The Australian Republican Movement turns 25 this year, and what better way to celebrate than with a party? And not just any party, but a gala dinner. At Sydney University’s Great Hall on December 17, you can hobnob with the body’s “founding mothers and fathers” who have served the cause with “such distinction over the last quarter of a century”. It will only set you back $150 a seat. Or $3000, if you purchase the gold table, which seems the swankier option. That price will secure your table attendance to the VIP pre-dinner drinks, a VIP table allocation, and a “special commemorative photo with the gala dinner special guest”. The guest is yet to be announced — for $3000 surely you’d expect a photo with the movement’s founder-turned-Prime-Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, at the very least (though he’s gone a bit MIA on the republican cause lately).
Something about the gathering strikes us as a little out-of-touch with the populist nature of the times. It also puts one in mind of a referendum strategy letter written by John Howard’s then-speechwriter Gerry Wheeler to then-head of the monarchist movement Kerry Jones in 1997. The letter said, in part:
“I see this election essentially as a battle between the mainstream and the elites. In other words, ‘us’ against ‘them’. We should therefore turn the republican strategy of exposing prominent Australians as republicans on its head. The more politicians, artistic figures, academics, journalists and businessmen are seen to be outed as republicans, the more we should say that the rest of us (mainstream Australia) need a voice and that this is what [our] candidate can provide.
“We need to reveal all those qualities of the [republican] candidates which set them apart from the mainstream — their wealth, their backgrounds, their elitist interests — and show how mainstream we are in comparison … This ballot should be presented as real Australians’ greatest chance ever to vote against all the politicians, journalists, radical university students, welfare rorters, academics, the arts community and the rich that, deep down, they’ve always hated.”
Needless to say the letter wasn’t written for public consumption — The Sydney Morning Herald’s Alan Ramsey got his hands on it and wrote a damning opinion piece about it in October 1997. Still, given the types of shindigs still thrown by the republican movement still keen to flaunt its celebrity backing, perhaps the strategy would work just as well for the monarchists now as it did in 1999’s Australian republican referendum. No wonder the Australian Monarchist League was out last this week hailing Trump’s win as a pushback against the elite, laughable as any talk of elites is for a group devoted to the preservation of a hereditary monarchy …