As a tribute to the late Kym Bonython, Patron of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, we reproduce his speech to the Constitutional Convention.
Canberra, 4th February 1998.
Until I arrived in Canberra, I imagined that I would be the oldest elected delegate to this Convention. I was wrong. Clem Jones beat me by two years. I am what our opponents choose to label `an anachronistic conservative'. I do not like to consider myself as a fuddy-duddy, but I hope my lifestyle up till now would tend to support that belief. However, I believe that we oldies can still, through having spent a longer period of time on this earth, give some useful guidance to those who were born in more recent years.
A couple of years ago I was asked to give an Australia Day speech in suburban Adelaide. As a senior citizen, I felt that my role was firstly to pay tribute to the courage and determination of our predecessors who created a nation with their bare hands, then to move along to steer younger and future generations away from paths such as drastic changes to our Constitution that could so easily lose for Australia the enviable stability which we have inherited.
[Appointed Delegate, Sir David Smith, K.C.V.O., A.O. (left) and Elected Delegate, H.R. Kym Bonython, AC, DFC, AFC confer at the Constitutional Convention held in Canberra in February 1998.]
This particular speech included the heartfelt plea-- and it is bad luck that Phil Cleary is not here--for the reintroduction of national service. Our unpreparedness at the start of World War II was a truly lamentable occasion. Fortunately, we got away with it at that time, but I doubt if we will, given a second chance, especially in this high-tech age. All Australians should not only have a basic ability to defend their country but, in the process, they learn about discipline, get job skills and get invaluable experience meeting and mingling with all sections of the community with whom otherwise they would never have come into contact.
When that speech was over, two very stony-faced local politicians took me to task and described my speech as thoroughly inappropriate for the occasion. Of course, I disagreed. In my opinion, we should cherish our present form of government, with a non-interfering monarch as umpire, a constitutional Australian head of state in the Governor-General-- who, incidentally, I confidently feel should and will open the Olympic Games in the year 2000, which is the subject of so much wild conjecture--with no further power to be given to federal politicians, which would invariably and inevitably be to the detriment of the smaller states. I regret that even my own state Premier, John Olsen, in this forum a couple of days ago obviously gave this implication so little concern in the motions that he supported in his wisdom. I suspect some other elected officers of other small states may live to regret their attitudes at this gathering.
Let me state that I welcome this Convention. After years of taxpayer funded pro-republic propaganda, this is a long overdue opportunity for the people to examine both sides of the argument. I do not believe that a republic is inevitable. If there is to be a referendum, then it can only be after the public has been fully exposed to the merits or otherwise of what has been proposed so that, in the fullness of time, an educated vote can be lodged. I am convinced more than ever since this Convention got under way that what has been proposed is far from minimal and will never get up at any referendum, especially judged in the light of past experience.
The public at large is generally disinterested in the concept of a republic. The people are not out in the streets demanding it. Graeme Richardson notwithstanding, I believe that a large proportion of that 54 per cent who did not vote in the Convention election chose not to vote because they were satisfied with the present system. Surely those who so earnestly wanted change would have had the most reason to cast a vote.
Opinion polls as to those matters that should occupy the minds of our politicians rarely, if ever, include the word `republic'. Priorities are invariably on far more pressing issues than this. Further, once the public is made more aware of the literally obscene costs of what is proposed--the figure, I am led to believe, runs into billions not millions of dollars--they would be shocked into disbelief. The cost of six new state constitutions, the vast expenses in changing the names of institutions such as the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal Society of the Blind and so on, all adds up, and the total is unimaginable--and unacceptable, too, I suggest--and most Australians would agree with that, especially in the difficult times that we are presently experiencing. What are we going to get for all this expenditure of public moneys? That money could be far better directed towards health, education and job creation. We would get nothing that we have not already got--a fully independent Australia and a lifestyle that is the envy of most of the rest of the world.
I must admit that I felt ashamed when our past Prime Minister grandly claimed that our Asian trading partners were confused and bewildered by our continuing adherence to the Union Jack in the corner of our flag. I always thought that reverence for one's ancestors was a cornerstone of Asian philosophy. Who can deny that most of the things that have made us what we are today came from Britain?
I believe their main concern is to be able to purchase our products at the lowest possible price and then be assured that those goods will arrive on schedule and not be delayed at this end for some industrial reason. Our present stable form of government has, over the years, attracted countless thousands of migrants to this country, more often than not from troubled republics. They see in Australia a safe and peaceful way of life, with better opportunities for the future of their families.
So often it distresses me when such people, who have been welcomed into our community with open arms, then start to advocate changing our form of government in ways that could well give rise over time to the very same conditions from which they were so anxious to escape. I do not intend to disown or erase our past links with Britain.
Let me remind you that there was a period during 1940, after France had caved in and America had yet to enter the fray, when Australia and a few other small nations such as New Zealand and Canada stood shoulder to shoulder with Britain alone in the world against the advancing might of Nazi Germany. I will not forget that and neither should younger Australians--nor some older ones too, I fear. It is part of our heritage of which we should be rightfully proud. We must not denigrate such moments of our past that have gone towards giving us our destiny and our independent and respected place in the world.
Finally, it might be a bit parochial, but I believe that you might find entertaining an appropriate verse, which was written a few years ago by one of our South Australian supporters, Tim Drysdale. It reads: We could be ...
Starving in Somalia, arrested in Peru,
wounded in Cambodia, crook in Kathmandu. . .
Hurt in Herzegovina, tortured in Baghdad,
bombed in Northern Ireland, destitute in Chad. . .
Threatened in Liberia, thirsty in Sudan,
bleeding in Croatia, dead in Kazakhstan. . .
Instead we're living happily, not hungry or afraid,
fortunate indeed, in peaceful Adelaide.
I think there is a message in that! I say, leave the Constitution alone. No republic is the answer. I should remind Baden Teague that our group decisively out-polled the republicans in South Australia in December. The smaller states hold the key to any push to drastically alter our Constitution. We will never let up in our resolve to retain the status quo. Naturally, that also includes our beautiful and beloved flag which, despite their transparent protestations to the contrary, the republicans will change just as soon as they can if we give them the chance.