Direct Election is a Dead Duck
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Monday, 12 January 2004

Apart from warning republicans that they may have to resign themselves not only to the reign of Charles III, but also William IV, Professor Greg Craven told his fellow republicans, in very clear terms, that direct election is, as he so eloquently put it, a dead duck. He says they should understand this. Otherwise they will be seen no longer as Chardonnay republicans but as Cocaine republicans, that is deluded republicans! This is the judgement, I stress, of a republican with some considerable understanding of the issues. He is said to have written that superb defence of the existing constitution, which Jeff Kennett delivered in a speech to the Samuel Griffith Society. If you cannot access the reference to his paper just over a year ago at the Griffith University, ARM and The Australian's Conference on Constitutional Futures which I gave in the Hot News of 2 January 2004, an alternative, and one more readable, is at : (Incidentally, you can find Jeff Kennett's speech at It is, in law and politics a gem. It is a devastating case against Paul Keating's push for a republic.) Incidentally, was it not odd that in a conference on so called constitutional futures, a university committed we would have thought to free discussion and research, did not have just one out of the several speakers to argue for the exiting constitution! I suppose they must have felt bound by the precedent established by Mr Keating when he vetoed any participation in the Republic Advisory Committee by anyone who was not a committed republican. But Griffith is a public university, paid for by the taxpayers generally and its students. They are not all republicans. Professor Craven points to the phenomenon that Professor Malcolm McKerras calls the Condorcet principle, where an alleged majority cannot prevail. This is because of the fact that the second preference of many direct elect republicans and also many of those who favour the president being chosen by parliament, is the status quo. What Professor Craven is saying in effect is that most conservative republicans will never accept direct election and would much prefer to stay with what we have.


That is why the ARM now thinks they can lock the people in through that confidence trick, a plebiscite drafted by the spin doctors. If they were to read Greg Craven and Malcolm McKerras, they would see why this is unlikely to work, even if they were able to pull the wool over the peoples eyes in that first plebiscite. One suspects that the ARM thinks the first plebiscite would be a push over. They must believe some of their commentators who typically claim that republican support is at some ridiculously high level. It is not According to the recent Newspoll of 1200 respondents, 51% are in favour of a republic, but of these only 31% are strongly in favour. Nineteen percent are partly in favour-which part we just do not know. What is clear is that their support cannot be relied on, even in a plebiscite. And in the recent Herald Sun Survey of 28000 readers, 56% would say No to a republic! These were presumably mainly Victorians-the State that registered the strongest vote for the 1999 model. Of course both polls were about an undefined republic the 'republic of your dreams'. Once the details are handed out, the vote in favour falls. This is because of the fact that when people see it is not the republic they want ; they then have to decide to live with their second preference. This will be either the model on offer or the status quo. Some will obviously prefer the status quo.


The strategy of the ARM is to get a favourable and high vote in the first plebiscite to lock the voters into whatever model the elites then decide to allow to go to the final referendum. Their plan will be to minimise the leakage of votes from the first plebiscite. After all you wanted a republic, didn't you, they will say to those who see the model they definitely don't want! If a future Federal Government were foolish enough to go to a plebiscite, it seems that on the present figures the republicans would still not get to first base. On the Herald Sun Survey they would clearly be defeated. Even on the Newspoll they would have to hold every vote, including the shaky ones who say they are only partly in favour. And all this is before the people have had a chance to hear and see the campaign! Further, the polls since the referendum indicate no momentum towards a republic. Indeed the Herald Sun Survey indicates a move in the other direction, both overall and among the young who are against a republic. Readers can be assured that those in favour of the status quo would mount a robust, and honest campaign to inform the people. Mr Latham has made a strategic error in espousing the ARM strategy lock stock and barrel. Apparently he has decided the his predecessor's error in deciding that Badger's Creek will not be the site of the second Sydney airport and that a new site will be named by the party's National Conference this month. According to The Sydney Morning Herald (6 January 2004) the party will not now name a new site. They don't want to lose the votes of the battlers who chose to live a quiet life there. A point which seemed to elude the former leader, Mr Crean. Instead, a selection process will be announced. You can be assured that its recommendation will not be known before the next election. He can now also disengage from the republic, if he wishes. He has a good excuse. That is the Senate Committee, which is in no hurry to finalise its investigation. Mr Latham knows that he should campaign on the issues that count among the rank and file. He can keep the elites on side by pointing to the committees work. After all, wasn't this the reason for the ALP and the Democrats setting up the Committee? He won't get any traction from this issue –worse, it will suggest to the battlers that he is pushing what they don't want- the Keating agenda.