On Australia Day

Meredith Williams writes: Re. “With Australia Day looming, Turnbull and Dutton would do well to remember Cronulla”  (Wednesday)

Could Ben Pobjie please write Turnbull and Dutton’s Australia Day speeches? Then at least we’d know we weren’t meant to take them seriously. The alternative is really scary.

On new pushes for am Australian republic

Joe Boswell writes:  Re. “Republic redux: Australian independence emerges as a key election issue” (Wednesday)

Discussing the republic referendum, Professor Jenny Hocking writes, “Howard had shamelessly used the tactics of division over the form of appointment of an Australian Head of State to fragment the republican support base, cruelling its chance of success.” There’s truth in that, but it is also true that such a referendum is just a proposal to dump the current monarchy, leaving everyone totally in the dark about the form of appointment and what a republic would mean in practice. This is reckless.

Hocking continues, “… a single question: ‘Do you support an Australian Republic with an Australian Head of State?’ … is a smart strategic move that gets directly to the substantive issue – do we want an Australian republic? – and ensures that the debate over procedural matters, including the means of appointment and the powers of the new head of state, would then carry the authority of a national vote in support of a republic.”

I totally disagree. It’s not a strategically smart move, even if tactically, like Tony Abbott’s wrecking, it might work for short-term political advantage. Of course, some countries do hold referendums where complex issues reduce to a laughably simplistic binary choice and nobody is told what they are really voting for. In an advisory referendum in the UK in 2016 the people voted for Brexit, which means Brexit. (Even that much explanation was only made available after the vote.) So, Brexit being the will of 51.9% of votes counted, or 37.4% of all registered voters, but more importantly the will of certain foreign media owners, their government is now remorselessly giving it to them, good and hard, at any cost, while still trying to work out what the hell it is.

I’m no fan of Howard or monarchy but I believe he did Australia a big favour by setting out one or two of the consequences of voting for a republic. He should have gone further. As Hocking says, the powers of the Head of State is another essential question, perhaps the most important of all. By acknowledging this, she contradicts her argument for the proposed simplistic compulsory binary choice plebiscite. There should be no vote about a republic before we have a fully drafted replacement constitution setting out what Australia is really voting for. It’s no good complaining it’s too difficult. Democracy is a farce when voters are not informed. If such a vote for a properly explained alternative fails, then the obvious conclusion is that Australians prefer things as they are. Fair enough.

Peter Fray

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