Kevin Rudd’s 2020 Summit was a dud and those who participated have been taken for a ride by the Prime Minister. The Summit overwhelmingly endorsed what the majority of Australians have wanted for over a decade now, an Australian Head of State. But Mr Rudd cannot even commit himself to a modest and leisurely timetable for achieving this important constitutional and nation building reform. So much for the hype about the 2020 Summit being about thinking big and laterally about Australia.
Mr Rudd’s caution on the notion that Australians should be allowed to choose or elect their own Head of State requires explanation. Is it because he is at heart a constitutional monarchist, but too afraid to say so publicly because the ALP has a policy commitment to a republic? Or is he just gutless when it comes to delivering constitutional reform? One suspects the latter.
The issue will not go away. The notion that Charles, who is currently causing controversy in London by using (or misusing his status) to prevent the redevelopment of the historic Chelsea Barracks, should be King of Australia is unpalatable to the vast majority of Australians. The Queen is getting on in years so the prospect of Charles ascending to the throne in the next few years, and before 2020, is a realistic one.
A sensible timetable for a Republic in this context would be one that allows for an evolutionary debate over the next five or six years. Until Mr. Rudd decided to ignore it, previously the ALP had a very practical proposal which would have allowed this to occur. A plebiscite would be put to the Australian people at the next election asking them if they wanted a republic and if so which model they preferred. Then work would be done in the next term of government on putting a referendum together for a vote in the election. On current indications this would mean a republic referendum in 2013.
It would be deliciously ironic, and serve the ALP right, if in fact it was a Liberal government which delivered a republic sometime in the next decade. Don’t rule it out. Most Liberals these days are republicans including Malcolm Turnbull, Peter Costello, Andrew Robb and Joe Hockey, and there is a plausible argument that runs along the lines that a conservative government is better placed to deliver constitutional change, because the opportunities for unprincipled and opportunistic scare campaigns run by reactionaries are lessened.
In a sense, and even though Rudd lovers like The Monthly and the gaggle of writers, actors and celebrities that the Prime Minister likes to ingratiate himself with would suppose otherwise, it is not surprising that Kevin Rudd would wimp out on the Republic. This is a man who is at heart a conservative, not one who has any interest in constitutional reform. He is, and never has been, and never will be, a big picture man like Paul Keating who is the architect of the growing public support for an Australian Head of State.
Greg Barns ran the 1999 Republic Referendum Campaign for Malcolm Turnbull and was National Chair of the Australian Republican Movement from 2000-02. He, along with Anna Krawec-Wheaton, is the author of An Australian Republic (Scribe 2006).