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Sideshows and Secret Agendas

December 20th, 2012 by Viv

Viv Forbes
Written October 1997.

Australia has real problems – over-taxation, stifling centralisation, monetary mismanagement, depopulation of the bush, and the burning question of whether we are to be one nation or two.

None of these real problems stem from our historic ties to the British Monarchy, but politicians and the media are about to offer us a distraction – “The Great Republic Sideshow”. Even more disturbing, the sideshow is likely to be a stalking horse for those with a secret agenda. Many republican zealots see this as an opportunity for a dramatic increase in the power of politicians, especially federal politicians. I see little upside and much downside from the whole sideshow.

As Dame Leonie Kramer has put it, the Queen is a symbol of our constitutional arrangements, while the Governor General is actually our head of state. It is striking to recall that the only attempt to involve our current Queen in Australia’s government was when Gough tried to over-rule an Australian Governor General in 1975. The Queen replied politely that the Australian constitution placed all constitutional matters in the hands of the Governor General. As Sir David Smith puts it “That, surely, put an end to all nonsense about Australia’s sovereignty, independence and national identity being centred on London.”

Over 100 years ago, that famous English novelist Anthony Trollope said “No form of government has given so large a measure of individual freedom to all who live under it as a constitutional monarchy in which the crown is divested of direct political power”.

Look around. If you worship at the altar of “Democracy”, of the six oldest continuous democratic nations, four are of British origin and four are monarchies. If “quality of life” is your bag, of the 13 countries listed recently as having the highest quality of life, 10 are constitutional monarchies. Most thinking people would agree with Stafford Cripps, leader of the left wing socialists of Britain, who said “Constitutional monarchy is better than Stalin, better than Hitler, even better than Roosevelt who has more power than his ministers because they are all appointed by him”.

There are those who believe that we can just replace the words “Governor General” with the word “President” and go on as before. If the change is so purely cosmetic, why bother?

No insiders believe the changes would be cosmetic, and all of them would involve giving more power to Canberra, to the ruling political party and to the new “El Presidente”. (Bob Hawke was indiscreet enough to reveal the secret agenda of many of them – “Republicanism is a giant distraction unless the states are abolished too”.)

All this would be a very backward step. History teaches us that only those republics with a robust federal structure, such as Switzerland and USA, have sufficient checks to central power to prevent them turning into dictatorships. Even the German Federation was too weak to withstand Hitler. And most of the centralised African Nations slipped into one party dictatorship after one election. Democracy there means one man, one vote, once.

Every central government needs a recalcitrant upper house, a steadfast monarch or a federation of unruly states to keep it off the road to dictatorship of right or left. Imagine where Gough would have taken us in his second 100 days if there was no Senate, no Joh and no Governor General to restrain him.

The real problem for Australia is not how to strengthen the Federal government or how to get rid of the Queen, but how to restore stability to the unbalanced federation. This will require the Commonwealth to vacate many fields and repeal many laws where it duplicates state areas of activity. It must then hand back to the states sufficient taxing powers to allow them to achieve financial independence.

While some fools in Australia are busting to break all ties with Britain before the start of the new century, lots of countries are seeing real value and purpose in the old British Commonwealth ties.

If we are not careful, Australia could find itself very alone here in the South Pacific. Europe will have its Union, the Americas will have NAFTA, Asia will have ASEAN, Africa will be recolonised by the multinationals and Australians will be left holding preferred trading status with New Zealand and needing a Red and Black passport to enter a hostile aboriginal enclave stretching from Cloncurry and Katherine to Kalgoorlie.

Faced with the possibility of such a lonely future, we should value our membership of a world-wide multi-racial association of English speaking nations with shared history and a common tradition of British justice and institutions. Such an association could be a valuable insurance for Australia’s defence and trade. To throw all that away, as well as damage our federal commonwealth, for the baubles and beads of an elected president is foolish in the extreme. It is also strange that those with deep hostility to our non-existent obligations to Britain are cavalier in their rush to surrender our sovereignty to a bunch of international socialists running the multitude of UN committees.

We should be adult enough to recognise that what we call the head of state and how he is selected is far less important than what his powers are and how he uses them. We have a symbolic monarch and a non-political head of state whose sole function is to protect the constitution. He has great powers but seldom uses them. We are asked to ditch this for a political president with far more powers which he will have no compunction about using. He will be far closer to a real King than our current distant and benign monarch. Imagine the future for business in Australia with Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, President Lionel Murphy and an emasculated federal constitution.

Those who think this is fanciful should study the recent political history of democratic India. When Indira Gandhi was found to have committed electoral irregularities, and her position as PM was threatened, she immediately went secretly to her friendly president who agreed to proclaim a state of emergency. By dawn the next day, many of Indira’s opponents in Parliament were in jail.

When the President is selected or supported by the ruling party, the post will be filled with political poodles and the checks on the excesses of ambitious PM’s will disappear. We may as well abolish the Governor General, rename the PM as “President” and join the long list of dismal dictatorships with names like “The Democratic People’s Republic of Australia.” Ugh!

To those who say we have nothing to fear from a dinkum Aussie President I can but repeat Jefferson’s advice – “In questions of power, let us hear no more of our confidence in man, but let us bind him down by the chains of the constitution”.

Our current constitutional Monarchy has more and better Constitutional chains than any people’s republic is ever likely to have.

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