Politicians Proposing Plebiscites: A Danger to Democracy
Written by Anthony Roberts MP   
Thursday, 07 October 2004
NSW Parliament House
Sydney, Australia
Transcript as released by the Office of Research and Education 

MR ROBERTS MP: Ladies and gentlemen, fellow ACM members. I would like to thank you for this opportunity to address you here to today at your luncheon. It is my honour to be your Parliamentary host. I always feel when I am with the Members of our movement the Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, I am with family.

I would first like to acknowledge Kerry Jones, the wonderful Executive Director of our movement, and Professor David Flint the gracious and ever eloquent National Convener of the organization of which we are all so proud to be Members.

I would also like to acknowledge two of my Parliamentary colleagues who, although unable to be here today, are none the less relentless in their support of our Constitution.
One of these two colleagues works in this place, the other serves in our Federal Parliament. They are respectively the Hon. David Clarke MLC, and The Hon. Tony Abbot MP, Federal Minister for Health and Member for Warringah.

While I believe it is important for ACM to maintain its history of non-party political support for our wonderful constitution, I would like to acknowledge that I make this speech on the eve of an historic election, one that we can easily identify as an election battle between two leaders, one a Constitutional Monarchist, the other a Republican.

Whilst the republic has not been a key election issue as such Mr. Latham has
unsuccessfully tried to make it one in the period leading up to the announcement of the poll with his proposal of a plebiscite system to bring about a Republic.

However he hit a brick wall when, I dare say much to his disappointment, it became clear that this the republic is a divisive issue and not one the people, or his own party for that matter, responded to.

The truth is that the Republic is not an issue that either motivates or enthuses the Australian people.

Mr. Latham is essentially trying to con the Australian people. Even if his plebiscites could be viewed as a legitimate avenue for public debate, there is no doubt that he would go into such a debate, gunning for a Republic. He would not represent the differing range of views of the Australian people on this subject and offer unbiased leadership in the debate.

Whereas John Howard let the issue run its own course in the lead up to the ’99 referendum, Mr Latham like some modern day eminence grise, or eminence rouge in his case, would be pushing for the outcome most suitable to his own prejudices and ideological crusades.

But there can be no doubt. Regardless of the outcome of tomorrow’s election we must remain vigilant against a republic by stealth. The republican elites refuse to accept the verdict of the Australian people on this subject in the 1999 Referendum. The attack on our institutions, our symbols and inevitably our constitution is occurring at many levels.

Queens Counsels are now called Senior Counsels at the insistence of State Labor Governments. Oaths of Allegiance to the Monarch are now optional for Members of State Parliament here in NSW. And now we have the symbols of office of our constitutional framework being removed from government buildings.

All this has happened without any reference to the people.

This is a flagrant display of disdain for the will of the people, who made their views clear in the ‘99 referendum.

Our opponents in this issue brand us as elitist for our support of constitutional monarchy, and declare us to be ‘un-Australian’ for not supporting ‘their resident for president’ rhetoric.

However it is they who have shown themselves to be both bad losers and ideological zealots. When they lost the war, they decided to remove what they saw as the symbols and reminders of our victory in the ’99 referendum.

Mr. Latham would plan a series of plebiscites for the single purpose of directing the people of Australia into voting for a republic much in the same way, that a rail engineer put down tracks to direct a train.

The plebiscites are designed to lead the people into voting for what Mr Latham wants. They are not designed as a form of consultation.

This is manipulation of the worst kind. Why? Because it selfishly and prejudicially interferes with our democracy for populist and transient political advantage.

We know our cause is just and true. We know this because we are protecting what is perhaps the most important part of Australia – the foundation of our democracy and our free way of life.

There is an arrogant and uninformed presumption on the part of our opponents in this issue that tinkering with the constitution will have no effect on any other part of our government and our way of life. This is not so. There are great legal and constitutional implications from any alteration of the constitution.

Sadly I believe that many people do not fully understand our constitution or its working, yet I stress to add they still have faith in it. I raise this issue of uncertainty of the workings of the constitution by the general public only because it makes somewhat ridiculous the prospect of plebiscites.

These plebiscites will pose simplistic questions without any regard to the complex nature of the constitution. This is political irresponsibility of the worst kind.

This idea of Mr. Latham’s to have a series of plebiscites is to determine the kind of Republic that is most politically palatable to the Australian people. But he is asking the people of this nation to pass judgment on a constitution they have faith in, even if they do not fully understand the workings of it. He is casting doubt and confusion in our constitutional system in the name of crass nationalism.

But this proposed series of plebiscites is merely a way of directing the debate, tricking people into voting away their constitution. It would mean we are effectively signing over our political stability and certainty to an ideologically driven man. Mr Latham is pulling the equivalent of a constitutional confidence trick.

This is why I commend the education programs initiated by ACM, to educate our fellow citizens about OUR wonderful Australian constitution and the stability it provides to our country. We, the Australian people need to remember it is OUR constitution; we need to understand it and protect it. I will work in my parliamentary career to further this understanding and respect for our Commonwealth Constitution.

We are one of the lucky countries of the world, for many nations in our world labour under famine, dictatorship or civil war. These are nations whose citizens struggle to find commonality amongst a sea of political and social differences.

In Australia we have never had to labour under famine, dictatorship or civil war.

Ours is a country that enjoys, stability, economic prosperity and security, yet there are some in our community who would make more of the differences of opinion and ideology than the threads of commonality.

These same people would spread doubt and uncertainty about OUR constitution and OUR democratic processes. I do not share their view.

I regard our constitution as a thing of wonder. It has seen the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, it has seen the coming and going of fascism in other, more powerful nations. It has helped us to survive the buffeting of transient political fads and economic depressions of the 20thCentury. And it will continue to protect us into the future.

This is the reason I am unrepentant in my support of it.

It is rare that politicians make absolute statements of conviction. But I do not deny I am a politician of conviction. Like our Prime Minister John Howard I plant my flag in the ground and say this is what I stand for.

So let me make this pledge to you. I will be with you every step of the way in educating our fellow citizens about our wonderful constitution and our wonderful way of life.

I will be with you every step of the way in defending our constitution come what may.

Our constitution is one of the oldest continuous democratic constitutions in the world, it must be protected from those who wish to alter it because of whim, ideology or prejudice.

I thank you for coming today and for your steadfast support of the Constitutional Monarchy.

Long may our movement thrive.

Thank you ladies and gentlemen, and I am willing to take any questions you may have on this issue.