The monarchy-versus-republic debate has, naturally and obviously, centred on the role or otherwise of the Crown, with all its nobility and beauty and its role as a final safeguard against power-hungry, selfish, value-free politicians.
There is, however, another, and I believe sinister, agenda attached to this debate which we must make the electorate aware of. Abolishing the monarchy is a large and necessary step towards abolishing the states.
This essay appears in the current Quadrant.
Click here to subscribe
The great conservative philosopher Russell Kirk wrote, in Ten Conservative Principles:
Conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety. They feel affection for the proliferating intricacy of … modes of life, as distinct from the narrow uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems.
Leftists and radicals hate, or at least oppose, federalism because, like monarchy, it is a block stopping their plans to impose all power and a uniform culture.
The same people who wish to abolish the checks and balances of the monarchical system, wish to abolish the checks and balances of federalism—the Senate, which Paul Keating notoriously called “unrepresentative swill”—the states and the High Court in its role as interpreter of the Constitution.
They see Australia as a giant “social laboratory”—a place for social engineering on a grand scale. We had something of a foretaste of this with Gough Whitlam, who tried to bypass the states with the Australian Assistance Plan, and to replace the states with “regions” which would be nothing more than the agents of Canberra.
Federal Labor MP and former minister Joel Fitzgibbon gave the game away in a report published in the West Australian of July 4, 2008, when he openly stated that a republic would mean a unitary government. Labor bigwigs moved at once to distance themselves from this, foreseeing its electoral unpopularity if their dirty little secret got out. Note that the two go together. But it will not be talked about openly unless we talk about it, and so I believe we must, and at every opportunity.
F.E. (“Joe”) Chamberlain was Federal President and Federal Secretary of the ALP. An extreme left-winger, he was long the most powerful figure and ideologue by far in the Labor movement, fanatical about keeping moderates out of positions of influence. He was an admirer of Mao. In 1998 he published an autobiography, My Life and Times. The book is not exactly a treasure of literature; in fact I may be the only person who has read it. But it is important for our purposes here. In one chapter, titled “Centralism and Republicanism”, he states:
From almost the beginning of my awakening political consciousness, I have been a centralist and a unificationist … it was incongruous to create an independent Commonwealth of Australia fragmented by artificial boundaries of outdated colonies … I have always advocated the dissolution of the states and creation of a unitary system of government. The corollary of my belief in centralism was a gradual realisation of the desirability of Australia becoming a Republic.
Then he comes to what is for him the nitty-gritty. His blacks are our whites and vice-versa:
But caution needs to be exercised in considering a republic because the Australian federal system involves sovereign states with ties to the British Monarchy. Thus we could finish up with the confusion of a “Commonwealth” republic made up of states still retaining a Constitutional monarchy under the British Crown. No better argument exists for their abolition.
Thus my centralist and republican sentiments form a dichotomy in which both branches complement each other …
Whitlam said many similar things. So did Hawke, though unlike Whitlam he was smart enough not to force the issue. Australia was being geared up for a unitary state with regional administrative centres under Whitlam, who said the job of state Labor politicians was to abolish themselves.
The present three-tier system of federal, state and local government would be replaced by a two-tier system, which would in fact be a one-tier system. All power would flow one way—from Canberra. The interests of Western Australia, with its small population and small number of federal seats, could be ignored even more thoroughly than they have been at times in the past.
The guillotine-happy French revolutionaries abolished the old French provinces of Gascony, Picardy and so forth, in order to make centralised dictatorship easier. After the revolution in Russia in 1917 all power was centralised in Moscow and no dissent was possible. The Soviet Union was called a federation, but it was a federation in name only. In Nazi Germany the old German states, or Lander—Bavaria, Swabia and so forth—were abolished and replaced by regions or Gaus under the rule of Gauleiters, who transmitted orders from Berlin. Dictators and social engineers, who regard human beings as raw material for their grandiose experiments, do not want checks and balances—they do not want democracy, constitutional monarchy or federalism.
Another republican, Malcolm Fraser, was an open admirer of Robert Mugabe and played a significant part in his installation. His tribute to Mao, at the time of that monster’s death was, as William Wentworth bravely said, a disgrace to an Australian parliament. Fraser was also responsible for another set of failed referenda to by-pass state powers. Why do republicans admire dictators? Is it because something in their psychology makes them yearn to control other people’s lives?
It is sometimes said that a unitary state of Australia would be more efficient and policy could be implemented more easily. Well, which do you think is the more efficient—Russia, the biggest country in the world, or Singapore, one of the smallest? I like being able to reach my member of parliament personally if I need to. I do not want to live in a Canberra empire, or a Labor-type vision of regional administrative centres, mini-Canberras springing up like a herd of white elephants.
There is also the claim that as a republic Australia would be “grown up”. Does anyone actually feel less “grown up” under the Queen? There has also been a ridiculous claim that Asian nations—like Japan (a monarchy), Thailand (a monarchy) and Malaysia (yet another monarchy)—would respect us more if we abolished our monarchy. What nonsense!
The brilliant and wicked Italian communist Antonio Gramsci predicted that revolution would come successfully not through the workers revolting as Marx predicted, but through the educated elite controlling the culture—history, art, education, manners, morals. This is frighteningly true, but both monarchy and federalism make a Gramscian revolution that much more difficult. Fortunately, we have just got rid of a prime minister whose knowledge of, or interest in, these things equals the interest of the average tapeworm in quantum mechanics.
How would a republic bring about unification? The key, which Labor never mentions, is the reserve powers of the governors and the governor-general. These powers are not, and cannot be, judiciable. No court of law can say where they begin and end. How wise the founding fathers were to ensure this! Otherwise any attempt to exercise them would be tied up in the courts for years and might as well not exist.
At present, governors-general and governors are appointed and may be dismissed by the Queen. Under the reserve powers they in turn are able to dismiss governments. If they continued to exist at all under a republic, state parliaments would be reduced to mere agents of, and rubber stamps for, Canberra. Some may suggest that this is the case already, but anyone who has been involved in politics knows that there is still a degree of give-and-take today. Were their heads appointed by Canberra, the states would become empty shells, beholden to Canberra who could hire and fire their heads at will. Even more than they are doing today, they would gradually wither away.
A Whitlam-type government, obsessed with “planning” and central control could sack, or threaten to sack, one state government after another, until it got the result it wanted. Those who remember the days of Whitlam will know this is not a fantasy.
Abolition of the states has been, though not always trumpeted as such, a major part of Labor’s socialist objective, and the republic would give it a mighty boost. Three books at least have set this out: Towards a New Australia, essays by leading Labor figures published shortly before Whitlam was elected, setting out Labor’s grandiose dreams; The Social Laboratory, by Don Veitch, a brilliant exposé of Whitlam’s social engineering; and The Saviours, by Patrick O’Brien, showing how Labor has been affected by dreams and fantasies of “moulding minds to serve humanity”, as one leading Labor figurer described the party’s goals. It was beginning to happen under Whitlam, and given the havoc Turnbull has wrought on the Liberal Party, pushing Australia’s whole culture to the left, an ideologically extremist Labor government could come to power again.
At present the governors, the Queen’s representatives in the states, might be said to include among their functions that of umpires. With a republic, that would no longer be the case. There would be no umpire to cry “foul”.
This has happened twice in Australian history: the dismissal of New South Wales Premier Jack Lang by Governor Sir Philip Game in 1932 and the dismissal of Gough Whitlam by Sir John Kerr in 1975. This is hardly an excessive use of the reserve powers—I believe the Burke government in Western Australia, at least, should also have been sacked—but it establishes that they do exist and can be used.
State governors are appointed at present by the Queen, on the advice of state governments. It was thanks to Western Australia’s Attorney-General, Ian Medcalf, that when the Australia Acts were being discussed in the 1980s, the Queen’s formal role in appointing governors on the advice of state premiers was retained.
But in a republic, who will appoint them? Plainly, Canberra. The point is obvious. This reveals the true agenda behind the republican push: it will give Canberra the power to hire and fire state governments.
With the states—or rather the ghosts of what had once been the states—so clearly in a subordinate position, never again would we have a Charles Court able to tell the federal government, “They are our mines!” Who would fight to get West Australians a fairer share of GST? Who could be a strong lobby to ensure us a proper share of taxation money, public works and, not least, national defence? Western Australia went into the Second World War with big naval guns guarding Perth and Fremantle because we had threatened to secede if we were not better defended. They never fired a shot in anger, but they might have saved Perth and Fremantle from bombardment or worse when the Japanese Navy came rampaging into the Indian Ocean in 1942.
In The Social Laboratory Don Veitch described Labor’s “almost religious commitment to altering society root and branch”. It cannot do this while federalism is working. Veitch continued:
The [Whitlam] Government’s attempts to change both institution and attitudes should have come as no surprise as Whitlam announced his intention to “uplift the horizons” of Australia and embark on the Australian Assistance Plan, the most blatant attempt till that time to bypass the States and render them irrelevant.
I believe most people do not want a unitary system for Australia—do not want to be white mice running through a grandiose social laboratory, with all important decisions affecting their lives being taken for them on the other side of the Nullarbor Plain. We must emphasise to them that this is what a republic would entail.
This is an edited version of a talk to the West Australian branch of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy in November. Hal G.P. Colebatch, a lawyer and former journalist, is the author of twenty-five books, the latest being the authorised biographies of Sir Victor Garland and Sir Stanley Argyle.