It has just been revealed that the “2020 ideas for the future summit” in April will consider whether Australia should become a republic. We now have an idea how this summit will operate. And it’s not pretty.
John Hartigan, executive chairman of News Limited, is to chair the crucially important governance session.

Becoming a republic is put in the context of “cutting our ties with Britain” which is of course an entirely different question. Don’t the organisers know all Britain’s legal authority in Australia only lasted as long as we wanted it? Don’t they know it was ended when the politicians finally worked out what they wanted in 1986? Don’t they know the High Court ruled in 1999 that the Australian Crown is an entirely separate legal institution from the British Crown?

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Apart from becoming a republic the session will have a daunting agenda to complete in just two days. This will include whether we should have a bill of rights; “what levels of transparency good government demands,” especially in government dealings with the media; and the impact of freedom of information laws.

It seems the governance session is to be run by the media. When the government realised it was being politically incorrect and had forgotten about the dated baby boomer issue of gender balance, the former ABC television presenter Maxine McKew MP was made co-chair.

Inconveniently, News Limited’s flagship The Australian recently called on journalists to stop playing politics and get out of the political arena. Day has seized on this and says Hartigan should have refused Kevin Rudd’s invitation.

Some more traditional journalists take the view that they should not belong to political organisations. Day says he has “long” argued that journalists should not be joiners, but admits he did not always hold this view. He changed his mind when he was on Australian Republican Movement’s executive. It all became clear when he argued in The Daily Telegraph in 1998 that the ARM needed new leadership “less abrasive” than Malcolm Turnbull’s. He was forced off the executive and “nearly drummed out” of the ARM.

Day misses the point. It’s not so much about joining. It’s about being objective about the facts and declaring any conflicts of interest unknown to readers. Recently he failed to declare his republican affiliations when he made his extraordinary claim that the Royal Family leaked the story that Prince Harry was in Afghanistan. He later backed away from his line that this was based on observing how the Royal Family manipulates the media, and claimed the story was based on… yes, “impeccable sources”.

In any event, Day has well and truly let the cat out of the bag. We now know the details of one of the most important sessions at the Summit. One thing is likely. There’ll probably be no one there speaking for those who voted no in 1999. They won in all states, 55% of the popular vote and 72% of electorates.

Paul Keating appointed the 2020 summit co-chairman Professor Glyn Davis a member of the 1993 Republic Advisory Committee chaired by Malcolm Turnbull. Keating had made it a strict condition that all members, without exception, be committed republicans, so everyone knows where Davis stands.

Of course, he’s entitled to be a republican. Its his modus operandi which is interesting. In 2002, when he was vice-chancellor of Griffith University, the university The Australian and the ARM, convened the “Australian Constitutional Futures Conference.” This was to restart and broaden the debate about “the” republic and the constitutional framework “we” need for the 21st century.

Although this conference was hosted by a taxpayer funded university, no one who was not a committed republican was invited to speak. Davis gave a paper on republicanism rising again.

The conference papers are no longer accessible on the Griffith University site. No wonder. One speaker (Greg Barns) referred to the monarchy as “rancid” and “corrupt,” “a menace to democracy” with “a cavalier disregard for liberal values,” a ””corrupt institution … prepared to subvert the rule of law… and allow criminal activity to go unchecked within its walls.”

The monarchy, he said, has “little interest in anything other than self-preservation and that it will ride roughshod over the rule of law, if necessary, to achieve that aim.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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