Anti-monarchists lose the plot - Paul Kelly

Anti-monarchists lose the plot
The sad decline of the Australian Republican Movement is on display in its angry and convoluted attacks on the Queen.

The Australian - July 16, 2020


Illustration: Johannes Leak

The sad decline of the Australian Republican Movement has been on display over the past two days in its angry, confused and convoluted attacks on the Queen and Buckingham Palace, accusing the crown of deception and complicity in Gough Whitlam’s dismissal.

As the Republican Movement goes on the offensive against the Queen, it seems to have lost any understanding of how and why it was defeated in the 1999 referendum to make Australia a republic.

Stirring up hostility towards the crown is the deepest and oldest republican sentiment. It has never worked in the past and never will in the future. The ARM by seizing upon the release of the Buckingham Palace and John Kerr correspondence has fallen into a familiar and disastrous trap.

There are three problems. Its attack on the Queen and the palace for dishonesty and complicity in Whitlam’s dismissal is false on the historical facts. This argument will alienate many Republican sympathisers appalled that populist misrepresentation is now a standard method for the republican cause. And finally, the argument won’t get traction with mainstream voters.

Doesn’t the ARM grasp that after 68 years on the throne, the Queen is respected for her diligence and integrity? Who are the tactical geniuses who think unwarranted abuse of the Queen and the palace actually helps the republican cause?

For the record, ARM national director Sandy Biar said the movement was calling out the palace’s “arrogant attempt at misleading Australians” about its involvement in Gough Whitlam’s sacking. Biar makes a series of unsubstantiated claims — that the palace was forewarned and “provided advice” on how the reserve powers might be exercised, when the palace actually urged caution on Kerr — and then makes the ludicrous claim that “without the explicit assurances” of the palace, Kerr might not have sacked Whitlam.

This is worse than cheapjack populism. It signals the ARM will engage in misrepresentation in an effort to fool and mislead. Obviously, it won’t work. How on earth did the ARM get derailed on such a futile track?

The case for the republic stands in its own right. It doesn’t need dishonest campaigns against the Queen about events that occurred 45 years ago. That might make republicans feel good but it doesn’t help their cause. Republicans outnumber monarchists in Australia and have for some time. But support is shallow and without agreement on the pivotal question: what type of republic?

The big lesson from the 1999 loss is that the fundamental issue is no longer the Queen. Someone should tell the ARM.

Paul Kelly is Editor-at-Large on The Australian. He was previously Editor-in-Chief of the paper and he writes on Australian politics, public policy and international affairs.


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