) election: (8)

But Republican Prof. Greg Craven is AGAINST it and warns “All direct election models will fundamentally DISTURB the Constitution.” (8A)

Republican Peter Reith was FOR direct election, but was later quoted by Malcolm Turnbull, saying:-“The President could be there for life because Prime Minister could refuse to nominate a new one. The President would be a poodle of the Prime Minister” (9)

Malcolm Turnbull goes on to say “Embracing direct election now will kill the republic. It will also divide the Labor Party and unite the Coalition against it.”(10)

“A directly elected President will be a politician. That is a certainty.” (11)

Sir Gerard Brennan adds: “The model of direct election could be adopted only at a price,

namely, the virtual elimination of eminent, non- political citizens for the presidency.” (12)

Sir Zelman Cowen said: “It is practically inconceivable that the public will accept anything less than direct election.” (13)

Victorian Republican John Brumby disagrees: “An elected president cannot be an impartial umpire – conflict will inevitably arise.” (13A)

Now, having heard all that – here is what the ARM. official brochure says:

“However if the Australian people indicate they want to elect the Head of State directly, then the A.R.M. would support this.” So in spite of total opposition to a directly elected President by their expert leaders, Brennan, Wran, Turnbull, Keating, Winterton, Craven, Brumby, Vanstone and others, the ARM would STILL support it.

This confirms they want a Republic “AT ANY COST” – even if it conflicts totally with their published criticisms of it. But wait, here comes the exquisite irony of all time. The A.L.P. Republican leaders have now changed from electing the ALP President by the votes of the ALP conference (a few hundred), to popular election by its 45,000 odd party members.

Should front runner Carmen Lawrence, an outspoken critic of Crean, get elected as ALP President, and should the ALP be elected to Government, she will become the popularly elected ALP President competing against Crean’s Prime Ministership and with vastly more votes, thus creating 2 power centres, RIVAL centres of power, each pulling in destructively different directions – exactly the political power conflict that republican experts argued so strongly against in the lead up to the Referendum. As I said the irony is exquisite!

How very confusing! What do these people want?

Next, Republicans say – “We are not independent”

But Republican Sir Zelman Cowen says we are! (15)

Republican Sir Gerard Brennan says we are! (16)

Republican Prof. Cheryl Saunders says we are! (17)

Republican Kim Beazley says we are!(18)

Malcolm Turnbull says we are! (19)

The High Court of Australia [20] and The Australia Act of 1986 says we are!

Republicans McRae-McMahon/Frank Brennan/Mark Mckenna say we are!(21)

If only we had a media independent of Rupert Murdoch!

Next to the Head of State question

The ARM have one only strategy – which is its emotional and misinformed chant “We want an Australian Head of State” – trying to have us believe that the Queen is our
Head of State.

If we can encourage the electorate to understand that the Governor-General is Head of State we have removed their sole strategy. That is why I have invested a lot of effort to nullify this Republican false assertion, and I place on record the extraordinary and highly expert help I’ve had from Sir David Smith. As Official Secretary to 5 Governors-General he is of course the ultimate expert on this. His Feb.2003 paper “the Governor-General is our Head of State” is the definitive paper and I urge you to obtain a copy from This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or me. Separately I have distributed 2500 copies of AIDC’s paper “Who is Head of State of Australia” to a wide range of people, including the ARM Board and the only one who as responded and remained in disagreement is Republican Daryl Williams, former Attorney-General, who pushes the ARM line that the Queen is Head of State but cannot back it up with any document which says so. He just says is “appropriate”. As a lawyer that is not good enough. On the other hand, the Commonwealth Government Directory – THE OFFICIAL GUIDE officially described the Governor General as “He is the Head of State”. – I have copies here..

Would you believe this is what the official ARM brochure says:-

“The Head of State is a person who, symbolically and in many practical ways, presides over the system of government in a country. In Australia, the Head of State appoints the government following a general election, signs legislation and regulations into law on advice from that government and the Federal Parliament.”

That of course is precisely what our Head of State, the Governor-General is and does.

Sir David Smith has drawn attention to the following very significant fact:- That the Queen is the Head of State of Canada but the Founding Fathers of our Constitution specifically excluded that title from our Constitution. Well worth noting. (27A)

Next ARM wants a President’s powers codified and written down.

NO, says Sir Gerard Brennan, who says: “overall the ABSENCE of codified conventions has been beneficial in allowing the evolution of an independent system of national government.” (28)

But Malcolm Turnbull disagrees and says:-

“I support full codification of the powers of the President.” “The rules should be written down.” (29)

But NO says Mr. Keating – “The reserve powers should remain as they are – unwritten.” (30)

YES says Paul Kelly of The Australian “Republicans must codify” (31)

NO says Gareth Evans “Definition of the unwritten conventions would be a labour of Hercules – frankly I think the task is impossible.” (32)YES says Michael Ward – ARM director – he wants them codified. (33)NO says Republican Robert Manne “Shouldn’t be codified.”(34) Winterton says “Leave them untouched.” (35)ALP Republican Bob Hogg says “Reserve powers should not be codified” (36)But Republican Donald Horne said if powers not written “even I will vote NO” (37) So there you have it. As Julian Leeser says – “United in their disunity.”

Would a Republic be a small change or a big change?

Rabid Republican Daryl Williams said the referendum model involved only minor changes. But Greg Craven disagrees totally and says :- “There are virtually no questions on Australian Constitutional law and theory more complicated and more perplexing than those that surround the process by which the monarchy might be abolished…. A fairly powerful case could be made for the Constitutional indispensability of the Monarch. .. The model is attended by real Constitutional complications.” (39)

Republican Clerk of the Senate, Mr. Harry Evans, Australia’s most senior Public Servant, warned that the proposed change foreshadowed by Mr. Keating would have to be far more dramatic, with State constitutions having to be written from ‘scratch’.

Greg Craven adds “It seems clear enough, therefore, that the mere abolition of the Monarchy in the Commonwealth sphere would have no effect whatsoever on the position of the Crown in the Sates. On its face Section 128 permits the amendment only of the Commonwealth and not the State Constitutions.” (22)

So it seems that republicans forgot totally about the States. Thus republican Tom Keneally was correct when he said it would be “quite the biggest structural change since Federation.” (40) However, his disgraceful and disgusting description of the Queen as “a colostomy bag on Australia” (41) puts him in a special category of revulsion.

While on change - Republican Professor John Hirst wants to change our system and then describes it as “amongst the oldest and most stable democracies in the world.” (42)

“The Governor-General and Governors are the stabilisers and protectors of the system.” “The Monarch remains the guardian of the Westminster system.” (43) Even Greg Barns said “100 years of stable democratic government few countries can match.” Can you believe these people?

A Plebiscite

Republicans now want to hold 2 plebiscites before, and in addition to, a referendum asking the questions: “Do you want an Australian Head of State?” and “Do you want a Republic?” but omitting to tell us whether they want a Zimbabwean one, an American one or an Argentine one. And that 2 plebiscites and a referendum or similar are needed for each state as well as Federally – 21 polls in all! I have a costing of this at $2 billion (43A).

But Republican Tim Fischer says:-

“A plebiscite would have no power to change anything and would be absolutely no guarantee of a successful Republican end process.” (44) Republican Amanda Vanstone says a plebiscite is an “abrogation of responsibility.” (45)

Greg Craven says “It is futile to think a plebiscite will solve the problem.”

So which Republican faction are we to believe? The ARM want a plebiscite but their leaders disagree. A plebiscite without a fully detailed model is voting BLIND. Who would contemplate a new spouse without even first seeing him/her?

I submit the best use for a plebiscite is for Republicans to hold their own internal plebiscite at their own cost on selecting a model they consider is a better one for all Australians.

It is “inevitable” say Republicans. But John Warhurst says “realistic republicans would have always known that nothing is inevitable in politics.”(46) So who do we believe?

I submit that those who say it’s inevitable are frightened it won’t be. Inevitability involves no debate. Inevitability is a weakness as it brooks no argument. Inevitability offers no choice – so why have a democracy?

ARM says it won’t cost more. Well, that’s proven spectacularly wrong by Mr. Carr’s expulsion of the NSW Governor from Government House. This now costs $1.8m. per annum more!

And what happened to the proposal to build a multi-million dollar Presidential Palace in Canberra? Like changing the flag, republicans don’t like talking about that.

Perhaps Jim Bacon should expel Richard Butler from Govenrment House in Tasmania to a modest suburban house in Hobart and destroy his hypocritical Republican dreams of high office and instead lead the new breakaway (Republican) group for which I have coined the title A.R.M. 2 (Australian Republican Monarchists).

The ARM official brochure says:

“If the local football and cricket club can decide on a constitution and on how it is governed, then it is not too much to ask Australians to be able to. After 10 years of trying – it appears impossible. Perhaps they should sit in on Iraq’s attempts to design its constitution? Maybe that is why republican Peter Costello recently visited the Middle East, to get some help.

It may surprise you to know that I have up on my office wall a photo of Malcolm Turnbull adorning his quote of the decade again made after the referendum – not before:- “You’ve got to be practical. Conservative Republicans will never agree to abandon the Westminster system. Members of Parliament do not want a separate executive presidency. It breaks their lock on ministerial positions. But the strongest argument is that we already have a perfectly good functioning democracy. Governments go in and out. They are more answerable to the voter than say, the British ones. We have elements of Westminster, elements of Washington. It’s a uniquely Australian system that works well.”

But why didn’t he convey this to the electorate BEFORE the referendum?

I suggest the answer is that he hid that from us because he wanted to be the first President. Now this person on the record as a flag-changer is trying all in his power to oust Peter King in Wentworth.

Unbridled ambition – not for the Liberals, not for Australia – but for Malcolm Turnbull. And here’s another little quote by a republican expert “Australia’s Constitution was excellent – not just very good, and none of the ARM’s 6 models was acceptable to conservative republicans.” (47)

In conclusion

I go to the office I rent from ACM every day and I see at close quarters what Kerry, Phuong, Clare and Keiran do and I can assure you we are unbelievably fortunate to have such an incredibly hardworking and happy team. A team graced by our Convenor, David Flint, and supported by our wonderful volunteers. So I urge you, instead of thanking them in the usual way, to give them a more meaningful thank you by each taking an ACM brochure and encouraging just one new supporter each.

This may allow ACM to pay a new person to make them even more efficient.

But please thank them all in the usual way anyhow – they are so important and so dedicated.

Thank you.


(1) Republican Party of Australia’s Newsletter No. 29 and private letter by Warhurst to O’Leary.[17/02/03]
(2)The case for 'YES'. Federation Press 1999. p22.
(3)Fighting for the Republic. Hardie Grant Books 1999. p.189 et seq.
(4) Weekend Australian 16/17 June 2001
(5) Weekend Australian 16/17 June 2001
(6) Fighting for the Republic p.188
(7) Winterton’s “Presidential powers under direct election” p.230
(8) Canberra Times 11 August 2001
(8A) The Australian 20 November 2002 p.11
(9) Fighting for the Republic p186
(10). Fighting for the Republic p.247
(11) Fighting for the Republic p.191
(12) Geoffrey Sawer Lecture July 2001
(13) Williamson lecture 31 May 1995
(15) SMH 8.9.200
(16) Fourth Geoffrey Sawer lecture 18.7.2001
(17) University of Queensland “Constitutional Politics’ p.204
(18) The case for YES, p.33
(19) “The Reluctant Republic” pp.3 & 4
(20) Sue v. Hill 23 June 1999
(21) The case for YES Federation Press 1999
(22) C.I.S. Spring 1992 ‘Policy”
(27A) AIDC paper “Sir David Smith on Australia’s Head of State”
(28) Fourth Geoffrey Sawer Lecture 18.7.01
(29) The Australian 16 July 2001
(30) Speech to Parliament 7 June 1993
(31) Quadrant May 1995
(32) Australian Financial Review 9 May 1995
(33) Bulletin May 1995
(34)Quadrant April 1995
(35) Ibid
(36) Australian Financial Review 10 July 2003
(37) Sydney Morning Herald 3 June 1995
(39) C.I.S. Spring 1992 Policy
(40) Channel 9 Nightline 198.1.99
(41) St. Patricks Day 1992
(42) Quadrant 1992
(43) C.I.S. Spring 1992 ‘Policy’
(43A) AIDC paper “An Attempt to cost …the plebiscites”
(44) The Age 20.11.2002
(45) tba
(46) ARM Magazine "Australians All"
(47) The Australian 20 November 2002

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