In the highly unlikely event that John Howard had experienced a Damascene conversion in favour of a republic before the 2007 election, “he may well have lost 15 seats in Queensland, not the 10 that he’s likely to lose as it is,” wrote John Roskam in The Age on 5 December, 2007.

John Roskam is well informed on this sort of thing. He is the executive director of the Melbourne based Institute of Public Affairs, a venerable think tank with an established record of contributing significantly to public policy. His Age opinion piece was against the proposition that the former federal Liberal government lost the 2007 election because they weren’t small “l” liberal. He says the Liberals could have been as small “l” liberal as the Greens and it would have made no difference to the poll outcome. He argues John Howard lost for reasons other than his attitude on those issues which are especially attractive to the so called inner city elites. And foremost among these is their obsession to make Australia some sort of undefined republic.

He says that the Labor Party understands the essential conservatism of the Australian electorate.

“That’s why,” he writes, “Kevin Rudd promised to maintain the Northern Territory intervention, undertook to maintain strong border security measures, and why he kept silent about the republic.”

Well, as Leader of HM Australian Opposition, Prime Minister Mr Rudd was not entirely silent about republicanism. (We can’t say “the” republic – unlike every other proponent of constitutional change, the republican movement has not the foggiest idea what sort of republic they want.)

But one of Mr. Rudd’s last comments in the campaign suggests an attempt to downplay republicanism. This was in clear contradiction to the earlier announcement made in September on Mr Rudd’s behalf to a leading London newspaper. This was that another referendum proposing that Australia become some sort of undefined republic was to be held within three years, probably in 2010.

At the very end of the campaign Mr Rudd declared unequivocally to two senior News Ltd journalists, Paul Kelly and Dennis Shanahan, that a referendum on a republic would not occur in the first term of a Labor government. Indicating he would take a hard line against boatloads of asylum-seekers from Indonesia, Mr Rudd said that a referendum on Aboriginal reconciliation, a separate Aboriginal treaty and a republican referendum would not occur in the first term of a Rudd Labor government, if at all.

We remain fascinated with that rider, “if at all”.

If at all.

Mr Rudd full well knows the 1999 referendum was taken at a time most propitious for change but was overwhelmingly defeated. Given the massive well funded campaign, with the republican media and political juggernaut, the landslide No vote is even more impressive. Republicans know a second referendum is doomed.

That’s why they want to drag the Labor Party into the mire of an electorally dangerous distraction involving the two cascading federal plebiscites before another referendum.

The Prime Minister is right not to proceed with a referendum, and certainly not with the convoluted, expensive, and distracting process the republican movement, riding like some indolent barnacle on his victory, is now desperately trying to foist on him.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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