THE CLAYTONS REPUBLIC
Paul Zanetti is a Walkley award winning syndicated cartoonist with over 30 years in the media. He blogs at www.zanettisview.com
The Australian Republican Movement chairman Peter ‘Fitzy’ FitzSimons assures us that his preferred model for a republic means "nothing will change". That raises the obvious question, “If nothing will change, then why change?”
I’ve taken a look at Fitzy’s republic and it’s built mostly on a couple of negative motivators: fear and loathing.
Firstly, fear by the ARM that Australians are pretty happy with the way things are, so perhaps unmotivated Australians may not want to change to a republic. The ARM boss has chosen to shuffle along the dispassionate while simultaneously pacifying the nervous herds with a small anaemic republic, to sail it through with as little fuss as possible. Nothing to worry about, folks - just sign on the dotted line.
Secondly, Fitzy’s comments reveal a personal loathing for the monarchy.
I’m an Itie, son of an immigrant Italian so I have no motivating, historic, cultural or political sentiments for a republic one way or the other. Happy the way it is. Happy to change if convinced it’s for the better. No bias or preference.
The place is stable and secure, partly because of our political system founded on the monarchy. If a republic contributes to a better place, tell us how and why. Loathing the royals isn’t a reason.
One hiccup I’ve flagged early on is that Fitzy wants a republic without a President.
He wants us to keep the Governor General as Head of State in place of a President (to avoid scaring the horses).
Softly softly. Fitzy promises us there’s no difference to what we have now. Just without the Queen.
We’ll keep her historic representative, the Governor General. Hence why Fitzy says “nothing will change”.
It’s a Claytons republic. The republic you have when you still cling to traditional ties to the monarchy. A Governor General is the title of an office-holder appointed to represent the monarch of a sovereign state in the governing of an independent realm. The half pregnant model.
It’s assumed we’re too ‘nervous’ to embrace a republic, so we need to be made as comfy as possible.
In his address to the National Press Club to launch his re-energised republic campaign, Fitzy referred to the ‘Nervous Nellies’, telling us that historically ‘Nellie’ has been wrong, that everything turns out fine.
Truth is, the referendum of 16 years ago fell over because it was proposed that the politicians pick the President.
A politicians' President, not a people's President.
So the people blew a big fat raspberry at that idea. They will again if they want the Parliament electing the Head of State.
I reckon Australians are ready for a President in place of the Governor General – as long as we can directly vote for our Head of State. But this model blocks that. It's the same mistake made by Malcolm Turnbull as ARM chairman 16 years ago.
In the US and elsewhere the people vote directly for the President so why not here? Are we, the people, that untrustworthy?
The broken model is being sold to us again, only this time without a President.
The sales spiel is pretty much 'let’s get rid of the Queen because she’s an old aristocratic lady who lives in a palace in a far off land.'
You don’t sell a Ford by rubbishing a Holden.
The monarchy is as popular as ever, thanks largely to two young, well respected, royals – Kate and Wills (and bubs). They’re polite, dutiful, in love and let’s face it charming and good looking - perfect magazine cover material. As superficial as that sounds, it counts.
The question Fitzy wants to put via a referendum is this:
“Do you support replacing the British Monarch with an Australian citizen as the Australian Head of State?”
Of course that will get a resounding ‘yes’ by the majority.
But it doesn’t tell the full story, and it’s misleading.
The transparent question would be:
“Do you support an Australian republic with a Governor General as the Australian Head of State, elected by the politicians?”
Not so palatable, is it?
But it’s what you’ll get if you vote yes.
The transparent question highlights that the pollies get to choose our Head of State, not the people. It also discloses we don’t get a President. What we do get is a Governor General, with strings tied historically back to the monarchy.
It’s a nothing model. “Nothing will change.”
Fitzy is also at pains to tell us, “It is time for us to be entirely self-governing…Australia is mature enough to run our own affairs, and must be seen to be so.”
The flaw in this argument is that it assumes we’re not self-governing already nor are we mature enough to run our own affairs now.
Nothing could be further from the truth. We have our own elections, at federal, state and local levels, independent of Britain or the monarchy.
Our laws are made by our elected representatives. We hold our own plebiscites, we have our own referenda, we pay our own taxes to our own sovereign state – no funds are funnelled back to the UK or the monarchy.
Simply, we’re already self-governing and mature. The Queen or the monarchy have no say over how we run our affairs. The Governor General simply ticks off laws now, and would do so under Fitzy’s plan. Her Majesty just doesn’t stick her noise in, as implied.
Fitzy explains his model here:
“At the moment the system for selecting the Governor-General is very simple. The Prime Minister, the democratically elected leader of the Australian people, makes his or her choice, and then writes a letter to Her Majesty The Queen, seeking from the hereditary head of Great Britain – occupying the most entrenched position of elitism in the world – her approval for this decision.
I propose a single change, the minimalist model, with no bells, no whistles and no postage stamp.
Everything stays the same, starting with the title of "Governor-General and including the convention that the Prime Minister chooses that person; including their reserve powers, and including the writing of the letter seeking permission.
But, and here is the rub, we simply save the price of a postage stamp – instead of sending that letter external mail to the British Queen, the Prime Minister sends it internal mail to a joint sitting of the Parliament of the people, to seek a two-thirds majority.”
Soooo.....when it all boils down to it, we change our system to save the price of a postage stamp?
Wouldn’t we get the same result if the PM sent the Queen an email? This is the 21st century and I’m sure she has an email account.
And let’s be honest, the PM does not seek ‘approval’ from Her Majesty the Queen for the choice of Governor General . The PM tells the Queen who he’s chosen and she ticks it off. It’s a formality. A non issue.
Her Majesty doesn’t approve, accept or reject the PM’s choice.
Starting to get the picture? The Fitzy sales spin is obscured with smoke, mirrors and opaque notions.
Fitzy pleads that the case of a republic should be above politics, that it should be bipartisan.
Here’s where I wholeheartedly agree.
But this plea is empty when it comes from a partisan opinionist who routinely attacks conservatives and this PM, while advocating for far Left causes in his columns and daily tweets.
If Fitzy truly and passionately believes the Republican cause should be bipartisan, he has no choice but to stand aside as the chief spruiker.