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January 25th 2017 print

Peter O'Brien

A Poor Fitz with the Facts

Full disclosure: I'd like us to adopt a 'minimalist model' republic and, in the meantime, to endure much less of the hyperbolic twaddle that has become the ARM crew's stock in trade since Peter Simon took over as its leader and mouthpiece -- the emphasis being on 'mouth'

fitz with red hankie on headAustralia Day is upon us once again and, inevitably, talk of a republic rears its head. I have made no bones that I am a republican, by which I mean that I support having the Governor-General replace the British Monarch as our head of state, rather than merely representing the Monarch. However, I hasten to add that under no circumstances would I support an elected president. The only change under the system I favour would be symbolic.

As I also acknowledge, it’s not an urgent priority. And neither is it a Left vs Right battleground. There are no social or economic principles at stake.  Some people like classical music, others do not — and perhaps it is instructive to consider pro- and anti-republican sentiments the same way.

That said, and having disclosed by sympathies, let me report that recent developments at the Australian Republican Movement (of which I was once a member) drive me to despair. Since Peter FitzSimons, the man beneath the red hanky,  took over I have been repeatedly urged to resume my membership.  Back in June last year, after the Brexit referendum, he phrased it thus (emphasis added):

For, irrespective of the wisdom or otherwise of the Brexit move, it puts into stark relief the ludicrousness of Australia persisting with a now outdated constitutional structure.

Let me count the ways …

From our first days as a nation, our constitution and our flag proudly proclaimed us to be a part of the British Empire. Is it not obvious to all, right now, that very shortly the last country left standing from that once mighty empire, or even heavily linked to it, will be England herself?

If Scotland and Northern Ireland bail out on the United Kingdom, as is now mooted to happen, can you imagine the global humiliation of Australia still insisting that, as for us, we can still do no better than find our heads of state from one family of English aristocrats living in a palace in London?

Yes, shout it loud and proud, those Australian monarchists who still believe: “Goodbye, Great Britain, here in Australia we are so lacking in self-confidence we’re happy to stay with ‘Little Britain’!”

Let us acknowledge Brexit for what it is, a political opportunity to galvanise the Australian people to not only be masters of our own destiny, but to be seen before the world to be exactly that!

The logic was so specious, the aroma of egomaniacal self-promotion so strong, I could not resist responding to FitzSimons:

I am a republican, although I really dislike that term because all I want is for an Australian to be our Head of State.  But I would only support a minimalist model similar, with slight amendments, to that put to the referendum in 1999.

I would vote against a model that involved an elected president.

I believe the ARM should be working to build support for that minimalist model, rather than trying to get support for a threshold question, with details to be worked out later.

However, I have great difficulty supporting a campaign that is built on the sort of misinformation you are propagating.

Firstly, Australia is already independent from Britain, we just share the same Head of State. It’s this outsourcing of our Head of State to which I object.

Secondly, your suggestion that Scotland now looks like going where we dare not is spurious. If Scotland gets a second referendum (highly doubtful in my view, they having rejected independence only two years ago) and it passes they will certainly retain their allegiance to the British monarchy.  That will put them in pretty much the same situation Australia is in.

And thirdly, any proposal based substantially on the idea that we should support it or, otherwise, Australia will be a ‘laughing stock’ or a ‘pariah’, or ‘humiliated’ on the world stage is built on very shaky ground and I would be loath to support it.

I have largely ignored more recent ARM solicitations, although yet another arrived just this morning, further hardening my resolve not to have anything to do with ARM,  at least in its present incarnation and under its current leadership.

From Tim Mayfield, ARM’s national director, came an invitation to preview the latest ARM ad campaign. Watch it and weep!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RQ_M55Jhaw

Also turning up unbidden, a “conversation kit” so that FitzSimmons’ acolytes will have FitzSimons-approved responses at Oz Day barbecues. There are no prizes for getting the talking points down pat, but perhaps there should be. Red bandanas for the better students, perhaps?

I also note that in a press interview today, Bill Shorten expressed the view, in support of the republic, that Australia would become “independent”.  Could anything be more calculated to discredit the idea of the republic than Shorten supporting it?

The “arguments” as advanced by ARM are childish, specious and divisive and I will not be a party to them.  I am content to wait for the republic until its time comes naturally.

Happy Australia Day!

Comments [31]

  1. Jimbob says:

    Peter,

    I appreciate the sentiments expressed but I can’t see why any form of republic is necessary for Australia. Contrary to what PFtzS says as Australian citizens or in the act of becoming Australian citizens (when we are naturalised for example) we don’t actually swear any allegiance to the British Crown. It may seem a rather simplistic view to some, but we actually swear allegiance to the Australian Crown! It just so happens that in this particular instance, she who currently wears that (Australian) crown is foreign born. For those who doubt me here is her title;

    “Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of Australia and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth”

    So what if she’s foreign born? She won’t be the first Monarch, President or dare I say it, Prime Minister who was born in a country other than the one they rule! Goodness, even the current line of British Monarchs (and ours by extension) are originally German!

    This would have to be the most inane of the many inane debates currently raging in Australia. Monarch, President, Prime Minister or even Dictator is ultimately not the point of good government. The point is what they do with the “majesty”, “honour” or “power” of the position they are called to or invited by the people to hold – whether they do good for the people or evil. I’ll put it as simply as I can. I’d rather have a benign and good hearted grandmother born in England than a locally born fool!!

    God Bless the Queen.

    • Peter Mitchell says:

      An Australian as Head of State? Why not get the incoming monarchs to become citizens – then everyone is happy!

      Happy Australia Day one and all – even those of you who don’t realize that we live in the best country on earth!

    • Peter OBrien says:

      Jimbob, I hesitate to bring personalities into it because that is not my argument, but soon you won’t have a benign and good hearted grandmother born in England but a foreign born fool.

      • Jimbob says:

        Peter

        I’m sure one man’s “fool” is another man’s “sage”….kinda like Lear’s “fool”. It just a matter of perspective.

        • Peter OBrien says:

          Charles might be a sage but only to climate alarmists.

        • Trog says:

          With you 100% JimBob. I predict Charles will likely abdicate and pass the Monarchy on to William. Whatever, it is of no nevermind to me as I would prefer Charles to letting any of our politicians within a 1000 miles of tampering with the constitution no how, no way, no time.

          This insane fixation with tampering with something that isn’t broken and has served us exceedingly well is the very definition of foolishness.

  2. Don A. Veitch says:

    God Bless Oliver Cromwell!
    God Bless the Glorious revolutionaries of 1688!
    That is why the British monarchy ‘works’.

    • Jimbob says:

      Hi Don

      Are you saying that the cure for Republicanism is a measured dose of the same?

      And yes, I agree with you; the British Monarchy works (as does the Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Dutch…all nations at the peak of the humane civilisation stakes…..we’re in good company)

      • Don A. Veitch says:

        The ‘peak of the humane (sic?)/human stakes’, probably, is/was the republic of USA. But power unchallenged leads to tyranny/oligarchy – as in the USA today.
        There is a deadly civil war now in play in Washington (not the women’s march, not black identity crisis, not etc, etc). It is about pure power.

        Is Trump a new Cincinnatus?
        Cincinnatus restored order in the Republic against degenerate oligarchs.
        Trump has appointed some tough, clever generals, James Mattis ( a student of Roman history), John Kelly and Michaël Flynn, to run the sword through the republic’s traitors, war mongers and thieves, the factions in the Pentagon, State Department, CIA and The Fed.
        Is Trump the new General of Generals (Washington)?

        • Jimbob says:

          Hi Don

          I did mean “humane” and not “human”. There is a universe of difference and I’m sure that a black person growing up in the Southern states of the republic of USA for most of the last century could tell you what the difference is. But of course, no human system is perfect simple because it is made up of imperfect human beings (many of whom are definitely not “humane”). All I’m saying is that our current system is a particularly good one given all the alternatives, both existing and previously tried. So as another poster has said “if it ain’t broke, why fix it”.

          Trump a new Cincinnatus? Time will tell of course. In my book he’s definitely off to a very good start but to wear out the clichés, one or two swallows do not a summer make. My hope is that he will stay the course with strength. In the meantime on this wonderful Australia Day;

          “God Save the Queen”

  3. ianl says:

    I was around and politically aware during 1974-75. That drawn episode showed without equivocation that the GG is Aus’ Head of State, with the power to sack an elected Govt, appoint a caretaker Govt and force an election – all within a quite short period. Somewhat akin to lancing a boil, from one perspective.

    I’m also aware that in the State of Victoria, there have been episodes where the Upper House blocked money supply and the State Governor refused to intervene, allowing a miserable situation to develop where government employees lost regular salary payments. So it can happen.

    The “Republic” notion does not acknowledge any of that; it’s prime, unstated aim is to somehow remove or nullify the Senate’s ability to block or refuse supply. There is no discussion or even acknowledgement of the Reserve Powers or what to do with them. There is a fudged and incoherent reference to how to appoint a GG and then how to sack said GG under certain circumstances. There is an even more incoherent reference on how to replace a sacked GG. There is no acknowledgement at all on how an errant Govt, facing an imminent GG dismissal, would be prevented from getting in first and sacking the GG.

    Doubtless, one superficial answer to these questions will be: it will never happen again, so no problems. Oh yeah ? Evidence, please ?!

    Model first, please, and an exhaustive one. No fudging with some glib reference to minimalism. And direct election of the GG (call the position President if you will) ? Guaranteed never-ending dissent, confusion and general on-going chaos.

    • Peter OBrien says:

      Ianl, The Dismissal would have played out exactly the same with or without the Queen. The notion that a duly appointed and competent G-G or President might act differently in the absence of the moderating influence of the Monarch, if that is what you are implying, is nonsense.

      The desire for an Australian Head of State has nothing to do with the Dismissal or changing, in any way, the Sewnate’s ability to block supply.

      • ianl says:

        > “The notion that a duly appointed and competent G-G or President might act differently in the absence of the moderating influence of the Monarch, if that is what you are implying, is nonsense”

        The experiences of the Victorian polity give the lie to that piece of glibness, Peter.

        Detailed model first, please. I have no interest in the British monarchy, absolutely none, but a good deal of interest in a detailed model here FIRST. Glibly calling that “nonsense” is exactly the response that guarantees a NO vote. Got it ?

        • ianl says:

          And, sorry, I inadvertently omitted to point out that my initial comment did NOT imply that the GG would have acted differently in the abscence of any trivial link to the British monarchy – 1975 showed unequivocally that this link is completely irrelevant. That you smeared the comment with this false flag is exactly why you are not to be trusted.

          If you can supply a model that leaves the Senate’s legitimate ability to block or refuse supply untampered with, then of course I will listen. While such a model is withheld from public gaze, no dice.

          • Peter OBrien says:

            Not quite sure of the point you are making here, Ian. If the Victorian Legislative Council was acting constitutionally (which I believe it was) then the Victorian governor had no power to act. You seem to be suggesting that the Governor on those occasions was acting contrary to his responsibilities so the existence of the monarch on these occasions was neither here nor there.

            And I did not smear you. I may have misunderstood your point, which I made clear by using the phrase ‘if that is what you are implying’. And my comment referred to some future President not Sir John Kerr for whom I have a great deal of sympathy, as I have written here before.

            The model I am proposing is pretty much what was presented at the referendum. In particular, no change or codification of the reserve powers. Simply excising the monarch from the top of our constitutional totem pole.

      • PT says:

        Peter, that’s the rub. Australian republicanism is largely based on this falsehood, which is ultimately based on denying Whitlam’s incompetence!

  4. Ian MacDougall says:

    I have been overseas a few times, but never once has anyone lifted an eyebrow or dropped a remark that Australia should be a republic, own head of state, etc, etc.
    I champion the Blowfly Theory of Politics, which says that parliaments, human rights commissions and so on are a bit like the dollops of manure dropped onto the grass every so often by contentedly grazing cattle. It takes about 5 seconds for the first whiff of it to be detected by some passing blowfly, and in no time at all opportunistic blowies are all over it.
    Replace blowies by rent-seekers of all kinds, and the dollops of manure by any public outfit that offers highly paid jobs on the basis of connections, contacts, membership of networks and so on, without any formal qualifications being required, and you have the modern Australian political system.
    If we need a native-born replacement for Her Majesty, then better arguments than those I have heard to date are needed. On this matter I am happy to be counted as a Royalist, and as one who believes that it may not be long before the USA is in the throes of a full-on constitutional crisis, and will be looking around at Australia, Canada, and NZ for constitutional models that might point a way out of the present Trumpian quagmire.
    If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    • Peter OBrien says:

      Ian, as I have made clear I do not give a fig for what any other country thinks about our constitution. And I am not claiming it’s broke and I’m not advocating we fix it. Just re-decorate a bit. In other words give de jure effect to what monarchists claim is already a de facto situation.

      In my view there is only one valid reason to support an Australian Head of State (not one necessarily born here as some commenters seem to think) and that is that you think it’s bizarre that our Head of State should be a citizen of a foreign country and not reside among us.

      And there is only one valid reason to reject that proposal and that is because you enjoy the association with the pomp and circumstance and history of the British monarch. And don’t get me wrong – I do not criticize or belittle anyone for holding this view. I can sympathise with it myself.

      And regarding a possible US constitutional crisis you may be jumping the shark here. And removing the Queen from our constitutional arrangements will not alter our consitutional model in the slightest as we long as we don’t go down the path of an elected President.

  5. Geoffrey Luck says:

    The last refuge of a scoundrel, discussing any subject, is to claim that Australia will become a pariah in the eyes of the rest of the world.

  6. August says:

    The ARM had its chance at the referendum. I seem to recall the elites being put in their place on that occasion. The ARM wont put a model up because that would mean that they would need to accept a level of responsibility. Better to play the victim, foster fake news and fake history, carping on and on and on.

    For what its worth I don’t mind the minimalist model if we can leave our existing institutions largely intact and without executive dictatorship. I really don’t see the problem with having an election to resolve political bloody mindedness.

  7. padraic says:

    Congratulations Peter on a great article. I agree with you wholeheartedly. The UK Queen is definitely our Head of State. That is recognised in the wording of the Constitution and having her head on our coins and a banknote. (Check it out you disbelievers). It was Gough Whitlam who had her renamed as “Queen of Australia” presumably to dull any over enthusiastic nationalist sentiments of us native borns. Whilst my view is the same as that of Peter O’B that we just slightly adjust the Constitution to make the Governor-General the Australian Head of State I go a modest step further and say that the new setup should be described as an “independent Commonwealth” and not a “Republic” and after we get the show on the road with the minimalist model the various governments could take a few years to look at a model whereby the various State legislatures and the Commonwealth could each put up a candidate for a nationwide election. It would be no different from how the States and Commonwealth select their Governors or the Commonwealth selects the Governor-General and it would effectively give Parliament the power over the selection of the candidates. This was the main sticking point at the 2000 referendum and this suggestion, if accepted, could help reconcile the two viewpoints within the supporters of an independent Commonwealth. Of course, if adopted, it would no doubt be subject to a referendum which could fail, but at least we would be independent. No one is denying that the steps taken by the Australian and British Parliaments in the 1980s and at other times which bypassed the Constitution requirement of a referendum resulted in our de facto independence, but it is a matter of national pride and identity that we acquire de jure independence. “Man lives not by bread alone” as the old saying goes.

    One problem that the ARM faces today is the lack of youthful enthusiastic support from a generation who appears to have been brainwashed into believing that national pride and identity is a form of “racism” and that democracy is not a good form of government. Another problem, as rightly pointed out in the article, is that the ARM is too vague about what they want and really, it is up to the various Governments who recently supported the concept of an independent Commonwealth to outline their vision which could be then supported by the ARM. The PM said recently that it is up to the ARM to convince the public on the need for the change, but it is up to the governments to define that change and then for the ARM to sell the proposal to the public.

  8. PT says:

    Peter O’Brian and Padric I feel I need to point out several things. Firstly, the Queen herself has Irish ancestry (indeed the claims of Elizabeth I re the Blarney Stone were about her inheritance via her mother’s family). Secondly, the most hated man in Irish history is Oliver Cromwell, the man who instituted a republic (far more died proportionally than due to the famine btw). Finally, republican supporters seek to remake the country. It will be Year Zero.

    • padraic says:

      Good one, PT, but I am not Irish. Like Queen Elizabeth I have distant German ancestry (does that make her German?)but am fully Australian in outlook and culture. I never met any of my ancestors of 4 European nationalities (including Irish)who came to Oz in the mid 19th century and don’t necessarily share in all their often conflicting contemporary political concerns and views. I am a great admirer of Cromwell and when in London and passing the Parliament I always figuratively “dips me lid” to the statue of Cromwell on his horse because he achieved the supremacy of Parliament over inherited power. This admiration is tempered, however, by his “doing the dirty” on the Levellers who supported him and some of the excesses in Ireland, but in an objective analysis the Irish, like Custer “had it coning” (as per 1960s New York graffiti), because they supported Charles the First at the time.

      • padraic says:

        oops! typo alert “had it coMing”

        • padraic says:

          I just realised why Whitlam had the Queen designated “Queen of Australia”. It was in response to a diplomatic question over official visits by the Australian Head of State to overseas countries. Many of these countries thought that because of the legal wording of our Constitution the Queen of Britain is our Head of State and if Australia wanted to send the Head of State it should be the Queen and not the Governor-General who is only her representative in Australia. By changing her status as “Queen of Australia” her representative becomes diplomatically acceptable because he is now representing the Australian Head of State and not the British Head of State. It was also part of the gradual disengagement from UK, which accelerated in the 1980s, towards a de facto independence so that we did not look like we were still a colony of sorts.

  9. ArthurB says:

    I think it was James Allan who said that our system of an appointed GG was the best available option, IIRC he said that most of the time the GG spends his (or her) time opening Parliament, welcoming foreign heads of state etc, but perhaps once in a hundred years, such as 1975, the GG had to intervene. I am sure that if Paul Hasluck had been GG in 1975, the affair might have turned out differently – do other readers agree with me?

    I can think of a situation, which is not entirely hypothetical, where a head of state may need to intervene. In the future, a Labor government may decide to go ahead with recognition of, and a treaty with, Aborigines, and force the legislation through Parliament, and by doing so precipitate a constitutional crisis, in which case the GG may have to resolve the issue.

    I think that the Republican movement faces an insoluble dilemma: the people want to have an elected head of state, but if we do, the position of head of state will inevitably become politicised, and there could be constitutional problems if there is conflict between a Labor government and a conservative head of state, or vice versa. I feel we that the present system works well, and why should we abolish it to satisfy the whims of Fitzy, Malcolm et al?

    • Wayne Cooper says:

      It was Whitlam himself who gave the game away for the so-called Republicans. When he was sacked by Kerr, his immediate reaction was to say he had to “contact the Palace.”

      Now Fitzsy and his chums should think that through: a sainted Labor hero, despatched by the non-elected Australian born GG, has the knee-jerk reaction of wanting to annul the decision by appealing to a higher authority in a “foreign” country. And at least he may have had the option, if Kerr had shown his hand too early – but the Queen might well have withdrawn both their commissions.

      To exactly which Mummy (or Daddy) figure would a saintly Labor hero, similarly despatched, go squealing if the person sending him down were an Australian born President, either appointed or elected?

      I think we should be told.

  10. Unlike the majority of my family and friends, I voted for the Republic last time because I thought it was our best chance to establish the American Founding fathers’ vision/concept of a ‘limited Republic’ rather than having an ‘unlimited democracy’, i.e. a situation whereby a ‘majority’ can vote itself access to other people’s wealth or vote for other hideous measures. The left only ever support ‘democracy’ to the extent that it allows them to ‘vote’ themselves legal access to other people’s wealth.
    I will support the installation of a Republic in the next referendum only if it includes measures to severely and legally restrict the powers and size of government to be written into our new constitution, and that our defence forces will be sworn to defend the constitution and not the government. The most important limitation on government would be to place constitutional limits on how much involvement the government could have in the economy. I would like to see direct taxes [i.e. on wages etc.] limited to a maximum of 25%, indirect taxes [i.e. GST/VAT/consumption taxes] limited to 10% and ‘sin taxes’ [i.e. on alcohol/drugs etc.] set to a limit of 30%.
    The American experiment was designed to separate church and state as much as possible, I would like our republic to separate the economy and state as much as possible.

  11. whitelaughter says:

    I’ve never understood how the same people can be horrified by our having a ‘foreign’ monarch but go one about the joys of multiculturalism. Seriously, one or the other.